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Mark Twain

Huckleberry Finn

As all good writers, Mark Twain followed his muse where it took him. Most of his writings took place when he and his family vacationed during their summers at his sister-in-law, Susan Crane’s, home at Quarry Farm, in Elmira, New York. Susan had a studio building specifically built for Twain on the highest point on her estate. The octagon-shaped building had windows on all sides and gave him a beautiful view of the surrounding, rolling hills in Southern New York. The serenity of the area and the stories provided by Susan’s housekeeper, Mary Ann Cord, a former slave, gave him the inspiration to write his greatest novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It was through her accounts of her hard life as a slave that made Twain decide that the issue of racial injustice was still in ongoing fact in his modern day life. Racial conditions were a fact of the past and still were a concern in his day. He had written The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876, a joyful celebration of his childhood life in Hannibal, Missouri, where he was the narrator and recalled an adventurous time along the Mississippi. By the time he wrote Huckleberry Finn in 1885, it had become apparent to him that racial issues needed to be confronted in order for change to occur. Huckleberry Finn would be a sequel to Tom Sawyer, but the story would be told by Huck himself and would convey how the boy would be challenged by what he was told to believe and by what he felt should be the case with how slavery was viewed in the South. By Twain allowing Huck Finn to narrate the story, the audience hears the voice of a simplistic delinquent, who was naïve and uneducated, who speaks in a dialect with a southern viewpoint and approaches the issue of slavery without apology. Twain would spend some seven years working on this book, writing vigorously on it then putting it aside as his inspiration on it waned. After he made an excursion to see the Mississippi River again, his muse returned and he finally completed his masterpiece. In the truest sense of the word, the book would prove to be the American experience conveyed in the Greek epics, the Iliad and the Odyssey. It is an example of the American journey to self-realization. It is during Huck and Jim’s adventure down the Mississippi that Huck experiences his “unlearning” of his prior thoughts on slavery. Twain makes the character of Jim a real flesh and blood person; a “nigger” used not as property but as a piece of humanity who has thoughts, feelings and a soul. When Huck is put in a position where he must turn Jim in to authorities because Jim is an escaping slave, Huck must decide whether he will do what he believes in his head is the right thing or whether he will do what his heart says he should. By Huck following his heart, defying what he morally thinks is the right thing to do, which would be to turn Jim in, he faces a crisis of thought that defines him. His statement, “All right, then I’ll go to hell,” conveys his decision to protect Jim but he will be damned for his action. There is a sense of attaining redemption by breaking from his moral conviction. Twain’s intention was to take the issue of slavery and demystify, demonize and take all sense of romanticism away from it. As the writer William Styron put it, Huckleberry Finn was “a hymn to the solidarity of the human race.” But the publication of this book was not greeted by universal acclaim. In reality, it was viewed as incendiary, subversive and revolutionary. Even though the issue of slavery was still a point of contention in the country, it was not the main concern of the readers. It was the use of coarse language and the supposed idealization and celebration of the “bad boy” that caused much of the banning of the book. But Twain had made his statement about racial inequality and this work would not be his only excursion into the subject.

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