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Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
Sun, 27 May 2012 21:09:25 -0400
Mark Twain Forum <[log in to unmask]>
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Dan Walker <[log in to unmask]>
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    As for what Huck is aware of--"He had a dream, and it shot him"--I always see Twain's awareness as lurking behind Huck's, and Tom's for that matter. I agree that there's evidence of learning as Huck moves through the episodes: he seems to learn a bit about society from each episode. And about himself when the REAL father figure in the book, Jim, rebukes him as "trash" and he has to apologize. There's even a hint of another kind of maturity in his response to Mary Jane in the Wilkes episode. 
    As for the end--(AHEM! Book promotion alert!)--in my sequel, Huckleberry Finn in Love & War, I have Huck (and Tom) wind up faced with the kind of choices the Civil War required of a lot of people. Twain himself got 62 pages into a sequel, the kind you'd expect full of continuing "adventures" and got tired of it. So I guess we're entitled.
    I still think it helps to think of Huck as the permanent boy in human nature, which Twain I guess was still optimistic about. And Tom, in a way, is still a boy himself, though far more corrupted by books.

-----Original Message-----
From: Andrew Dickson <[log in to unmask]>
To: TWAIN-L <[log in to unmask]>
Sent: Sun, May 27, 2012 7:09 pm
Subject: Re: The ending of Huckleberry Finn

> On Wed, May 23, 2012 at 10:27 PM, Dan Walker <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
> Andrew:
> One way to account for Tom at the second "shack" is that he balances Pap:
> b=
> oth are in control of Huck and both are storytellers. And both deliver
> narr=
> atives corrupted by nature and civilization: Pap's, by alcohol, and Tom's
> b=
> y romanticism. Both use real people to populate their fantasies. Both
> Demon=
>  Rum and literature seem to me products of human ingenuity and (I guess
> Pla=
> to would say?) distortion of reality. Tom's role has always seemed more
> cul=
> pable to me because of his education and because he makes real people
> (Jim)=
>  play a role in his romantic fantasies of justice to the point that
> everyon=
> e is almost killed. Tom deserves serious punishment and thus he gets a
> bull=
> et in the leg--but survives it. He's only 14, after all, not 34. As Huck
> sa=
> ys in making excuses for him: "he had a dream, and it shot him." Indeed it
> =
> did! One thing often forgotten about the end is that Jim knows how to keep
> =
> secrets, too, and has hidden agendas: the foolish hairball business at the
> =
> beginning is nicely balanced by the secret he keeps about Pap's death at
> th=
> e end--thus keeping from Huck the news that might free Huck to leave
> Jim...=
> .
> That's my two cents on the balance of beginning and end.
> Still, I share your concerns about the ending--both thematic and artistic.
> =
> It seems to devalue Jim's quest, for one thing. But it also stretches
> credu=
> lity WAY too far: Tom just happens to be visiting at the farm where Jim
> jus=
> t happens to be held--on the day Huck happens to show up. And repeats the
> "=
> ghost" joke ...maybe there's balance there, too?
> What I do like about the end is that--even though it took reintroducing
> Tom=
>  to do it--the end confirms the point that Huck is the eternal child (I
> agr=
> ee with Eliot) who cannot really grow up. He must finally reject Tom and
> al=
> l of civilization by going West, which he vows to do at the end. You could
> =
> argue that if he does grow up he becomes Jay Gatsby...
> Sorry--there's 20 minutes you'll never get rebated!
> Dan

i like this perspective.  i'm blown away by how many layers this book has,
even though i was already blown away while reading.  the line 'he had a
dream and it shot him' -- do you think that huck was slyly aware of the
figurative nature of this statement?  or is that putting too much faith in
a barely literate 14 year old?  i read that line very literally in the

the notion about huck being able to leave very early on does add a
different spin to jim.  they find the house right towards the beginning of
their journey, so had huck known he was free, it certainly would've changed
the outcome.

but see, the ending, i don't see it as him being the eternal child -- at
least entirely.  we see in the beginning that huck becomes civilized and
actually grows accustomed to it, to the point of actually liking it.  it's
only when his dad shows up that he leaves the bubble of civilization.  when
he says at the end that aunt sally's going to civilize him and he must
leave ahead of the others, i took this as open-ended, 'the adventure

now i think it's actually a very conclusive and happy ending.  because what
it's really saying is, huck's going to be okay with being civilized.  he's
still going to resist, but like he had done originally in the story, he'll
certainly get accustomed to it.  at the same time, it implies that 'so what
if he's civilized, maybe he'll just end up having another adventure...?'  i
love the ending two sentences.  it goes full-circle back to his original
mindset, but this time, the reader knows he'll be a-okay with it,
especially if he has one last adventure in the west!

Also, good point, Jeff! --

Ironically, he is down the river, which is the fate he wanted to avoid when
he ran off.


I know what you mean, Jeff, about wondering where you heard or read
> something. I surely owe Scott Donaldson at William & Mary, for
> example--whose class I took on American Intellectual History--for ways of
> approaching American lit.=20
> I don't THINK Prof. Donaldson said this, so...
> One place I think Twain explicitly goes after the Southern
> romantic/chivalric code is in the Grangerford-Sheperdson episode. The clue,
> I think, is that he does NOT make the Colonel look ridiculous, even in the
> morning libation. This is tragedy, not farce (as the conclusion IS in some
> ways). I've always thought it intriguing that Huck and Buck are so
> similar--not just in their names. When Huck sees Buck shot at the river, he
> in effect sees the death of an alternate Huck: one raised in that kind of
> culture, who could NOT make it downstream. He says it gives him nightmares.
> Dan

I have nothing else to add but this was also a very moving insight into the
book.  this was a very dark portion of his river journey.