Mon, 18 Dec 1995 16:40:20 -0800
Jane Smiley, in a criticism of _The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn_,
published in the latest Harper's (January, 1996 Vol 292 No 1748,
pp 61-67), seeks to topple the novel from it's perch as "the Great
American Novel". The gist of her argument seems to be that Twain did
not address the issue of slavery in as serious a manner as did Harriet
Beecher Stowe, in _Uncle Tom's Cabin_.
She mentions two parts of the book to support her argument that Twain
failed in his responsibilites. The first is that Huck and Jim did not
simply cross the Mississippi to Illinois at the onset of their adventure,
and the second is the "last twelve chapters are boring".
"Let me hasten to point out that, like most others, I don't hold
any grudges against Huck himself. He's just a boy trying to survive.
The villain here is Mark Twain, who knew how to give Huck a voice but
didn't know how to give him a novel."
My difficulty with accepting Smiley's critique arises from a number of
points, although I will concede I've never been particularly comfortable
with the Tom Sawyer sequence either. I got the impression that in order
for Smiley to consider a novel "Great" it must be first and foremost an
expose' of social ills (in this case slavery). _Uncle Tom's Cabin_ was
written with this in mind. I doubt Twain's motive for writing Huck
Finn was exposure of the cruelty of slavery, indictment of slavery occurred
because of story development. To require exposure of social ills as
for creating a work of art is far too limiting.
Huckleberry Finn was not what I would consider a "goal-oriented" person.
His motive for going down the river was to escape his personal problems in
town and get away from Pap. He teamed up with Jim as a matter of
not as a deliberate attempt to steal Jim away from slavery. So, I think
expecting them to merely cross over to Illinois represents a gross
of the book. Also, this would have denied the possibility for what I
consider the most poignant moment of the novel, Huck's resolution of his
percieved moral dilemma.
Huck wanted a vacation and taking Jim along fit in with his ideas about
a Tom Sawyer like adventure. Huck was content to float and fish without
being overly concerned with long range goals. It seems to me that Twain
started out the same with this book, revelling in Huck's freedom.
Complications arose for both Huck and Twain as the story progressed.
Oh well, just some thoughts ...