Yes, Prof. Wortham certainly does come across in the article as a
pretentious academic with a keen eye to the main chance. I especially like
the repeated emphasis on the need for a "close reading" of HF -- like
nobody thought of that before.
"Close reading," I suppose, is what revealed to him the "irony" of Jim
fleeing *down* the river (in fact, hoping to reach free soil in Illinois,
Professor) along with the "fact" that Twain is a racist because he used "the
N-word" 206 times and had commercial motives.
You have to admire his enterprise, though: first he wows generations of
undergrads with his beloved tchotchkes and the insights derived therefrom;
then he parlays his collection into what sounds like a labor-free book
project that will likely gain him a proprietary interest in Twain's
But alas, I really can't fault his claim that "Huck never realizes slavery
At Uncle Silas's farm, for instance, we see a whole crowd of slaves through
Huck's eyes, including the fieldworkers at their cabins, the "nigger woman"
and the "young yaller wench" in Aunt Sally's kitchen -- not to mention Nat,
the "punkinheaded nigger" who delivers Jim's food, and who becomes a
particular figure of fun for the boys. If Huck thinks *their* slavery is
wrong, he certainly keeps it to himself.
The problem is that Huck's epiphany in Chapter 31 is about just *one* slave,
Jim. Huck's decision to "steal Jim out of slavery again" ("All right, then,
I'll *go* to hell") is an awesome and moving scene. But the scene is so
powerful precisely *because* Huck doesn't doubt for a second that "stealing
a poor old woman's nigger that hadn't ever done me no harm" (as he puts it)
is "wickedness." Even worse, helping Jim get his freedom is an act so
disgraceful, so "low-down," Huck confesses, that if anybody from his home
town should ever find out about it, "I'd be ready to get down and lick his
boots for shame."
Bottom line: Huck was a brave boy and maybe a noble one, but as a citizen in
good standing of antebellum Missouri, he's still -- unlike his creator --
miles away from seeing anything seriously wrong with the "peculiar
New York, NY