38 of 39 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
Mark Twain's 1885 novel, "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," has had a long history, during which it has been and still is both reviled and celebrated. Essentially the story of the picaresque travels and adventures of a young Missouri boy and his friend Jim, a runaway slave, in 1840's America. Taking cues from books like "Don Quixote" and Jonathan Swift's works, and a fraught relationship to Sir Walter Scott's historical romances and those of his protege, James Fenimore Cooper, Twain constructs a masterful first person narrative, through the eyes of 14 year old Huckleberry and a profound and hilarious satire on American culture.
"Huckleberry Finn" begins in tension - Huckleberry's fortune and wardship with the well-meaning widow Douglas has him in a bind. The widow wants to 'sivilize' him, taking him out of the happy go lucky, easy going lifestyle he loves, while his fortune of six thousand dollars has him living in perpetual anxiety of his father, a violent drunkard whose absence only makes Huck more anxious about his return. When Huck's pap does return, sure enough, Huck is remanded, more or less, to Pap's custody, and kept prisoner in a secluded cabin. Though he is no longer being 'sivilized,' his time with Pap becomes more and more tense and lonely, driving Huck to stage his own death and run away from Pap and from civilization. Early in his escape, on a small island in the Mississippi River, he meets Jim, a slave from his town of St. Petersburg, who has run away, planning to raise money in the north to buy his family out of slavery. Together, Jim and Huck form a friendship that will take them up and down and all around the Mississippi River.
"Huckleberry Finn" deals with a great many social issues, and none more interestingly than with conventional morality. With Huck, he effectively creates an outside position from which to view American culture as he sees it, with all of its pretentions and faults. Huck doesn't put much stock in widow Douglass' or Miss Watson's strictly defined notions of religion or morality - throughout the novel, we see him in constant conflict with himself over the fine line between what is considered right and wrong, and what is accepted as such. Huck's inner negotiations with prayer and morality, good and evil, are at the heart of the novel. His post-Emersonian, proto-Nietzschean manner of dealing with himself and his relationship to society is fascinating and compelling. His relationship with the runaway slave Jim, of course, is also a focal point of the novel - the ways in which Jim and Huck depend on and care for each other is both moving and of course, socially and politically suggestive and significant, especially in the historical context of the novel, both the setting, prior to the Civil War, and its published era, at the tail end of Reconstruction. Those who would be offended by racial epithets in common parlance during this time period would be advised to take historical context into account before railing against the novel's racial politics - if one gets unduly caught up in nitpicking such things, one falls into the trap of the satire, become a target in the process.
As satire or black comedy, "Huckleberry Finn" has at every moment the ability to make us laugh out loud at ourselves and at the situations in the novel - from the fraudulent actions of the King and the Duke, to Tom Sawyer's needlessly elaborate scheme to free Jim from slavery, to well-born cultured families feuding, to all the cross-dressing that goes on in the novel (and there is a lot of it!). Again, though, as black comedy, we may often catch ourselves laughing, then wondering, hey, that isn't very funny - this is the brilliance of Twain's artistic achievement; to make us laugh while looking critically at ourselves. A book that is uniquely American, Twain's humour, wit, and style contribute to give us a look at both Antebellum and post-Reconstruction America through the eyes of innocence and experience, to see how far the nation had come since the days of Washington, and how far it still had (and has) to go.
This 1998 Norton Critical Third edition of "Huckleberry Finn" is truly amazing. It restores the entire text from the manuscript, including among other things, the "Raftsman's episode" and all of the original illustrations. The supplementary materials in this edition are top-shelf also, with excerpts covering the controversy surrounding the novel, from its publication to the present. The critical selections are excellent as well, especially the incisive and yet startlingly personal essays by T.S. Eliot and Toni Morrison. This is probably the best current edition out there of this tremendous, and tremendously complicated American classic.