Huck Finn The narrator (later identified as Huckleberry Finn) begins Chapter One by stating that the reader may know of him from another book, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mr. Mark Twain, but it ain’t t no matter if you have not.
According to Huck, Twain mostly told the truth, with some stretchers thrown in, though everyone–except Tom’s Aunt Polly, the widow, and maybe Mary–lies once in a while. The other book ended with Tom and Huckleberry finding the gold some robbers had hidden in a cave. They got six thousand dollars apiece, which Judge Thatcher put in trust, so that they each got a dollar a day from interest. The Widow Douglas adopted and tried to civilise Huck.But Huck couldn’t stand it so he threw on his old rags and ran away.
But he went back when Tom Sawyer told him he could join his new band of robbers if he would return to the Widow and be respectable. The Widow lamented over her failure with Huck, tried to stuff him into cramped clothing, and before every meal had to grumble over the food before they could eat it. She tried to teach him about Moses, until Huck found out he was dead and lost interest. Meanwhile, she would not let him smoke; typically, she disapproved of it because she had never tried it, but approved of snuff since she used it herself. Her slim sister who wears glasses, Miss Watson, tried to give him spelling lessons. Meanwhile, Huck was going stir-crazy, made especially restless by the sisters’ constant reminders to improve his behavior. When Miss Watson told him about the bad place, Hell, he burst out that he would like to go there, as a change of scenery.Secretly, Huck really does not see the point in going to the good place and resolved then not to bother trying to get there.
When Huck asked, Miss Watson told him there was no chance Tom Sawyer would end up in Heaven. Huck was glad because I wanted him and me to be together. One night, after Miss Watson’s prayer session with him and the slaves, Huck goes to bed feeling so lonesome I wished I was dead.
He gets shivers hearing the sounds of nature through his window. Huck accidentally flicks a spider into a candle, and is frightened by the bad omen. Just after midnight, Huck hears movement below the window, and a me-yow sound, that he responds to with another me-yow. Climbing out the window onto the shed, Huck finds Tom Sawyer waiting for him. Commentary In a few short dense pages, Twain manages to accomplish a great deal.Most importantly, the two introductory notes and the first chapter establish the author’s use of humor and irony, the character of Huckleberry Finn, the novel’s theme, narration, and the use of dialect. One hateful word the characters use has brought occasional condemnation onto the book and its author. The characters of the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson are also established.
As well, the author establishes that the reader needs no familiarity with his previous work, Tom Sawyer, to understand Huckleberry Finn, though he fills the reader in on the pertinent information from the previous work. The brief Notice that introduces the book has been reprinted above in its entirety. In humorously highfalutin language, it states that the reader must not seek plot, moral, or motive– the last two of which likely correspond to the present-day concepts of theme and character development. Of course, what the author really means by this notice is that the book does in fact contain all these things–that it is more than just a children’s, adventure, or humor book.Twain is using irony, saying one thing but meaning the opposite of its literal definition. He is using this irony humorously, covering this declaration of the book’s seriousness in a joke.
The joke pokes fun at the seriousness of adult American society, with its rules and officials, especially with the citation to G.G., Chief of Ordinance. Twain will use humor and irony throughout the book, most often combining the two.
Indeed, humor usually occurs as a result of irony, with the gap between the expected and the actual provoking a startled reaction in the recipient, that, if done right, is humor. But Twain’s humor has the purpose not just of entertainment, but of conveying a serious message, as in the Notice.Twain also uses ironic humor in Chapter One, in recording Huckleberry’s reactions to the Widow Douglas’s attempts at civilization, especially religion. When the Widow says grace, Huckleberry views it as unnecessary grumbling. He finds the nice clothes she gives him stifling.
He thinks Heaven (the good place) dull and would prefer to go to Hell (the bad place- the word Hell would likely be thought impolite in a civilized house like the sisters’) if his friend Tom is there. Huck’s views are all completely naturalistic, free of any of the pretensions toward refinement that mark the Widow Douglas and her sister Miss Watson. Huckleberry is rough, rustic–a truly uncivilized boy.He rebels against the restraints of civilization–artificial, middle-class society– and its delusions, represented by cramped clothing and religion, respectively. Huckleberry’s complete sincerity, which leads to his dislike for hypocritical civilization, is his defining quality. The Widow Douglas and her sister Miss Watson, meanwhile, are the representatives of the society Huck rejects.
They both immerse themselves in the values of civilization, feeling righteous by punishing themselves with tight clothing and delaying their meals to say grace, which only appears as grumbling to the more sincere Huck. Above all, they adhere to hypocritical and absurd religious values. Miss Watson describes her Heaven as a place where the inhabitants spend their days playing harps and singing; again, Huck more sincerely realizes that this place is dull rather than desirable.But the utter moral emptiness of Miss Watson’s religion is best demonstrated by her prayer meeting with the slaves.
Miss Watson dutifully respects the religious custom of evening prayer, yet at the same time sees nothing wrong with owning other people. The two sisters’ one redeeming quality is their concern for Huck, which, though it possesses moralistic overtones, includes an element of sincerity, giving them some patience in dealing with the uncivilized Huck. Other than this, the sisters’ role is to represent the artificial, empty civilization to which Huck stands in contrast. Thus, they serve as foils to the character of Huckleberry. Their artifice and hypocrisy contrast sharply with Huck’s natural sincerity, and so serve to highlight Huck’s qualities.Huck’s recognition of the hypocrisies and absurdities of the society represented by the Widow and Miss Watson, and his preference for nature and his own natural impulses, bring out the novel’s theme. Huckleberry Finn is about how society tends to corrupt true morality, freedom, and justice, which exist in nature, and how the individual must follow his or her own conscience. Chapter One establishes the corruption of the society in which Huck lives.
That society stifles freedom–in a small sense through its restrictive clothing and manners, and in a larger sense through the institution of slavery–and also morality and justice, with its absurd religion, hypocritical taboos, and, again, the institution of slavery. Quite a few critics have characterized Twain’s deep distrust in society as pessimistic. Yet it is important to remember that Twain maintains full confidence in the existence of morality, freedom, justice, and other absolutes. In fact, they transcend society’s most flagrant transgressions of them, awaiting proper recognition by the attuned individual.
Huckleberry is not only the protagonist, but the narrator of the entire book.That is, the book uses first-person narration. The reader only finds out about anything once Huck does (though this does not preclude the possibility of the reader understanding something that Huck does not). This way, the reader also gets Huck’s impressions of the world, which, as explained above, are important to the theme. In the Explanatory note, Twain advises the reader that his characters will all speak in dialects– that is, regional, ethnic, and class variants of English. As Twain notes, there are several different dialects used in Huckleberry Finn.
This may make the book somewhat more of a challenge to read, but if the reader sticks with it, the added detail will make the book more involving and believable. The added detail is also part of the book’s realism–that is, its unromantic attempt at an accurate depiction of the world. In particular, there is one word all the characters use that contributes to the nov …