Narrative Structure of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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      In an attempt to study the narrative structure of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, we can divide it into three broad sections. Though there is no clear demarcation between these sections, we carn outline them fairly well. The first section begins with an introduction of Huck's life with society and his reactions to the civilizing efforts of the people around him. We learn of the difference between the approach of Huck and that of his friend, Tom Sawyer. Huck does not accept the constricting environment offered by this society and is always in a quest to break free. This section ends shortly after the reappearance of his father, Pap. Pap treats Huck with a lot of cruelty and this triggers off the latter's resolve to run away. He fakes his own murder and makes his escape.

      Section two is all about Huck's journey, down the river Mississippi, with Miss Watson's runaway slave, Jim. This section can further be divided into various episodes. Each episode is the story of Huck and Jim's encounter with different people and situations and their sustained efforts at survival. It is in this section that we get a pleasant view of the river and of life on the raft. Simultaneously, we have a rendezvous with various characters who embody the intrinsic baseness of human nature. This is also the section that helps us truly appreciate why Huck finds society so constricting and his reasons for shunning it.

      The third section begins from the end of chapter 31, with Huck's return to civilization. This return is not sought by him. It happens when the King and the Duke sell Jim to the Phelpses. This section ends with Huck's renewed attempts to escape from society with his announcement that he would light out for the "Territory", "amongst the Injuns". He says, "...But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and ivilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before".


      It is by virtue of the third section that the novel faces severe criticism. Critics have pointed out that, until now, the novel has a tight structure. With the reappearance of Tom, things start going haywire. Critics have also observed that, with Tom's comeback, the respective identities of Huck and Jim take a backseat. Tom takes center-stage again and this reduces Jim almost to an insignificant "prop" in the entire scheme of things. Huck remains nothing more than an onlooker and has no other option but to acquiesce with Tom's antics and ridiculous ideas of bravery.

      In section two, Twain evokes our admiration of both Huck and Jim. Huck's presence adds an element of brainpower to the otherwise sullied atmosphere. He is smart enough to extricate himself, as well as Jim, from trouble. Why is he, then, reduced to a mere puppet at the hands of Tom, in the later part of the novel? After missing Cairo, he has more reason to ridicule society. These episodes show the course of Huck's moral development and emotional maturity. But the introduction of Tom Sawyer, at the end of the novel, shows this progress relapses into regression.

      Tom's so called bookish intelligence has already been discredited, enough number of times, during the course of the novel. This is so, especially when it is contrasted to Huck's more common-sense and cerebral approach to issues. With Huck's dominance and presence in the major part of the novel, things seem to be moving in a positive direction. The entire strength of this progress gets dissipated with Tom's intrusion and subsequent romantic adventurism.

      Nevertheless another cogent argument directs our attention towards the significance of this part of the novel. No doubt, the reappearance of Tom, in Chapter 33, reduces Huck reduced to a mere spectator. But, according to some critics, it is a much-needed development in the novel. It is not that, by taking the limelight away from Huck, he gets trivialized. On the other hand, by contrasting Huck's intelligence, and commonsensical approach to significant situations, with Tom's ridiculous notions and actions, our admiration for the former receives a more powerful boost. His good qualities get further highlighted and reveal him more as a hero.


      Another structural flaw in the novel is that Twain, sometimes, tends to lose track of the upward moral journey that is the most significant feature of Huck. When he gets separated from Jim after the steamboat collision, in (chapter 16, he lands up at the mansion of the Grangerfords. He has no idea whether Jim is dead or alive nor does he care to find out. Earlier, Huck has been portrayed as one character who is genuinely worried and concerned about Jim. Yet, now he doesn't care to find out about Jim's whereabouts. It is not until Jack, Huck's nigger servant at the Grangerfords, on the pretext of showing him "a stack o' water-moccasins" in a swamp, takes him to where Jim is hiding. Jim is extremely elated on seeing Huck. "...I waked him up, and I reckoned it was going to be a grand surprise to him to see me again.. Why would it be a great surprise for Jim to see Huck? Why would Jim's emotions not be reciprocated? Huck goes on to say, He nearly cried he was so glad.." There is absolutely no suggestion that Huck is equally overjoyed to see Jim.


      Huck is uneducated. How, then, does he comment on the inappropriateness of Hamlet's soliloquy and the other Shakespearean plays enacted by the king and the Duke. In chapter 23, Jim is surprised at the deportment of the two "royal" people. He observes that they are nothing but "rapscallions"- ".....But, Huck, dese kings o ourn is reglar rapscallions; dat's jist what dey is; dey's reglar rapscallions". Huck explains that all kings are like that. How is he able to comment on the various Kings of the past. "Look at Henry the Eight; this 'n' a Sunday- school Superintendent to him. And look at Charles Second, and Louis Fourteen, and Louis Fifteen, and James Second, and Edward Second, and Richard Third, and forty more; besides all them Saxon heptarehies that used to rip around so in oldtimes and raise Cain....".

      This sounds more like Twain, the educated man's own words rather than those of the uneducated Huck.


      Despite these numerous structural flaws, the novel abounds in structural strengths as well. There is symmetry in the structure of the novel. Tom's pursuit of boyish adventures, when he heads a gang of robbers in Chapter 2 and 3, coincides with similar pursuits in the end of the novel. This is where he cooks up ways and means, however ostentatious and impracticable, to free Jim. Huck deems the social and religious institutions ineffectual in the beginning of the novel. He finds them equally inadequate when he enters civilization again at the Phelps farm.

      Huck's reiection of civilization, which starts off in the beginning of the novel, finds a parallel at the end of the novel, at the Phelps' farm. In chapter 43, when everything seems to be falling into place, Aunt Sally proposes to adopt Huck and "sivilize" him. Huck is as petrified of these attempts at "sivilizing" him, now, as he has been from the beginning of the novel, because he has "been there before". Just like he had run away from these attempts, earlier in the novel, he runs away from them in this chapter-".....But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, andI can't stand it. I been there before".

      Talking of symmetry, there is another symmetrical characteristic of the novel. Tragedy and serious episodes alternate with humor and comedy. Huck and Jim's rendezvous with the two thieves onboard the Walter Scott, alternates with the amusing account of the story of Solomon and his actions. The 'Boggs episode' is another instance where the comic as well as tragic intermingle. The entry of Boggs is a comic one. People of the "lazy town" seem to derive pleasure from useless and frivolous pursuits like "dogfights", setting dogs tails afire and the comedy associated with Boggs' swearing and threats. Such pursuits seem to provide them with a much-needed distraction form the mundane, everyday life. "All the loafers looked glad; I reckoned they was used to having fun out of Boggs".

      With the killing of Boggs comes a comparatively serious suggestion. Yet, people aren't really moved. They'd rather derive pleasure from it than sympathize with Boggs' daughter. "Well, pretty soon the whole town was there, squirming and scrounging and pushing and shoving to get at the window and have a look, but people that had the places wouldn't give them up, and folks behind them was saying all the time, Say, now, you've looked enough, you fellows; 'tain't right and 'tain't fair for you to stay thar all the time, and never give nobody a chance other folks has their rights as well as you". This scene ends with Col. Sherburn's speech on what he thinks is the true worth of man and hus so-called bravery. Therefore, comedy culminates into tragedy and vice versa.


      We know that this work of Mark Twain was not a sustained piece There was a gap of a good three years before the work was published. Some critics feel that the work has been " tacked on" to get Twan finish the novel and have it published, from the monetary point of view. But in the light of the above arguments, this does not seem to be a cogent rationale.

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