Great American Novel + Controversial “Racist Trash” + Social Satire = Twain’s Magnum Opus

AHF cover

“You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, but that ain’t no matter.”

-Mark Twain, p.1, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

So begins Mark Twain’s magnum opus, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, one of the most labeled books in American literature. It has been reviled as racist trash and banned at several schools, while paradoxically referred to as the Great American Novel (along with numerous other books). Numerous black people have taken serious offense to the extravagant usage of the N-word (just Google “N-word” if you’re not sure what it means) and thus deem it ethnically demeaning. However, Twain didn’t use the N-word simply because he had free will, but because he wanted to accurately portray American society during the 1830s. At the time, slavery was flourishing very well, and the typical American would address a slave or another black person by the N-word. Albeit it is comprehensible why black people, even today, express strong indignation upon reading Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, they should realize that the N-word was intended for depicting an early nineteenth-century United States.

The story centers around a semiliterate white boy named Huckleberry (Huck) Finn in Missouri. He is living under the tense guardianship of Widow Douglass who wants to “sivilize” him by depriving him of his former carefree lifestyle. Moreover, he is incessantly apprehensive about his abusive, alcoholic father’s return. Eventually, he does return, and Huck is deposited into his custody in an isolated cabin. While Huck doesn’t have to adhere to Widow Douglass’s “sivilized” lifestyle anymore, he nonetheless dislikes living with his father, leading to him faking his own death and fleeing from society. Amidst his escapade, Huck meets Jim, a slave from his town who is absconding to the North to buy his family from slavery. From here, Huck and Jim establish an everlasting friendship during their travels in the Mississippi River.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn deals with several topical issues, viz. slavery and morality. Huck is initially worried that helping a slave escape is immoral and if he’s caught, he will be subject to eternal torture and hatred. Nevertheless, Huck undergoes a major transformation when he realizes that Jim is as human as him. He was raised in a culture which taught him that slaves are subhuman and property — that they solely exist to serve white people. Huck, during his escapade, realized that Jim is a human — a loving man with a family and a kind heart. In summary, Huck has realized that slaves are fellow-beings just like him and makes an apparently immoral yet marvelous decision to save Jim.

I would recommend this book to people who like antislavery novels, American literature, and satires; though this story is accessible to virtually anybody. I read the Oxford World Classics edition, which contains a good introduction and thorough notes to clarify the text. Twain wrote this story with a strong Southern colloquial dialect, so it may be initially difficult to comprehend. But once you get the gist of it, the novel will be very readable and consequently very enjoyable. All in all, this is a solid edition of a solid novel.

Click here to buy this wonderful satire and coming-of-age story.

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