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Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) is commonly accounted as the first Great American Novel. It was also one of the first novels ever written in the vernacular, or common speech, being told in the first person by the eponymous Huckleberry "Huck" Finn, best friend of Tom Sawyer (hero of three other Mark Twain books). The book was published for the first time on February 18, 1885. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is also a great example of a bildungsroman.
In The Green Hills of Africa, Ernest Hemingway placed the novel in historical context : "All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. ... all American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since."
The book is noted for its innocent young protagonist, its colorful description of people and places along the Mississippi River, and its sober and often scathing look at entrenched attitudes, particularly racism, of the time. The drifting journey of Huck and his friend Jim, a runaway slave, down the Mississippi River on their raft may be one of the most enduring images of escape and freedom in all of American literature.
Although the book has been popular with young readers since its publication, and taken as a sequel to the comparatively innocuous The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (which had no particular social message), it has also been the continued object of study by serious literary critics. It also has been criticized because of the 215 occurrences of the word nigger (see "Controversy" below).
Many white characters in the story are depicted as foolish, cruel or selfish, in contrast to the main black character, Jim, who is depicted as smart, superstitious, uneducated but unselfish. The story is set before the American Civil War, probably in the 1830s or '40s. Huck, as we know from Tom Sawyer, is a loose-living young vagabond with no mother and an alcoholic father. He meets Jim, a slave who is about to be sold down the river and separated from his wife and children, and they attempt to go north across the Ohio River to freedom. The book tells of their adventures.
Family is one of the most important themes in the book. The attempt by Huck's father to gain custody of him in order to steal the money Huck and Tom had found in the previous book precipitates his flight, staging his own murder to get away. One of the major plot devices in the book is Jim's hiding the death of Huck's father from him. As they travel the river, Huck is frequently involved with families who attempt to adopt him.
Another theme is the life on the Mississippi River, alternately idyllic and threatening. In true picaresque fashion, Huck and Jim encounter all the varieties of humanity as they travel: murderers, thieves, confidence men, good people and hypocrites.
It is commonly said that the beginning and ending of the book, the parts in which Tom Sawyer appears as a character, detract from its overall impact. Others feel Tom serves to start the story off and to bring it to a conclusion, and that Tom's ridiculous schemes have the paradoxical effect of providing a framework of "reality" around the mythical river voyage.
Another theme is Huck's gradual acceptance of Jim as a man, a man better than any other in the book, strong, brave, generous, and wise (though realistically portrayed as imperfect).
Its themes on religion are almost as strong as its race theme. Huck himself comes across as religious but has trouble believing in God, finding that although he tries to pray, he finds it to be a waste of time. In fact, Huck comes across as one of the most unbiased , open-minded characters of popular literature as he continually questions his own motivation and life in general throughout the book.
Although the Concord, Massachusetts library banned the book shortly after its publication because of its "tawdry subject manner" and "the coarse, ignorant language in which it was narrated," the San Francisco Chronicle came quickly to its defense on March 29, 1885:
- "Running all through the book is the sharpest satire on the ante-bellum estimate of the slave. Huckleberry Finn, the son of a worthless, drunken, poor white, is troubled with many qualms of conscience because of the part he is taking in helping the negro to gain his freedom. This has been called exaggerated by some critics, but there is nothing truer in the book." 
In the United States, occasional efforts have been made to restrict the reading of the book. At various times, it has been:
- banned from the library in Concord, Massachusetts, shortly after publication
- excluded from the juvenile sections of the Brooklyn Public library and other libraries
- removed from reading lists due to alleged racism (e.g., in March of 1995 it was removed from the reading list of 10th grade English classes at National Cathedral School in Washington, DC, according to the Washington Post; a New Haven, Connecticut correspondent to Banned Books Online reports it has been removed from a public school program there as well.)
- removed from school programs at the behest of groups maintaining that its frequent use of the word "nigger" implies that the book as a whole is racist, despite what defenders maintain is the overwhelmingly anti-racist plot of the book, as well as the intellectual fallacy of applying current social mores to past times.
References and external links
- Banned Books Online
- Hucklebery Finn Debated
- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - searchable, indexed e-text.
- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Full text in easy to read HTML format.
- RSS Edition RSS Version of the text
- www.huck-finn.com much more information about Huck Finn
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