Controversial Ending of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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      Earnest Hemingway wrote about The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, "All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn, it is the best book we've had". The novel has been regarded by him "as the source of all American Literature". Nevertheless, the denouement of the novel, has been the source of great amount of controversy.

      Critic Stephen Railton writes off the final chapters of the novel as an extension of the thoughtless antics of the "King" and the "Duke". According to him, it is "just another version of their Royal Nonesuch". Other critics have felt upset and let down by the ending and regard it as belittling a serious and matured theme like man's inhumanity towards his fellow human beings. While Philip Young called it "irrelevant", critic Leo Marx labelled it a "flimsy contrivance", a "preposterous monkey business" and "nonchalant disregard for common-sense plausibility". Bernard de Voto writes, "In the whole reach of the English novel there is no more aburpt or more abrupt or chilling descent."

      Despite negative criticism, acclaimed critics like T.S. Eliot and Lionel Trilling have defended the ending saying that it is structurally consistent. Eliot says, "It is right that the mood of the book should bring us back to the beginning". Critic David Bradley condones the ending. He makes a point that "none of them (critics) has been able to suggest much less write - a better ending...They failed for the same reason that Twain wrote the ending as he did: America has never been able to write a better ending. America has never been able to write any ending at all."

      The principal purpose of Huck's journey is to free the Nigger, Jim, from slavery. The beginning of his journey takes place when he is kidnapped by Pap from the house of Widow Douglas. He is kept locked in a log cabin on the Illinos Side of the island. Having grown weary of his father's brutality, Huck decides to run away and contrives his own murder. By making the whole affair look as though he were murdered by thieves who had broken into the house, he escapes to Jackson's island where he chances upon Jim, Miss Watson's slave. Thus his journey commences. The beginning of this journey is serious. But, by the time we reach the conclusion, it loses its serious essence. With Tom's appearance in Chapter 33, the seriousness of the mood gets diluted. With the latter's highly idealized romantic notions, he resorts to foolish things such as forcing Jim to keep snakes, spiders, rats and other insects, as his room mates, in the "prison cell". He makes him do silly things like watering a flower with his tears and has the ridiculous notion of proposing a "coat-of-arms", in true royal style. As a result of his convoluted plans, he makes things unnecessarily complicated.

      The manner in which Tom looks at the escapade really trivializes the whole affair and strips it of its gravity and dignity that it truly deserves. It is, after all, not simply an amusement venture for the diversion of young adolescents spending their summer vacations. This is what it seems to get reduced to, due to Tom's foolishly exalted notions. A serious business, it is, after all, the question of a fellow human being's future and happiness. The prospect of being able to get away from the shackles of slavery, into the domains of freedom, is all that Jim yearns for. Being able to get away from the Phelps' farm is his only hope. It is in view of the end result that both Huck and Jim have risked their lives, several times, during their odyssey.

      Finally, with the doctor's appreciation of Jim, coupled with Aunt Polly's arrival and the revelation of Miss Watson's 'death-bed repentance, Jim is set free. It is, indeed, annoying when Tom reveals that, all through the adventure, he had been cognizant of Jim's status as a free man. He gives Jim forty dollars and believes that this sum of money can compensate for all the pain-physical, emotional and spiritual - that the latter may have gone through.

      It is as though Jim attains is freedom not due to his own initiative or Huck's intelligence. It seems that the freedom comes not because there is, somewhere, a sense of justice. It is, simply, an act of benevolence by Miss Watson. This benevolence sounds all the more unlikely in the light of or knowledge that Jim is, after all, accused of the murder of a "white" boy, Huck.

      Tom dominates in the concluding part of the novel. He, certainly, does not deserve the privilege of this status, as a result of which Huck's identity gets relegated to the background. It becomes evident that all the trouble, which Huck has gone through with Jim, has been for zilch. While at the Phelps' farm, Huck has been in danger of giving away his true identity. He poses as Tom and goes through the entire drama for Jim's sake. By doing so, he risks not just his self-esteem, but also his life. But he is, after all, involved in the serious business of helping the latter attain his much sought-after freedom.

      His sincerity towards Jim is heartrending and certainly deserves commendation. He acquiesces to Tom's antics and whims because he has his vision fixed on the bigger picture - his ultimate of freeing Jim. He is even prepared to go to "Hell". Has all his spiritual agony, or making the difficult and crucial decision, come to naught?

"I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn't do it straight off, but laid the paper (the letter to Miss Watson) down and set there thinking - thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell......I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself".

"All right, then, I'll go to hell"- and tore it up.

      In the last chapter, there is a suggestion that Aunt Sally would like to adopt Huck. This suggests that all his efforts, to escape from the constricting influence of society, come back full circle.

      It is disturbing to realize that, despite all this sacrifice on Huck's part, Tom is the one to hog the limelight. Huck is reduced to his erstwhile position ofa 'nobody - a crude and unpolished lad, belonging to the lowest wrung of the white society. His status, as the narrator ot the story, suffers a nose-dive. And Jim becomes what he has been perceived as, throughout the novel - a plaything. This is what he has been - a toy in the hands of Tom - right from the beginning of the novel. Tom, without the slightest regard for Jim's feelings ever, has always been playing practical jokes on the latter. He makes Jim nothing more than a clown. But, as discerning readers would vehemently oppose this view, he is, in actuality, much more than that. He is a father-figure to Huck; his guide and mentor who has been instrumental in bringing about moral growth in him. Despite being a nigger, he has been the most humane and selfless characters in the novel.

      It is not just Jim and Huck who go through all the trouble. Even the old Phelps go through a lot of mental agony. They receive anonymous letters and feel threatened by them. Tom and Huck steal shirts, bed sheets, candles, etc. from the house and unnecessarily puzzle the old couple.

      Nevertheless, at the end of the day, atleast it was a happy ending. As a reader, if we are content with not expecting too much from the ending of the novel, we feel satisfied that Jim got his freedom (no matter how), Huck felt reassured in the knowledge that his money is safe and, of course, Tom got what he wanted - the satisfaction of having satiated his desire for some adventure.

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