After the success of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
, published in 1876, Mark Twain began a book about Tom's more down-to-earth friend, Huckleberry Finn. Twain seems to have had no difficulty capturing Huck's spirit and voice as Huck told his story, but at some point, Twain began to struggle with the narrative. He set the book aside, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
remained unfinished for several years. He wrote and published a number of stories and the narrative account Life on the Mississippi
before finishing Huck's story.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
(Tom Sawyer's Comrade) was published in 1884 in England and 1885 in the U.S. The story takes place in the Mississippi Valley "forty to fifty years ago," or about the time of Twain's own boyhood in Hannibal, Missouri, a town much like Huck’s hometown, St. Petersburg, Missouri. Unlike his imaginative friend Tom Sawyer, who reads chivalric adventure stories and loves to play games of make believe, Huck is a realist. He tolerates the efforts of his caretakers, the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson, to “sivilize” him, but his preference would be to live barefoot in rags, smoking his pipe and fishing in the river.
The appearance of Huck’s “Pap,” an abusive drunk, serves as an inciting incident, prompting Huck to fake his own death and escape down the river. However, the two main plot lines of the story revolve around Huck’s friendship with a runaway slave named Jim, and his adventures with two con men who attach themselves to Huck and Jim. Huck struggles with his conscience over whether he should turn Jim in or help him escape like “a low down Ablitionist.” Likewise, the greedy exploits of the con men disgust Huck, making him feel “ashamed of the human race.” Twain’s choice to let Huck tell his own story adds to the realism of the narrative, while allowing Twain to satirize certain social customs. For example, Huck is quick to point out the hypocrisy of Widow Douglas’ admonition that he should not smoke tobacco while she herself uses snuff (a ground form of tobacco). Twain also highlights ironies Huck overlooks. For example, Huck ridicules the Christian faith of Miss Watson and Widow Douglas, which he regards as pointless. Yet the first chapter reveals that Huck is a slave to superstition when he inadvertently kills a spider, which he believes to bring bad luck, then performs a number of rituals in an effort to stave off the impending calamity he is convinced will befall him. Twain’s humor is largely expressed through irony and sarcasm. By portraying people with realism and shunning sentimentality, Twain makes a strong statement about human foibles and societal hypocrisy. --Submitted by Sybil
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