My rating for the book: 4/5
Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.
– Mark Twain, intro of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Several years ago, my father gave me the Easton Press edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, shown in the above pictures. The brown leather binding, brassy etching on the covers and spine, the ribbon bookmark, and the pages’ gold edges shine under my light. The sepia-toned illustrations complement the text. It makes a perfect presentation for one of Mark Twain’s best works!
And at last, I’ve finished reading it! (With apologies to Dad for the years of delay.)
In case you want to read about Mark Twain (a.k.a. Samuel Langhorne Clemens) himself, the website for the Mark Twain House and Museum has a full biography. After the last review, I decided to skip the author bios going forward, just so you don’t have to scroll so much to get to the review.
Huckleberry Finn starts from where The Adventures of Tom Sawyer left off. This time Huck tells the tale, starting with his time living with the Widow Douglas and her sister Miss Watson. For a while, he struggles with the boring routines of school, church, and home. Just when he’s getting used to it, his alcoholic father comes back in town and picks on him before kidnapping and trapping him in a cabin.
After a few days, Huck escapes his father via raft. Then it’s all uphill from there as Miss Watson’s slave, Jim, joins him, and they sail the Mississippi River.
It was such an intriguing story for me. I was pushed to read on with so many questions: How long can Huck and Jim keep on the run? Who else could join them? What happens if they lose their boat? Or run out of food and can’t get any more? Or get caught and returned to St. Petersburg (Huck’s fictional hometown)? Will Jim end up being lynched?
There are a lot of big risks involved here, which should keep you reading, and Huck knows it. The thought of being “sivilized” scares him because he’s already so used to living free-range. He builds a friendship with Jim and wants to help him stay free, too, so he has good reasons not to be discovered. Even so, we see him grappling with the guilt of helping a slave run away (an especially hated crime at the time) – even to the point of fearing for his immortal soul.
It was enough to make me feel sorry for him. Especially when I, a modern American, know that Huck’s dilemma came from the controlling religious leaders and unjust racial politics of his time. That part also brought home the times religious leaders have twisted the Bible’s words to promote or condemn whatever they wanted. Even if Twain said we shouldn’t try to find a moral in the story, he managed to put some food for thought there and other places.
Throughout the story, Twain writes to imitate Huck and the other characters’ dialect. Twain listed them out – the “Missouri negro dialect,” the “extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern accent,” the “ordinary ‘Pike County’ dialect,” and four variants of the latter. I think this works really well, since it gives a unique flavor to each character – on top of their already unique personalities. (Except for the slaves, anyway – I’ll explain later.)
Sometimes it’s a bit hard to understand, on top of the more verbose 19th century English, but websites like SparkNotes have translations of each chapter to help with the confusing parts. The descriptions of the landscapes can get lengthy, which caused me to skim more than once to the next bit of dialogue or action.
I thought over the events of the story to see if anything went amiss in it – but I fail to see anything that did. Even if Twain warned against trying to find a plot in the story, none of the events were pointless. Every part advanced the story in a good way and most of the problems were resolved by the end of the story.
There’s one thing about the writing that’s a big problem: the racial slur starting with an N gets used a lot. It’s used to refer to Jim and every other black slave in the book. Jim and the slaves are also stereotypical – they’re shown to be uneducated, ignorant, and very superstitious. I don’t excuse these things or blame you if they stop you from enjoying the book. Those things and the sometimes lengthy descriptions are why I took one whole point off my rating there.
Despite those flaws, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was worth a read to follow Huck and Jim’s adventure. If you’re a fan of adventure and classic literature and can get past the racial aspects of the story, you should give this book a try. I’m glad I did after years of having it on my shelf!
Thanks for reading! I hope this motivated you to check out The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. If you have any insights on the story, feel free to comment below!
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Thanks for your time, and happy holidays from me to you!