Why Are The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer And The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn The Classics Of American Literature?

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“For Goodness sakes, would a runaway nigger run south?”

Mark Twain (1835-1910) is the pseudonym of the American writer Samuel Langhorne Clemens. He grew up in Hannibal, a city located in the state of Missouri. He based the most famous books of his career, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in this town on the shores of the Mississippi River, also relevant in the novels to understand the full meaning of them.

For a few years, he worked in various jobs, such as in the mine or piloting aeroplanes, but he returned to journalism. Very conscientious with the racial situation of his time, as well as with the rural people, he began to comprehend people: their dialect, their behaviour, and their way of life. As a consequence, his production captures the life of the regions.

After writing stories that were extensively accepted, he married in 1870 and settled in Connecticut. Time after he wrote one of his most influential books, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. However, it was not until 1885 when he published his masterpiece and the one that established him as one of the best North American writers, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Despite gaining prestige, fame and awards in the last years of his life, the death of one of his daughters and his wife, as well as the economic difficulties he experienced, made a dent in him. He died of a withering heart attack.

The literary movement of the Mark Twain is Realism (1865-1900), specifically Regionalism. Realism is the largest and most important movement of the 19th century. It is a reaction, an attack against the romantic vision and sentimentality of life. The realistic writers did not believe in melodrama or love, and they portrayed life as objectively as possible. It also gave visibility to the unvoiced, such as women, black people, and immigrants. The most influential figure of this literary movement was William Dean Howells. Concerning Regionalism, rural communities are the centre of attention. As a consequence, the writers used the characteristic dialects of the southern areas very often. To name a few of the most prominent people in this literary movement, one of them was Kate Chopin, the author of numerous short stories, such as The Storm.

The quote belongs to chapter 20, written in the second part of the book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, known as The River, one of the most satirical parts. It goes from chapter 12 to chapter 30, both inclusive. The implications of the quote on the plot and the ideological level are related to race. Life in the South was not only dangerous but also it was deadly to blacks. The healthy whites created the plantation system that only caused a clear division in the social pyramid established in society. White people saw black people as slaves, second class people without any chance to have rights and to achieve equality. Huckleberry Finn helps, as a consequence, his only friend, Jim, a black man slave with a big heart, lying and protecting him from his possible fate: ending up on a plantation in the South, where life is cruel. Regarding Jim, he escaped from the cultivated land of his master because his situation is unethical and additionally because people believe he killed Huck when Huck faked his death. Huck was in a cabin with his father, a very violent drunk who only wants his son for the money.

In this way, both characters, inseparable from the moment of their encounter, seek two different classes of freedoms, one more focused on the depths of the soul and the feelings, and, on the other hand, another very different one linked to social justice and moral ethics of a person.

Regarding the Duke and the King, both of them characters play a very remarkable role in the book. Furthermore, they make a point of inflexion in the process of the development of Huckleberry Finn. From a childish perspective, through the eyes of a young boy, Mark Twain harshly criticizes society objectively and describing the oppressive reality. The author not only describes the river but uses it symbolically to shape a great metaphor. He associates the shore with personal, physical and moral limitation, as well as the denial of freedom and the impossibility of having a decent life. On the contrary, Mark Twain unites the river with independence and happiness.

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Although highly criticized in his day for the language of the book and the description of black people, Mark Twain detailed from an external point of view the life of black people, people who had no voice, vote, or rights. A year after the publication of the Declaration of Independence, in 1776, signed the great celebrated July 4 from that moment, Mart Twain began to write The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with a necessary point: racism. The book may seem like an adventure book for children, trivial, and without any deep thought about life or human behaviour; however, it is just the opposite. The character of Jim gives the book not only a scathing point of criticism of humanity, but Mark Twain endows Jim with a lot of virtues. He has every one of the qualities that a black person is not supposed to have or lack.

One of those qualities is compassion. Jim acts in a very fatherly way with Huckleberry Finn, especially when he knows that reality can be painful. An example of his sympathy is when, despite knowing that the father of Huckleberry Finn is dead in the floating cabin, he does not confess his death so as not to harm him.

Another point to learn about the thinking and the behaviour of Jim is money. Although his great adventure friend Huckleberry Finn strongly believes that money is worthless, and additionally a reminder of his hostile father, it is the opposite for Jim. Jim learns at the cultivated land of Miss Watson that he is just one thing to sell and buy for quite a high price. However, it is money that gives Jim human value, a person and not an object.

Mark Twain, in a very cunning and accomplished way, and taking into account the experiences and people known throughout his travels, describes the places and customs linked to blacks, such as a taste for black magic. The reader can see an instance of this stereotypical behaviour in Jim when he believes in ghosts, magicians, and good luck charms. Although it was not the description of a very disadvantaged minority group that the experts and readers criticized the most. It was the use of a specific word. Mark Twain does not use that word as an insult or a humiliating term to refer to black people but uses it as a synonym for the word “slave,” according to David L. Smith. With it, Mark Twain tries to make the reader understand the racism of America individually and the world in general.

However, not all critics agree with David L. Smith. According to John H. Wallace, the book is racist and should remove from any educational program, including universities. As he explains, parents and directors harshly received the book in schools, and not many teachers liked the impact of the language of Mark Twain on black students. About this point of view, and taking into account the investigation by the mentioned critic, the teacher must decide whether the books of Mark Twain are worthy, and, if so, explain both the history of black people and describe the prejudice against black people.

Following this line of critical analysis, as Peaches Henry details, the censorship and prohibition of the book due to the infinite number of complaints and objections about the racist tone made the literary work on the lips of everyone for a very long time. Likewise, the teacher must not only be an influential and crucial figure to understand the reason for the words used, the customs described, and the thoughts developed in the book written by Mark Twain. But also an emotional guide so that people of colour do not feel inferior or oppressed, especially if there is more number of white people in the classroom.

In the edition and translation of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a different point of investigation and research, the supervisors and translators manage not to use the word. In this way, many soften the tone by changing sentences and specific words in the dialogues and descriptions. Others, on the contrary, directly choose to emit the controversy word in the editions. They all neutralize the use of the language of Mark Twain so that no reader in any country can feel repudiated or mistreated.

To conclude, even though the most important book of the literary career of Mark Twain is also the most hated and rejected by many people, the reader should not ignore that it is one of the classics of American literature. Furthermore, it is relevant to know not to repeat certain behaviours that, in the case of this book, could be racist so that, in the future, all people can have the same opportunities and equalities in a fairer society.

Works Cited

  1. Alberti, John. The Nigger Huck: Race, Identity and the Teaching of “Huckleberry Finn.” NCTE. 1995: 919-937. Web. 20 June 2020.
  2. Fischer, Beatrice; Jensen, Matilde, ed. Translation and the Reconfiguration of Power Relations: Revisiting Role and Context of Translation and Interpreting. Germany: LIT Verlag. 2012: 91-98. Web. 20 June. 2020.
  3. Gurpegui Palacios, Jose Antonio, ed. Historia crítica de la novela norteamericana. Salamanca: Almar-Anglistica. 2001: 145-148. Web. 20 June. 2020.
  4. Leonard, James S.; Tenney, Thomas A.; Davis, Thadious M., ed. Satire Or Evasion?: Black Perspectives on “Huckleberry Finn”. London: Duke University Press. 1992: 103-120. Web. 20 June 2020.
  5. Sundquist, Eric, ed. Mark Twain: A Collection of Critical Essays. New Jersey: Prentice Hall Direct, 1994: 90-102. Web. 19 June. 2020.
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Why Are The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer And The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn The Classics Of American Literature? (2022, Jun 09). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 23, 2024, from https://edubirdie.com/examples/why-are-the-adventures-of-tom-sawyer-and-the-adventures-of-huckleberry-finn-the-classics-of-american-literature/
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