Mark that “all of American literature comes from
Mark Twain’s Controversial MasterpieceMark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, grew up on a Southern plantation inhabited with slaves, with whom he befriended. Such childhood relationships and experiences were the foundation of many of his novels. Twain’s work is characterized by “broad, often irreverent humor or biting social satire” (Encarta).
His writing is also known for “realism of place and language, memorable characters, and hatred of hypocrisy and oppression” (Encarta). These writing qualities were all expressed in his controversial novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.Ernest Hemingway proclaimed that “all of American literature comes from one great book, Twain’s Huck Finn” (qtd. in Matthews 454). Huckleberry Finn is about a young boy who escapes his abusive father and travels down the Mississippi River with a runaway slave named Jim.
Jim is the primary focus of the debate about the novel, because of the racial issues that surround him. Other controversial elements include Huck’s practice of morals, Twain’s use of humor, and portrayal of Southern life and dialect.Mark Twain’s novel, Huckleberry Finn, has often been considered his masterpiece, but some critics have given negative reviews since its first publication.Throughout the novel, Twain incorporates “pleasant humor” (Howells 456). It is a difficult task to produce a book, combining subtle humor with the serious issue of slavery, as Twain accomplished. Brander Matthews also supports the novel in saying that “Huckleberry Finn is a very amusing volume, and a generation has read its pages and laughed over it immoderately” (455).
Despite these praises, some critics feel there is little or no humor present in the novel at all. They say, “It is an amusing story if such scrap-work can be called a story” (“Early Reviews”). Huckleberry Finn was also said to contain only “monotonous humor” (“Early Reviews”).While Brander Matthews may continue to say that “it is very much more than a funny book; it is a marvelously accurate portrayal of a whole civilization” (455), many critics disagree with both aspects of Matthews’ statement. Mark Twain was attacked for his attempt to “dirty minds when young people are trying to define and develop their morals” (Wright).
Critics believe that Twain was mocking society continuously throughout Huck Finn. Examples are the killing of Boggs in front of his daughter, the people’s cowardliness to lynch Sherburn after he murdered Boggs, Twain’s portrayal of Shakespeare through the Royal Nonesuch, and the king and the duke’s abuse of gullibility and human nature. The king also cheats an entire congregation out of money when he says he wants to convert to their religion. Twain mocks religion by Huck’s reluctance to pray and by saying it was a waste of time. During Huck’s stay with the Grangerfords, he learns of a family feud that eventually destroys two entire families, except for the forbidden lovers.
Again, this shows a parallel to Shakespeare’s work, Romeo and Juliet, where the two forbidden lovers kill themselves. This is criticized because analysts think that Twain is trying to show the stupidity of the wealthy and well educated.Critics say that Huckleberry Finn is “pitched in a key of vulgar and abhorrent life” (“Early Reviews”). “Early Reviews” also say that it is “more suited to slums than to intelligent, respectable, people.” Advocates of Huck Finn defend the novel by rebuking that Twain is not mocking society, rather he is making the reader think critically about it and giving them the benefit of experiencing life in the 1800’s. Wright adds that people “have to have knowledge of something to be against it.
” Mark Twain was trying to present an accurate account of life, and have the reader and Huck decide for themselves what is right and wrong.Another reason many consider Huckleberry Finn to be Twain’s masterpiece is his accomplishment of writing the entire novel in the first person of Huck. Huck uses “authentic language” for the time period (Encarta). Twain also managed to use various Southern dialects and “keen vision of character and observation of life,” which added to the realism of the novel (Howells 457). On the other hand, critics read the different dialects and classify Twain’s writing as “trash, rough, coarse, inelegant, and un-elevating” (“Early Reviews”). Critics also point out that there was “varying dialect of the narrator” (“Early Reviews”).
When trying to find a reason for the bad grammar and dialect, critics say, “it is the characters and their interrelationships which determine the arrangement and structure of the book” (Simpson 17). Huck uses “careless grammar” (World Book) which contributes to the “series of flaws and imperfect sense of tone” (qtd. in Simpson 55). “Early Reviews” call the dialect “rough and ignorant” and the novel as a whole “singularly flat, stale, and unprofitable.
” While Huck’s grammar and dialect is criticized, so is he as a character. Some readers and critics think Huck to be an assertive individual. He is a boy without morals in the beginning of the novel, and progresses to be a “man with a commitment to values” at the conclusion (Unger 211). Huck is thought of as an evaluative boy who is always pretending to be less smart and capable than he actually is. Huck is an “insight into human frailty” (Howells 458). He maintains morality when he did not tell on the runaway slave, Jim, tried to return the stolen money to the Wilkes girls, and when he tried to escape the bad influence of the king and the duke.
His interactions with people and his use of common sense make him an enjoyable narrator. Other critics, however, look at Huck as an ingenuous and immoral boy. His “absence of truth” is great (“Early Reviews”). He fakes his murder, deceives a kind lady just to hear about current events, and participates in the king and the duke’s moneymaking scams.
Huck’s “casual moralsunrefined manners and languagesimple acceptance to the principles of slaveryand his use of racial stereotypes” often disturb readers and critics (World Book).The most popular reason for censorship and criticism is the so-called negative racial treatment of characters, setting, or theme. Racism was not unusual at the time in which the book is set “because many large farms and plantations held slaves” (Encarta). Abolitionist’s hopes of ending slavery seemed impractical “because the economy would collapse without the slave-based agriculture” (Encarta).
Twain was against slavery in that Jim exhibited many emotions that were typically restricted to whites in that time period. He missed his wife and children and cried when he thought Huck had drowned. The author has the narrator decide against slavery and realize that racism is bad. Huck follows his conscience and does not turn Jim in. He breaks the law and risks supposedly going to Hell and sacrificing his soul for the sake of Jim’s freedom.
The racial slurs that Huck uses regularly add to the realism of Huckleberry Finn. This novel provides insight to the lives and opinions of people in the South before the Civil War and Emancipation proclamation. “Twain’s skill in capturingthat life helps make the book one of the masterpieces of American literature” (Encarta). The opposition says racial slurs are “detrimental to the self-esteem of students in minority groups” (Wright). Racism is the primary reason that Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was banned in many libraries when it was first published.
But, Wright also argues that “a student has to be taught the various ways of looking at an issue before he or she can decide what side to take” and that “if parents want materials censored it is up to them, not the government to do it.”From the two aspects of Huckleberry Finn, it is inarguable that the novel has had a significant impact on society, not only today but also since its first publication. The “anticlimactic” ending only began the debate over Huck, Jim, and Southern society in the mid-1800’s (Simpson 56). Literary analysts found reason for dispute in Twain’s grammar usage, Huck’s morals, manners, and language, or lack thereof, use of racial stereotypes, and Twain’s account of Southern society. Whichever view the reader or critic chooses to take, the “moral structure of the book alone teaches timeless lessons to all humanity” (Simpson 60).