Saturday, March 24, 2012

Huckleberry Finn

Finally, I finished my first Mark Twain book. Verdict: it was fun and often engrossing, but I guess that’s it. I didn’t find it to be an especially meaningful story, although Twain made it clear in a unequivocal notice at the beginning of the book that this was his intention, “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.” No kidding. Someone must have moralized the hell out of Tom Sawyer.

There were a couple laugh out-loud parts, and some mystery/suspense that might appeal to biblio-sleuths. Mostly I think it is just a well-paced adventure, with unique and bizarre twists, and a cast of loveable characters. The fact that some consider this to be a piece of civil rights literature I suppose is true enough, although I would like to remind readers that Twain denied having his book say anything about anything; but if it did something for the wellbeing of blacks, it certainly helped readers to sympathize with and grow comfortable imagining a relationship with a black person who may have had little exposure to their culture. Granted, the black person typified in Huckleberry is ignorant, nearsighted, a dupe for a prank, and overly-sentimental; but the average black person in those days was most likely uneducated, segregated and unaffected by so-called ‘refined’ intellectual society, and I’m sure their emotionally dominant way of thinking was a bit more serviceable to their survival needs. But it still seems to me they were less to be pitied than their prejudiced, gluttonous, and hostile white brothers and sisters; and Twain does much to endear Jim to the reader despite his stereotyped manner.

I thought the tapestry of lies that Huck wove every time he was in a tight spot was brilliant. And hilarious. I’ve never had so much fun witnessing someone lie. It was Huck’s high art. Each meticulously crafted deception was studded with creative and ludicrous details, dovetailed together so seamlessly so as to evoke the reader’s admiration. It was so reflexive without any accompanying guilt to clothesline his momentum. It was his way of life, and it was survival. Huck’s young age and small stature made it the most useful defense against the dark arts of adulthood and brute force. Every falsehood worked to grease his escape and afford him another day to move freely on the river in the hot potential of the sun. It was especially entertaining to watch him out-con the cons. I cheered him on the entire time, and it helped that he seemed to know when to turn his mendacity ‘off’ when he felt that honesty would be more conducive to a healthy relationship.

The ending of the book was the most disappointing. It truly seemed as if Twain had totally lost track of the plot. The last fourth of the book was completely taken up with Tom Sawyer entering the scene and playing an imaginative game of rescue of Jim from his captors. SO boring. I totally wanted to put the book down and call it a day. What an absolute waste of time. Dumb. Not bad writing necessarily, but just arbitrary and uninteresting. Was Twain trying to stretch the story, and stick it to his publishers? It’s not unheard of, and I have no better explanation.

I probably won’t read Tom Sawyer anytime soon, though I probably will one day. More interested in his other short stories like Mysterious Stranger and others. Too bad this wasn’t more rewarding. It had my vote before I started, but lost most of it by the end. I’m sure Twain wouldn’t have cared.

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