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Michael Kiskis <[log in to unmask]>
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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Fri, 19 Feb 2010 11:55:52 -0500
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Steve Hoffman wrote "although Huck doesn't not admit it, I think any
fair reading of the book would be that the author of the book sees
slavery as an evil."  Yes.  But there is also a difference between the
author and the character he creates.  Twain certainly could see slavery
as evil.  That doesn't mean that Huck does.  In fact, the strength of
the novel comes out of Huck's conflict between what he has been taught
and what he has experienced (slavery is good, black men are inferior and
dangerous vs. Jim is compassionate).

It is also important to ask whether Huck Finn is, in fact, a book about
slavery.  It is written, after all, a good many years after the Civil
War and the legal end to slavery.  What we know is that Twain struggled
with contemporary concerns that appear during the post-war and
post-reconstruction period (he writes the final chapters of Huck Finn
after his visit to the South during 1882; he goes back to fill in scenes
in Huck Finn that suggest Jim's logic and the South's Walter Scottism
later in the composing process).  Twain uses the historical fiction of
Huck Finn to address these larger concerns -- questions of morality,
identity, and, yes, even race.  It's also entirely possible to see Twain
as investigating issues surrounding poverty and child (family and
domestic) abuse.  We might even think of Huck Finn NOT as a novel about
the Mississippi Valley of Twain's youth but of the growing urban
concerns with poverty and immigration of the 1870s and 1880s.

So.  The issue for me is how complex the novel is.  And how our own
lives affect the way we read and interpret the novel.  A lot of readers
want Huck to be a savior because that fits a more romantic and
optimistic notion.  But looking at the novel within the tradition of
American realism and within the context of Twain's own time suggests a
much richer and complex and challenging novel.

Michael J. Kiskis
Elmira College