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Critical Analysis on Huck Finn

Example 1

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the noblest, greatest, and most adventuresome novel in the world. Mark Twain definitely has a style of his own that depicts realism in the novel about the society back in antebellum America. Mark Twain definitely characterizes the protagonist, the intelligent and sympathetic Huckleberry Finn, by the direct candid manner of writing as though through the actual voice of Huck. Every word thought, and a speech by Huck is so precise it reflects even the racism and black stereotypes typical of the era. And this has to lead to many conflicting battles by various readers since the first print of the novel, though inspiring some. Says John H. Wallace, outraged by Twain’s constant use of the degrading and white supremacist word ‘nigger’, “[The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is] the most grotesque example of racist trash ever written” (Mark Twain Journal by Thadious Davis, Fall 1984 and Spring 1985). Yet, again to counter that is a quote by the great American writer Ernest Hemingway, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn…it’s the best book we’ve had…There has been nothing as good since” (The Green Hills of Africa [Scribner’s. 1953] 22).

The controversy behind the novel has been and will always remain the crux of any readers is still truly racism. Twain surely does use the word ‘nigger’ often, both as a referral to the slave Jim and any African-American that Huck comes across and as the epitome of insult and inferiority. However, the reader must also not fail to recognize that this style of racism, this malicious treatment of African-Americans, this degrading attitude towards them is all stylized of the pre-Civil War tradition. Racism is only mentioned in the novel as an object of natural course and precision to the actual views of the setting then. Huckleberry Finn still stands as a powerful portrayal of experience through the newfound eyes of an innocent boy. Huck only says and treats the African-American culture accordingly with the society that he was raised in. To say anything different would truly be out of place and the setting of the era. Twain’s literary style in capturing the novel, Huck’s casual attitude and candid position, and Jim’s undoubted acceptance of the oppression by the names all signify this.

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Twain’s literary style is that of a natural southern dialect intermingled with other dialects to represent the various attitudes of the Mississippian region; he does not intend to outrightly suggest Negro inferiority. Had Twain intended racial bigotry, he would not write about the sympathies of Huck towards Jim. This can easily be seen in that Huck does, at various points in the book, realize Jim to be a white equivalent at times. Huck tells the reader, when he realizes that Jim misses his own family and children, “I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks do for their’n” (150). I do believe that Twain’s literary style, that is, his informal language through Huck, is more a captivation of thoughts as though in a conversation than as intended use of white supremacist inclination. Any words that seem to degrade African-Americans are merely a freelance use of Southern jargon and not deliberate. That is, Huck talks the way he knows how and was taught according to the society than to stylize a specific treatment of black slaves. However, his sympathies towards Jim throughout the river odyssey have taught Huck to overcome certain stereotypes, such as black stupidity and apathy, but not quite thoroughly to rebel against societal prejudices. Huckleberry still believes Jim to be irrelevant and pig-headed at times, as in their exchange over the Biblical story of King Solomon and the French language. Huck does not tell Jim but to the reader,” If he got a notion in his head once, there wasn’t getting it out again…I see it wasn’t no use wasting words – you can’t learn a nigger to argue” (76-79).

Huckleberry is also a very important character to study to further contemplate Twain’s literary style in that Huck is the main character and the voice through which Twain conveys the images of the South. The reader will notice that Huck acts based on his own morals. Despite the Widow Douglas’s and Miss Watson’s attempt to “sivilize” Huck by teaching, sheltering, and instructing him on how to behave, Huck’s actions throughout the novel do not always reflect their teachings. The protagonist has limited perspective and his outlook in life is honest, containing no propagandist suggestions. Huck neither advocates slavery nor does he protest against it. He sees slavery as a natural occurrence in daily life and the inferior disposition of slavery to be of little significance. Whenever a situation occurs that requires Huck to assist Jim, Huck does so according to his own moral standards. He may agitate over the morality of helping a runaway nigger, as southern society condemns the act, but his own love for Jim allows Huck to accept his own “wickedness”. “I come to being lost and going to hell…and got to thinking over our trip down the river, and I see Jim before me all the time… But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike any places to harden me against him…how good he always was… I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he’s got now… I [will] steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too…” (206).

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Finally, Jim and many other African-American slaves seem to accept their lesser positions as contended to “white folks”. This is the most critical junction that has earned Twain innumerable criticism and caused such long discrepancies among the scholars of American heritage literature. The oddest, most peculiar description in the novel after Huck’s almost symbolic acceptance of Jim’s persona, Twain makes a pivot that then mocks Jim’s buffoonery towards the end. After all that Huck and Jim have endured together, Huck seems to compromise it all simply to please the childish and ridiculous ploys of Tom Sawyer. Outrageous proposals such as having rats, snakes, and spiders occupy the same small “prison” Jim is in, that Jim water a plant with his tears until it flowers, that Jim makes engravings on the stone to reveal his oppressed imprisonment in the hut when Jim is living quite well, etc. All of these preposterous acts might make the reader laugh aloud! Yet, they serve a different meaning and belong to a wider course.

For one, Huckleberry extremely admires Tom Sawyer. The situation is not merely targeting blacks and humiliating them, it is rather simplistic. Towards the beginning of the novel, Huck specifically says, being proud but humble about faking his death,” I did wish tom Sawyer was there; I knew he would take an interest in this kind of business, and throw in the fancy touches. Nobody could spread himself like Tom Sawyer in such a thing as that” (33). Later and throughout the novel, anytime Huckleberry managed to trick somebody, he would imagine Tom to be there and more capable. Though the reader knows Huck is quite intelligent by himself, seeing how he dupes so many people with his stories. Huck continues this stark admiration of Tom even to the end when he says, “He [Tom] knew how to do everything” (250). However, Huck does not seem to possess a kind of jealousy towards Tom but still maintains the innocence of simplicity. Try as Tom might, Huck is not swayed by his “Spaniards and A-rabs”, magicians, and genies. Claiming them, after trying it himself by rubbing an old tin lamp and an iron ring, “was only just one of Tom Sawyer’s lies” (16).

This also suggests that Tom plays on the ignorance of others. So when Tom makes plans to free Jim, Tom is just bragging about his knowledge and continuing his usual insulting of others when they disagree or question him. He again plays on the ignorance of Jim’s caretaker Nat by having Nat believe he was hallucinating. Huck and Tom undertake so much trouble but it all makes the novel appear very boyish and reminiscent of the Mother Goose nursery rhyme on what boys are made of. Once more, Mark Twain isn’t necessarily suggesting that African-Americans are inferior and should be discriminated against, the author desires to capture the innocence and playfulness of childhood, specifically depicting Huckleberry as a true boy.

Huckleberry Finn is a wonderful book that captures the heart of the reader in its brilliance and innocence. Despite many critics have attacked its racist perspective; the piece merely represents a reality that occurred during antebellum America, the setting of the novel. Twain’s literary devices in capturing the focal of excitement, adventure, and human sympathy is a wonderful novel that should be recognized, not for bigotry, but that it is the candid viewpoint of a boy that grew up in that era. And even then, the protagonist does overcome some social prejudices of slavery because he is concerned with the well-being of his runaway slave friend Jim. That the mockery of the slave race at the end allowed by Huck is more about fulfilling the awes of Huck towards Tom. The novel is a success because it does not fail to capture the one singular point of growing up for Huck: boyhood.

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Example 2

Huckleberry Finn provides the narrative voice of Mark Twain’s novel, and his honest voice combined with his personal vulnerabilities reveal the different levels of the Grangerfords’ world. Huck is without a family: neither the drunken attention of Pap nor the pious ministrations of Widow Douglas were desirable allegiances. He stumbles upon the Grangerfords in darkness, lost from Jim and the raft. The family, after some initial cross-examination, welcomes, feeds and rooms Huck with an amiable boy his age. With the light of the next morning, Huck estimates “it was a mighty nice family, and a mighty nice house, too”(110). This is the first of many compliments Huck bestows on the Grangerfords and their possessions. Huck is impressed by all of the Grangerfords’ belongings and liberally offers compliments. The books are piled on the table “perfectly exact”(111), the table had a cover made from “beautiful oilcloth”(111), and a book was filled with “beautiful stuff and poetry”(111). He even appraises the chairs, noting they are “nice split-bottom chairs, and perfectly sound, too-not bogged down in the middle and busted, like an old basket”(111). It is apparent Huck is more familiar with busted chairs than sound ones, and he appreciates the distinction.

Huck is also more familiar with flawed families than loving, virtuous ones, and he is happy to sing the praises of the people who took him in. Col. Grangerford “was a gentleman all over; and so was his family”(116). The Colonel was kind, well-mannered, quiet and far from frivolous. Everyone wanted to be around him, and he gave Huck confidence. Unlike the drunken Pap, the Colonel dressed well was clean-shaven and his face had “not a sign of red in it anywhere”(116). Huck admired how the Colonel gently ruled his family with hints of a submerged temper. The same temper exists in one of his daughters: “she had a look that would make you wilt in your tracks, like her father. She was beautiful”(117). Huck does not think negatively of the hints of iron in the people he is happy to care for and let care for him. He does not ask how three of the Colonels’ sons died, or why the family brings guns to family picnics. He sees these as small facets of a family with “a handsome lot of quality”(118). He thinks no more about Jim or the raft but knows he has found a new home, one where he doesn’t have to go to school, is surrounded by interior and exterior beauty, and most importantly, where he feels safe. Huck “liked that family, dead ones and all, and wasn’t going to let anything come between us”(118).

Huck is a very personable narrator. He tells his story in plain language, whether describing the Grangerford’s clock or his hunting expedition with Buck. It is through his precise, trusting eyes that the reader sees the world of the novel. Because Huck is so literal and does not exaggerate experiences like Jim or see a grand, false version of reality like Tom Sawyer, the reader gains an understanding of the world Mark Twain created, the reader is able to catch Twain’s jokes and hear his skepticism. The Grangerford’s furniture, much admired by Huck, is actually comically tacky. You can almost hear Mark Twain laughing over the parrot-flanked clock and the curtains with cows and castles painted on them even as Huck oohs and ahhs. And Twain pokes fun at the young dead daughter Huck is so drawn to. Twain mocks Emmeline as an amateur writer: “She wasn’t particular, she could write about anything you choose to give her to write about, just so it was sadful”(114). Yet Twain allows the images of Emmeline and the silly clock to deepen in meaning as the chapter progresses. Emmeline is realized as an early portent of the destruction of Huck’s adopted family. The mantel clock was admired by Huck not only for its beauty but because the Grangerfords properly valued beauty and “wouldn’t take any money for her”(111). Huck admired the Grangerfords’ principles, and the stake they placed in good manners, delicious food, and attractive possessions. But Huck realizes in Chapter 18 that whereas the Grangerfords may value a hand-painted clock more than money, they put little value on human life.

The third view of Grangerford’s world is provided by Buck Grangerford. He is the same age as Huck; he has grown up in a world of feuding, family picnics, and Sunday sermon that is appreciated but rarely followed. Buck, from when he meets Huck until he is brutally murdered, never questions the ways of his family. For the rest of the chapter, Buck provides a foil for Huck, showing the more mature Huck questioning and judging the world around him. In fact, it seems Buck does not have the imagination to conceive of a different world. He is amazed Huck has never heard of a feud and surprised by Huck’s desire to hear the history and the rationale behind it. In Buck Grangerford’s rambling answers we hear Mark Twain’s view of a southern feuding family, and after Buck finishes his answer, we watch Huck’s reaction to the true nature of the Grangerfords. Buck details Twain’s opinion that a feud is not started or continued by thought. The reasons for the feud have been forgotten, and the Grangerfords do not hate, but in fact respect, their sworn enemies. They live their lives by tradition, and the fact that the feud is a tradition justifies its needless, pointless violence. From the dignified Colonel with “a few buck-shot in him”(121) to Buck, who is eager for the glory to be gained from shooting a Shepherdson in the back, the Grangerfords unquestioningly believe in devaluing human life because it is a civilized tradition.

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It is interesting that the only compliment Huck gives to a Grangerford after Buckshot at Harney Shepherdson was to Miss Sophia. He admits that the young women who denied a part in any family feud are “powerful pretty”(122). But the rosy sheen that had spurred Huck to use the word ‘beautiful’ six times previously in the description of the Grangerfords has evaporated. He attends church with the family and notices all the Grangerfords keep their guns close by. Huck thinks it “was pretty ornery preaching”(121), but the feuding patriarchy praises the good values listed by the Preacher. The hypocritical mixture of guns and sermons, holy talk and bloodthirstiness make it “one of the roughest Sundays [Huck] had run across yet”(121). He now questions the motives of everyone in the household, including Miss Sophia as she sends him to the church on an errand. By this point, the cynical, sarcastic Twain and the disillusioned Huck are of one mind. Huck walks among a group of hogs who have sought the coolness of the church and notes “most folks don’t go to church only when they’ve got to, but a hog is different”(122)

The narration of Huck’s final day with the Grangerfords is prefaced by: “I don’t want to talk much about the next day”(124). For Huck’s easy-going fluid dialogue to become stilted and censored, the reader knows the young boy has been hurt. A senseless fatal feud is not the only tragedy depicted through the events of that day, also shown is the heartbreak of a young boy who loses every vestige of the hopeful trust he put in a father, brothers and sisters. Huck is shocked to hear the fatherless, brotherless Buck complain he hadn’t managed to kill his sister’s lover on an earlier occasion. And then from his perch in the tree, Huck hears Buck’s murderers “singing out, ‘Kill them, kill them!’ It made [Huck] so sick [he] almost fell out of the tree”(127). He wishes he “hadn’t come ashore that night, to see such things”(127).

The end of chapter nineteen, when Huck returns to the raft and Jim, almost exactly mirrors the end of chapter eighteen. Both chapters conclude with Huck enjoying a good meal with good company in a cool, comfortable place. First, it is with the Grangerfords in the cool, high-ceilinged area in the middle of their double house. “Nothing could be better”(115), Huck thought. But only a few pages later the raft and Jim provide the same comforts. Nothing had ever sounded so good to him as Jim’s voice, and Huck felt “mighty free and easy and comfortable on [the] raft”(128). . Huck happily slides away from the bloody scene with the unorthodox father figure of a runaway slave. Huck has realized he does not need a traditional family to make him feel safe and happy. He must develop and live by his own integrity, not the past decisions of a father or grandfather. This is clearly Mark Twain’s opinion also, and the reader, full of relief at Huck’s escape, is aware that the author sent us all into the Grangerfords’ world to prove just that point.

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