I was in the middle of reading another book when I received a request from my daughter’s school asking if I would be willing to participate in a book discussion with the students. I was provided with a list of books, so I chose A Clockwork Orange. The teacher organizing the discussions said they had two people already for that book, but would I be interested in doing Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Since it was on my bucket list of books to read before I die, I agreed.
Overall, I liked the book — a lot. Although, I must admit, the last part of the book where Tom Sawyer makes his appearance got to be a little tedious. I think it was because I just didn’t like Tom. Personally, I thought he was a poseur more interested in putting on a show than in actually trying to help Jim. But, as I think about it, Twain probably intended this. Since the book is clearly a social critique on slavery, he was using Huck and Tom as symbols of the two types of people working to abolish slavery: Huck representing the people who genuinely cared about the plight of the black man, and Tom representing the ostentatious people who cared less but made a big show of wanting to help.
Regarding the language, I loved Twain’s use of the vernacular. He really captured the cadence of the language from that region, which I think brought the book to life. It also made it more believable, since it was written in the first person perspective of Huck, who lacked a formal education. I don’t think I could buy into Huck’s narratives written in grammatically “correct” English.
I suppose any discussion about Adventures of Huckleberry Finn would have to include some discussion about why this book graces the list of banned books. I took a quick peek online to see what the stated reasons were and see if they lined up with my thoughts. I wasn’t surprised to see that the main reasons for pulling the book were the coarse language (particularly the abundant use of the word “nigger”) and because it was deemed inappropriate for young readers. Now, I can’t help but be cynical, especially since the do-gooders often claim morality and the protection of our kids as the reason to censor art, when really it is something else. My feeling is that some people couldn’t stand the idea of a friendship between a black man and a white youth, a friendship that, in my opinion, also had homosexual innuendos. Although the relationship between Huck and Jim seems platonic enough, there are subtle hints at possibly something more, such as the way Jim frequently calls Huck “honey,” the way Huck describes how he and Jim would just lay around naked all day on the raft (pp 98 – 9), and how Huck cross-dresses before sneaking off to the Illinois side of the river. So while Huck and Jim’s friendship was probably innocent, the possibility for intimacy is there.
I could certainly keep writing, but my coffee is running low, so I’ll conclude with one last thought about the book. As I reached the end, which finds Huck planning to “light out for the Territory ahead of the rest” and avoid being “sivilized,” I came to see Huck as the embodiment of America at the time: young, bold, adventurous, uncivilized, and moving west. Now that we have grown up into a country of chain stores, strip malls, and gated communities, I admit that I miss the adventurous American spirit that is Huck Finn.