Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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Cover and spine of the first US printing.

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel by Mark Twain first published in the United Kingdom in December 1884 and in the United States in February 1885. It is the second book in the Tom Sawyer series.

The story follows Huckleberry Finn, a character from the previous book, Adventures of Tom Sawyer, as he tries to escape from his violent drunken father who has been locking him in a shack in an attempt to steal the boy's money. He gets mixed up with a slave named Jim who is trying to escape to the free states, and the two float down the Mississippi River toward Caro at the Southern end of Illinois where Jim can make his way into the free states. The two find themselves caught up in many adventures along the way.

Personal

Own?No
Read?Audiobook read by Patrick Fraley.
Finished2021-07-11

I read this book to better-familiarize myself with older American fiction. While reading it, I certainly see why there has been so much contention about making this book available to children. Twain himself said that neither this book, nor Adventures of Tom Sawyer, were written for children and he was surprised parents let their children read it (though this may have been said sarcastically). I listened to the audio book read by Patrick Fraley, the same reader I listened to for Tom Sawyer, and, although he is a fantastic reader, I didn't care much for the book. This version included the cut chapter about Dick Allbright's baby.

This book is in the public domain.

Review

Overall:

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— This section contains spoilers! —

Good

  • There is a wide variety of adventures that Huck and Jim find themselves in, and some of them are even interesting.
  • I like that, when Huck gaslights Jim after their separation in the fog, Jim says how disappointed he is in Huck, and Huck begs forgiveness from him, and isn't ashamed for begging forgiveness from a slave (unfortunately, his begging isn't described, merely stated, a missed chance).
  • I appreciate that Twain made an attempt to describe how awful it is to separate slave families, though, I think he could have done it better. Saying that the sale won't go through is little consolation to the families who think they've lost each other forever.
  • The King and the Duke are both enjoyable rapscallions for awhile, though they began to tire on me near the end, and their comeuppance is unimpressive.

Bad

  • It's nice that Huck has a crisis of conscience when he first goes to turn in Jim, but, rather than empathize with the plight of another person and learn some morality, he decides he should just do whatever is easiest from now on. Later in the book, Huck does finally view Jim as important enough to make a bigger sacrifice for, although he still refers to Jim as his property or just by the n-word, and the "sacrifice" of going to hell doesn't mean much to Huck.
  • Several times Twain misses an opportunity to make a scene more suspenseful and instead draws it out slowly, like when Huck listens in on the criminals on the wrecked steamboat.
  • Just like with Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Twain lists dozens of ridiculous superstitions. I don't know if he does this because he truly thinks there is something to them, or to make his characters seem weak-minded, but, either way, it's annoying when authors add in superstition just for fun without actually having their characters learn some skepticism along the way. And, in the end, they're all just as superstitious as ever.
  • Huck's encounter with the old woman who quickly identifies him as a boy, though he's dressed as a girl, is not even remotely organic. Twain felt the need to explain how each of Huck's actions were how a boy would do things rather than a girl instead of relying on the reader's own observations.
  • I didn't care for the way Colonel Sherburn murders the drunk in public and mocks the whole town, and nobody does anything about it.
  • Twain's excuse for how the Duke and the King so easily escaped the town, even after they're exposed as frauds, is pretty weak. Sure, people would be interested in seeing all the gold coins, but, they saw them before, and it wouldn't have been enough for the entire mob to not care that they left. I also didn't care for Huck wanting to warn them, even though they betrayed him every step of the way.

Ugly

  • The book is ripe with overt racism. I'm not sure how racist Mark Twain was, but pretty much all of the characters in this book are extremely racist. Twain makes little attempt at pointing out the failures and evils of racism. Instead, in many instances, he reinforces them. Jim is frequently depicted as credulous and trusting to white men, whom he's also supposed to distrust. Huck and Tom for much of the book abuse black people and never even consider that they might be people too. They play tricks on them, lie to them, gaslight them, and rarely take a second to think about the damage they caused because of their hi-jinks. Although, I can see how one might interpret portions as being anti-slavery, or Twain satirizing how dumb slave owners can be for not realizing when their slaves are mocking them, I do not see this book as a useful tool for pointing out the evils of slavery or racism.
  • Also like in Adventures of Tom Sawyer, there are a lot of extremely unlikely coincidences that require a strong suspension of disbelief. They're constantly encountering events even more unlikely than the last, culminating into Huck somehow randomly meeting Tom Sawyer again 500 miles away.
  • The last few chapters, where Tom Sawyer is helping Huck and Jim escape is a really low point. For several chapters, Sawyer demands Huck and Jim make a "proper" escape, and I wasn't just bored, but annoyed at how obnoxiously tedious it was.
  • The original illustrated edition makes heavy use of racist blackface tropes in the drawings of Jim.
  • I didn't really find the book that enjoyable. The only character that interested me was Jim, but he wasn't present for most of the book. Huck's story was interesting when his dangerous father was around, but, after he escaped, I didn't really care what happened to him anymore.
  • Twain uses the phrase "by and by" 85 times throughout the book! It becomes really, really annoying.

Media

Covers

Quotes

  • "Having faith is believing in something you just know ain't true."
  • "That is just the way with some people. They get down on a thing when they don't know nothing about it."
  • "I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: 'All right, then, I'll GO to hell' -- and tore it up."
  • "A feud is this way: A man has a quarrel with another man, and kills him; then that other man's brother kills him; then the other brothers, on both sides, goes for one another; then the cousins chip in -- and by and by everybody's killed off, and there ain't no more feud. But it's kind of slow, and takes a long time."
  • "If you tell the truth you do not need a good memory!"

Adaptions

The only adaption I'm familiar with is the 1993 film, The Adventures of Huck Finn, which I liked and think does a much better job of portraying the horrors of slavery.

Trivia

Comparing the original illustration with the defaced version.

The reason the book was released in the UK before the USA, despite being an American book by an American author, was because one of the book's illustrations was defaced in the US edition. Someone drew a crude penis on the illustration of Uncle Silas near the end of the book. This wasn't noticed in the advanced printing, and several books were shipped with this vandalized illustration. These books are now highly sought after and sell for thousands of dollars.

Links

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