Tuesday, April 27, 2010

On "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain *****

One of the few books virtually every American has read, the novel has stood the test of time, mostly. I read the book for the first time around age thirteen, and then I read it for class around age fifteen. I hadn't read it since until . . . a year or so ago I was reading for an audio recording, and the text I was to read that day was Huck Finn. The section, as I recall, was one of the chapters having to do with the king and the duke, and I couldn't help laughing at points and having to go back and rerecord. I have to read this again, I thought.

Now here I am reading all these American texts written between 1870 and 1920, mostly books I failed to read while in college but that are iconic nevertheless. Sneaking in a reread of Huck Finn onto this list seemed quite a perfect fit. Twain, writing over one hundred years ago, still seems fresh in the twenty-first century. He plays with dialect. He plays with an unreliable point of view. And he's still funny.

As with most critical assessments, I do find the latter third of the book a little disappointing; once Tom Sawyer shows up, the novel gets rather silly, and the slave Jim, always a bit too childlike so as to be a bit disturbing, becomes downright stupid. And yet, it's possible to read these latter sections as part of Twain's point. Jim, not assessed as a human being by most of the slave society around him, isn't treated any better by the boys; he is infantilized by the racist society, and what for him is a matter of freedom and slavery, life and death, is just fun and games to Tom.

The most humorous passages, though, revolve around the king and the duke, a tiresome duo that take up the middle third of the book. While funny, there's something sad about the dirth of quiet moments in the book once they show up, as the most beautiful passages are those in which Huck and Jim simply float down the river, and we get to listen and look in.

The book may be downloaded here from Project Gutenberg, and the audio here.

No comments: