Adventurous Young Boy: in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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      MARK TWAIN - THE WRITER: A critical study of Mark Twain, the novelist drives us to appraise him as an originator of the national American literary vernacular speech, a transmitter of quintessentially American values such as the frontier spirit, and a champion of vociferous free speech and social criticism. These virtues echo from his writings. Despite such profound and powerful implications of his writings, he is most remembered for his adventure stories The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that children are first introduced to, right from their childhood. Therefore, no wonder that the common impression of readers is that Mark Twain is a novelist predominantly concerned with the writing of "Boy Literature".


      American literature abounds in boy characters, set around a boy's experiences. Due to this reason, there are suggestions of what may be called permissiveness a view of childhood that accepts juvenile fantasies as well as childhood follies. It is tolerant towards the 'childishness' of children. In the same spirit of the "boys - will - be - boys" attitude, the "Boy Literature" of Mark Twain acknowledges the boyishness of Tom Sawyer and his friends.


      Published in 1876, Tom Sawyer is about a mischievous, curly-haired boy who lives with his maternal aunt, Aunt Polly. His mother died when he was a little boy and Aunt Polly is his guardian. Tom has a knack for inviting trouble as a result of his escapades with the other boys of the neighborhood. Set in the quaint town of St. Petersburg, it is reminiscent of Hannibal, the small town of Missouri where Mark Twain spent his childhood. The novel chronicles Tom's escapades such as running into caves and sneaking to graveyards in the middle of the night.

      Tom gets into trouble not only with his aunt but also at school. He is in love with Judge Thatcher's daughter, Becky. As punishment for his various boyish pranks, his guardian, Aunt Polly, assigns him the mundane task of whitewashing the fence. It is an amusing tale of how he ensnares the neighborhood boys into completing the chore for him. His smartness is the essence of the novel. The chief appeal of the novel lies in the fact that it charms young readers of all cultures.

      In his preface to the first edition of the book, Twain wrote, "Although my book is intended mainly for the entertainment of boys and girls a part of my plan has been to pleasantly remind adults of what they once were themselves, and what they felt and thought." He calls it a "hymn to boyhood" and says, "the prime motive of the novel is to amuse "boys and girls". While the kids will love the adventure, the adults like the book for its more profound message on social satire, this book, considered a less perfect work than Huckleberry Finn, does much more than just chronicle a series of juvenile adventures.

      The book involves a much more weighty and insightful objective. Twain looks at society through the perspective of these young boys, who are, supposedly, more innocent than adults, and exposes the weaknesses inherent in social conventions and accepted standards. Through them, the novelist also reveals the weaknesses of adults.


      Often considered one of Twain's wonderful attempts of "Boy Literature", Tom Sawyer has another sequel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

      The book has been disparaged and commemorated at the same time. Some critics, such as Ernest Hemingway, have praised the book' thus "...All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn... it's the best book we've had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since". At the same time, there are others who find it provocative because of the repeated use of the word' "nigger". The novel was banned from the Concord, Massachusetts public library after members of the Library's committee called the book "trash." A drone that threatens "public morality", "childhood innocence" and the "purity of the English language". Unperturbed by such critical appraisals, Twain wrote, "Those idiots in Concord are not a court of last resort and I am not disturbed by their moral gymnastics."

      President Ronald Reagan commends the book thus: "In the decades to come, may our schools give to our children the skills to navigate through life as gracefully as Huck navigated the Mississippi. And may they teach our students the same hatred of bigotry and love of their fellow men that Huck showed on every page, and especially in his love for his big friend Jim...",


      On the surface, it seems to be an account of boys' adventure. Huck Finn, the central character and narrator of the story, is a motherless child. His father is a drunken vagabond who treats him cruelly. He is a young adolescent - compassionate, gullible, and, at the same time, shrewd. He is a crude, unwashed lad who loves to dress in his rags, smoke his pipe and lead an unrestricted life. Though, during his life with Widow Douglas, he is forced to dress up and behave more respectably. He is not obliged to go to school.

      Jim is a middle-aged slave owned by Miss Watson. He runs away because he has learned that his owner has decided to sell him off to a slave-trader from Orleans. Petrified at the thought of being separated from his family, he takes this bold step. During his flight, he befriends Huck who remains loyal to him throughout their odyssey together. A character entrenched in superstitious beliefs, he is a role model for other niggers. Even though Jim often behaves in a child-like and innocent manner, he is a steadfast and dependable character. As a person, he is extremely compassionate and considerate.

      Tom Sawyer is Huck's friend. He embodies inclination towards Romanticism and all the paraphernalia attached to it. Around the same age as Huck, Tom is all that Huck is not. Unlike Huck, he is fortunate enough to be part of a well-to-do family and enjoys all the privileges of a well-brought-up kid. He is irresponsible, playful, and crude. He is obsessed with the romantic novels of adventure that he has read and wants to emulate them thoroughly and perfectly. At the end of the book, he helps Huck in his quest to free Jim from the shackles of slavery.

      It is a model of "Boy Literature" in so far as that, in the novel, Twain extensively draws upon his own experience of society in the small town of Hannibal, where he spent a major part of his childhood. Delving deeper, it unearths a much more profound purpose. Huck Finn helps Jim, a runaway nigger, in the latter's quest for freedom from slavery. In an attempt to help Jim, Huck travels down the river Mississippi with the latter. One of the most enduring images of escape and freedom in the history of American literature, it is an arduous journey - both physically as well as morally. Huck Finn, who has been brought up under the tutelage of the "white society", has learned that slavery is "right" and, therefore, the ill-treatment meted out to the slaves is justified. In the light of the above, Huck has grown up to have faith in these social conventions. In helping Jim escape, he goes through a grave moral dilemma. He has torn apart between the head and the heart. His 'head' tells him that, by helping Jim, he is doing something severely unethical. On the other hand, his 'heart' says that Jim, by being a human being, deserves freedom, like all of us. Huck has a tough time trying to resolve this mental conflict and, ultimately, the heart triumphs. This struggle helps Huck, a young boy, attain moral growth that evades all the other characters in the novel.

      It is a novel that extends way beyond mere 'storytelling'. Though the opening lines of the book warn the readers against finding a motive, the story is pregnant with meaningful connotations. The American social and political ambiance, from which the novel surfaces, probes important questions about race, class, and culture. It is not just the story of a white outcast boy, Huck Finn, and his black friend, Jim who set off on a journey down the river Mississippi for the sake of plain fun or mere adventure. It is their more profound quest for freedom that they hanker after.

      No doubt it is an adventure story. Huck and Jim do have a series of adventures with different kinds of people such as the Grangerford and Shepherdson families, con-men such as the "King" and the "Duke", etc. But each adventure is not an empty and a purposeless one. It serves to bring about emotional and spiritual maturity in the protagonist. In this sense, it is also an instance of a Bildungsroman - a novel the principal motive of which is to represent the moral, psychological and intellectual development of a youthful main character in the story. It serves another very significant purpose in the novel - that of portraying Jim in a positive light and making readers realize that he is "white inside". Not only Jim. but all human beings are of the same color "inside".


      While Huck Finn is rather humorous and fun to read, it contains much of Twain's philosophy on society and culture. Twain's characters are reasonably complex and have a degree of credibility. They give us a fair idea of Twain's perceptions of society.

      It can be averred that the seriousness of appraisal that has been accorded to the book is evident from the public's reactions, as well as those of critics, to it. There have been both, positive as well as negative. pieces of feedback given in response to the book. And this is not because it is some non-serious book of frivolous boys adventures.

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