Life on the Mississippi

22 Oct

Think to yourself, is there anything more exciting than a required reading for a class? Well…yes, actually waiting for a bus is probably more exciting. For some reason, although I absolutely love sitting down to a great novel, I find no enjoyment is reading required texts for school. The one exception to this rule was when I had Austen on my reading list, then I had no trouble tearing through Persuasion for the second time.
Anyway, for my American Literature class I was assigned Huckleberry Finn. Surprisingly I had not read this American classic, although I had always desired to. Now unfortunately it came to me under the stigma of class related material, for shame. I admit (with great shame) that I still haven’t completely finished. I am about 40 pages off, however, had I not encountered the assignment deadline today I would have sincerely attempted to complete it. The great thing about this novel, because although I didn’t finish it I have truly enjoyed it, was my relation to the setting. When I was younger I went on a trip to the Mid-West. My family and I traveled to Illinois to stay with my Uncle who lived there at the time. We went to Chicago, ate deep dish and also went across the border to Missouri. In Missouri we actually visited Hannibal, the boyhood home of Mark Twain and the setting of Huckleberry Finn. Most of the activities we engaged in were in fact related to the Adventures of Tom Sawyer, however I had a great taste of small town America. So while I didn’t finish the novel, I am one step ahead of all of you.
Just as a quick side, I want to say that I adored Huck’s character. He is completely unaware of how essentially good he is. He fails to recognize that when he fails to conform to the ideologies he thinks are correct, he is in fact, well, correct. He is capable of independently adapting his notions based on experience. Ironically, when he thinks he is making a bad choice, it is always the right one. He condemns himself because society has taught him otherwise, however, internally he recognizes that his heart would not have allowed him to act any other way.
Of course, when granted assigned reading, there is always a catch. Nothing in school is designed for pleasure. Last night I spent a decent amount of time writing out a paper analyzing the Huckleberry’s social and moral development. I wont post the whole paper, because there are those who in a late night crunch type “huckleberry finn” and “essay” into the Google and luckily come across suckers like me who post a fantastic paper online. So you lucky bastards who find this, and pluck from my thesis, just know that you got an A because of me. You may not cite me on your paper, but cite me in your hearts. So here is my intro and first body paragraphs, sans the page numbers of quotations (Im going to make you little buggers work for it)

Huckleberry Finn experiences more than escapism and freedom on the majestic Mississippi River. He is constantly faced with obstacles that challenge his beliefs and preconceptions of society and morality. Prior to his escape, Huck faces strong attempts on the part of middle-class white society to make him conform to certain moral standards. The Widow Douglas, who refers to Huck as “a poor lost lamb,” attempts to give Huckleberry an idealistic, middle-class upbringing, however, Huck distrusts the morals and pretensions of a society that treats him as an outcast. Huck’s apprehensions about adopting pre-formed social notions allow him to make unique observations based on his own beliefs and morals. Upon his adventures down the river, his youth and questionable upbringing allow him to establish opinions free of white, southern indoctrination, he learns from his past and is forced to make decisions based on his own logic and conscience, and his developing relationship with Jim leads him to question social values, especially those regarding race and slavery. His journey forces him to make decisions based on his experience, logic, and his ever growing conscience. Huck progresses into an independently thinking individual, forming his own opinions based on what he believes, not on what he has been taught to believe.

Huck’s youth and upbringing are important factors in his moral development throughout the novel. He was not brought up in a stable home, nor was he educated thoroughly on common white ideology. Because of this, he is very open minded and forms conclusions based on his inner convictions. The Widow Douglas tries in earnest to reform Huckleberry by introducing him to Christian ideology. He has obvious convictions about her teachings. His hesitation is obvious when he questions her devotion, stating, “[h]ere she was a bothering about Moses, which was no kin to her, and no use to anybody, being gone you see”. His practical view of religion discourages any interest, instead he determines that he should be encouraged to enjoy activities he deems worthwhile, such as smoking. The Widow’s strong attempts to change Huck are viewed unfavourably when he explains, “she would sivilize me; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways…I couldn’t stand it no longer, I lit out”. Her attempts are in vain because, as Huck describes, her ideologies did not correspond with his. In contrast with his friend Tom Sawyer, it is easy to see how free thinking Huck really is. Tom is a wonderful portrayal of a white, middle-class upbringing. Tom does not take time to question morality or consequence when making a decision. Although he is completely aware that Miss Watson has died and Jim is free, he allows the charade of Jim’s rescue to continue for completely selfish reasons, exclaiming, “Why I wanted the adventure of it; and I’d a waded neck-deep in blood to”. Upon Tom’s confession, Huckleberry asks himself, “how he could help a body set a nigger free, with his upbringing,” and concludes that, indeed, Tom would not have had a moral reason to release Jim. It is apparent that the absence of a strong moral influence in Huckleberry’s youth has encouraged an ability to form his own beliefs, whereas, Tom Sawyer, a boy with a stable upbringing is unable to form unique opinions. Huckleberry’s youth gives him an open mind, just as Tom Sawyers youth makes him susceptible to the indoctrination he was raised on.
A factor in the development of Huckleberry’s character and moral conscience in the novel is the experience that he gains from the adventures on the river. His time spent with the King and Duke has the greatest impact on the formation of his concept of common morality. Initially, Huck allows the two con-men to have their way and swindle town after town. Huck is very aware of the nature of the men, stating, “these liars warn’t no kings nor dukes, at all, but just low down humbugs and frauds,”however, he does not let on that he is wise to their game merely because, “then you don’t have no quarrels, and don’t get into no trouble”. When the King and Duke proceed to con the young girls out of their uncle’s estate, Huckleberry feels he may no longer feign ignorance. He realizes he has allowed these men to take advantage of too many during the course of their acquaintance, saying to himself, “this is another one that I’m letting him rob her of her money”. His failure to intervene in the preceding events has made him feel “so ornery and low down and mean,” and as a result, he decides that he will “hive that money for them or bust”. Another important choice Huck makes due to experience is the decision to turn down Aunt Sally’s offer of adoption. He is aware that living with Aunt Sally will not differ from his time with the Widow Douglas. His time on the river and the experience he gained through his many adventures has allowed him to establish his own set of opinions and moral guidelines; therefore, any attempt to conform to Aunt Sally’s ideologies would be in vain. Huckleberry’s adventures granted him the ability to learn from his experiences and apply his observations of morality and social infractions to new situations……….

So there you have it. Hope you have enjoyed my scholarly (most likely boring) analysis of Mr. Twain’s masterpiece. It is my sincere hope that I can engage in some recreational reading soon so I can post some more book reviews up on here.


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