First Person Narrative: in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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      First person narrative is a literary technique in which readers are made to perceive things from the point of view of the narrator, who is, usually, one of the characters in the story. It is his voice that we are acquainted with and that adds color to our opinion. He introduces himself as the "I" and is cognizant of the fact that he is telling a story to explain an important experience in his life. His choice of incidents reflects is that which had a profound bearing on him and changed him in a significant way.

      In Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck, a vagabond orphan, offers us this First person narrative. He tells us about a period in his life that starts from his days with Widow Douglas and her sister, Miss Watson. He recounts his experience with the influence that society exerts over him. Though he is not very comfortable with the expectations of people around him, he has learnt to live with them. But, with Pap's eventual and unexpected return, things take a different turn. Huck, driven by his abhorrence for Pap and his brutalities, is forced to run away and seek refuge elsewhere - where he can get away from the claustrophobic weight of the society that he detests. This phase continues till the time he meets the runaway nigger, Jim, resolves to stand by him and, finally, helps the latter acquire his freedom.

      It is through Huck's eyes that we perceive the entire chronicle of events, as they unfold. The opening sentence of the novel makes an announcement that Huck Finn is the narrator and will tell us the story in his own language and vernacular dialect.

      You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter Now the way that the book winds up is this: Tom and me found the money that the robbers hid in the cave, and it made us rich..."

      However, there are certain drawbacks of this kind of narrative. Owing to the narrator's ignorance of certain facts, his standpoint could have a vacuum. He may withhold some information that he may consider unimportant. Moreover he may omit certain facts out of sheer ignorance. He is, after all, a character in the story and not an omniscient observer. So, he cannot be present everywhere at all times. As readers, we cannot perceive or witness anything that he does not tell us. The story is presented through a limited perspective (one person's perspective) and, therefore, limits the readers' judgment. Readers are, after all, not free to make an unprejudiced judgment. Then how do we judge the credibility of his point of view? This, sometimes, contributes to the unreliability of the first-person narrative.

      Since Huck is a young, fourteen-year old adolescent, there are few more drawbacks that a 'first-person narrative', in this case, presents. Having a juvenile point of view, it is anticipated that he wouldn't be able to convey everything in the right perspective. After all, with lack of exposure to the world, he is not in a position to assess every person and situation as objectively as would be expected from a more matured narrator. Being juvenile, he may simply get the wrong impression about the motives or actions of some characters. Maybe the 'bad' people are construed as bad because they haven't had a chance to tell us their side of the story.

      No doubt the literary connotation of a First-person narrative' warns us against certain pitfalls. According to it, we should steer clear of the assumption that the narrator's voice coincides with that of the novelist. Nevertheless, in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain's views, on many occassions, are the same as those of Huck. Like Huck, he too shuns the hypocrisy of people, their false religiosity and masquerade of gentility. Through Huck, Twain satirizes the concept of "bravery" of the common man. Therefore, in many ways, Huck is Twain's mouthpiece.

      By making Huck don the hat of the narrator, Twain gains another privilege. By putting words in Huck's mouth, he is able to evade the censure of people's judgment. In his depiction of real scenes and people; in his mockery ot the so-called devout "Christian", he steers clear of what might be labelled as a lack of etiquette and manners. By voicing his opinions through Huck, Twain meets with lenient treatment. Huck, being a vagabond and an uncouth, uneducated lad, is given the leeway of making certain comments, which, if stated by Twain, might have invited the wrath of society. Twain allows Col. Sherburn to scoff at the mob in such a corrosive and demeaning manner and still evades disapprobation. He speaks out his mind without any inhibitions because he has the cushion and security of Huck's "first-person narrative".

      Nonetheless, the readers' loyalty lies with Huck's perspective due to various reasons. Firstly, as the narrator, Huck uses simple, colloquial language. It is understood and accepted that, since Huck is an uneducated and crude lad, his account would be along with all its grammatical and syntactical errors. Such a parlance adds unparalleled credibility to the narrative. Twain makes Huck speak as an uneducated and unrefined boy, of fourteen years, would speak. By making him commit errors in language, there is a strong flavor of verisimilitude in the account. Readers are buoyed to believe Huck's story, his view of the world, just as we believe that it is his own language and not one that Mark Twain has fed him with.

      Another factor that adds plausibility to the story is that he makes observations that we see around us today, as well. Despite being young and, ostensibly immature, Huck gives us an incisive insight into the world that he witnesses around himself - this is the world that we identify with as well: We subscribe to his derision of "Christian" morality. Don't we encounter these so-called religious people who, under the garb of saints and preachers, don't flinch at hurting fellow human beings?

      When Huck's reveals his abhorrence of society (consisting of the likes of Miss Watson, Pap and Col. Sherburn) and its acceptance of social conventions; his disgust with frauds such as the "King" and the "Duke"; his derision of exalted notions of Southern Romanticism (through the Grangerfords and Shepherdsons), he leaves an indelible mark on our judgment. He almost drives us to feel the same way as he feels.

      Most of what Huck perceives and report's is minus any personal or overt comment. He doesn't overtly criticize the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons or Col. Sherburn, not does he censure the "King" and the Duke" at every instance of fraud. Though he is quick and sharp enough to conclude that they are plain "low-down humbugs and frauds", he just lets them be.

      But I never said nothing, never let on kept it to myself; it's the best way; then you don't have no quarrels, and don't get into no trouble. If they wanted us to call them kings and dukes, I hadn't no objections, long as it would keep peace in the family; and it warn't no use to tell Jim, so l didn't tell him. If I never learnt nothing else out of pap, I learnt that the best way to get along with his kind of people is to let them have their own way..."

      Wherever he does make any of his comments, we can't help but agree with him. He reveals his contempt for the deportment of the "King" and the "Duke" where they swindle the Wilks daughters, "the poor sweet lambs". As conscientious readers, we certainly subscribe to his viewpoint here. We also endorse his view when he reports the brutal death of Boggs by Col. Sherburn.

      Moreover, Huck has no illusions about his status in life. He has no aspirations of climbing the social ladder. On the other hand, he is more content with his "rags" and "sugar hogshead". He doesn't crave for attention like Tom or the "King" and the "Duke".

      Twain's adoption of the 'first-person' narrative is a departure from the hitherto modes of writing practiced before. It introduced an innovative approach to story-telling that Twain lent to American literature. Via Huck's blunt commentary, Twain gets the opportunity to make acerbic comments about literary and social institutions of the nineteenth century. The sarcasm stretches from his literary repugnance to the novels of Romantic authors such as Sir Walter Scott, overt religious hypocrisies such as the Christian morality to social acceptance of slavery in his home-town.

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