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Mark Twain's realism in fully discovered in the novel The adventures of Huckleberry Finn, book which is known to most of readers since high school, but which has a deeper moral and educational meaning than a simple teenage adventure story. The simplicity of plot and the events that are described in the book look to be routine for provincial life of Southerners in the middle of the 19th century. But in reality, the problems touched are deeper and more expanded as they refer to nearly every sphere of society's life of that epoch.
I'm not sure that any other writer had shown such a full encyclopedia of American life in 1840 ies -- 1850 ies in just one of his novels. But Mark Twain succeeded to show the conflict of an individual and society, slavery issues, immorality and bigotry of "civilized" society, religious, Philistine and racial prejudices of Southerners, problems of education and progress over the conservatism in the minds of common people.
Moreover his realism is unique and genuine as he gives the narration to the main character- Heck Finn. As it was sated by L. Champion:"If the story of the narrative present is, then, as I have said it is, the story of Huck Finn's setting out to tell the truth, finding that he is not permitted that luxury, sensing that life itself had played him for a fool at a moment when he had thought he had been most conscientious, and becoming finally a teller of the tall tale, it is important to remember also that Mark Twain had his own tall tale to tell. He warned us in his published notice: Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot. " (Champion, Laurie The Critical Response to Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn Book; Greenwood Press, 1991 p.140)
The language used in the novel fully reflects the cultural and lingual particularities of that epoch, often illiterate and full of local Southern dialects. But the usage of dialects attaches an importance of social status, beliefs and moral qualities of the characters. Pap's words about African-Americans reflect usual attitudes of white people, who didn't even considered slaves to be people, just labor units, nothing more: "Oh, yes, this is a wonderful govment, wonderful-There was a free nigger there, from Ohio-they said he was a p-fessor in a college, and could talk all kinds of languages, and knowed everything. And that ain-t the wust. They said he could vote, when he was at home-they told me there was a State in this country where they-d let that nigger vote, I drawed out. I says I-ll never vote agin (Mark Twain, The adventures of Huckleberry Finn, p.20)."
Jim's dialect is typical dialect of a Southern slave, uneducated and oppressed person, whose role was to obey his masters. But the achievement of Twain's realism reveals is the depiction of Jim's character as of real personality, a merit and decent person, in some way a realization of folk's wisdom. He depicted him as a human, probably the most complete personality in the novel:"When Fitzgerald said that Huck's "eyes were the first eyes that ever looked at us objectively that were not eyes from overseas," he was undoubtedly referring to European eyes... European critic scorned not only the roughness, rudeness, and vulgarity in the United States, but indicted the hypocrisy in a nation that professed democracy and practiced slavery. Europeans were not, however, the first to see Euro-Americans objectively. Among those who preceded them were Africans and African-Americans, whose objectivity, uncompromised by preconceptions of dark-skinned peoples, is recorded in a variety of forms, including the slave narratives, which were first published in the latter part of the eighteenth century." ( Mensh, Elaine Black, White, and Huckleberry Finn: Re-Imagining the American Dream University of Alabama Press, 2000 p.34 )
For Heck Finn, teenage boy of 14, it's quite a dilemma which way to choose- to admit Jim be a human and a friend, or to follow the norms of southern society- to return Jim to slave owners. For Heck this journey down Mississippi river is escape from "moral slavery," slavery that was resulted by his relations with society, and this escape is more about a moral choices, while for Jim it's a question about life and death as he seeks physical freedom and acknowledgement of being a human.
The human exploit of Heck is that he learnt to distinguish right from wrong, virtue from evil and hypocrisy from sincerity. Having lived most of his life lonely, he was able to remain "tabula rasa" and have a little of that society's stamp on his soul. His philistine, narrow-minded commentaries about people who surrounded him tell everything about the morality of people he lived with as his observations reflect not his views but views of the Southern society (rednecks) in general: "In other words, Samuel Clemons, a cynical adult male, employs a character distinctly unlike (and more likable than) himself, in order to relate his unforgiving criticism of inescapable and very human foibles. Huck has no life of his own at these moments, and the book becomes about Samuel Clemons"" self-righteous anger, rather than the odyssey of a boy into mature adolescence." (O'Connor, William Van Why Huckleberry Finn Is Not the Great American Novel College English, XVIII (October, 1965),p.6-10) Huck doesn't have his own point-of-view, as he is confused what to do with Jim. The decision to return Jim back into slavery would also mean that he submitted to the society, to it's norms and that he himself appeared in "moral slavery" from which he tried to escape. Huck doesn't have any personal interests in their journey on the raft down Mississippi river as well as Jim doesn't. Their mutual decision to commit escapade is dictated by the human's general need of freedom, not by personal profits or desire to escape from hush realities. There is no romantic hope in happy life, freedom or triumph, it's just a simple aspiration to feel freedom and be liberated. Each of them sees freedom differently, but in general, the aspirations of both have much in common and are intercepted in novel. This model of plot makes the novel truly realistic, removes anything similar to the features of romanticism; moreover it makes satire on romanticism and criticizes it. The embodiments of romanticism are Tom Sawyer's ideas about being pirates and knights, robbing Arabian merchants and kidnapping beautiful ladies, which in reality appear to be stupid boyish games. Twain opposes Tom Sawyer to Huck Finn, who is more practical and who has more common sense, even though he is a simple orphan boy, who was lack of basic education and parent care. Moreover as criticds argueabout Tom: " he is after all a village boy, nephew of the respectable Aunt Polly, brother of the model prig Sid Sawyer; Tom shares their status, and to him Huck is a "romantic outcast." Therefore Tom will never share Huck's secret wisdom -- or his freedom." (Daniel G. Hoffman From "Black Magic -- and White -- in Huckleberry Finn," Article in Mark Twain: A Collection of Critical Essays Book by Henry Nash Smith; Prentice-Hall, 1963 p.101)
Other characters: duke and king (Dauphine) are under the influence of romantic world as well, but in reality their desire to play on stage is a simple scamming sceme, directed on personal enrichment. On the example of discussed characters Mark Twain wanted to convince the reader that romanticism was unsound and it was a bankrupt theory in application to life conditions, as it only set "extra wires' and extra limitations on human's consciousness and outlook.
Another interesting feature of "romantism" or satire on romanticism is the long time feud of two families: the Grangerfords and the Sheperdsons, which is quite similar to the well-known Shakespearean theme of Romeo and Juliet but is Americanized and incorporated with the story plot. In many aspects it has quite a different meaning in the novel, as it's just of the experiences of the main character but still carries the massage of Shakespearean classics.
Nevertheless some readers and critics argue that raft and Mississippi river form a sort of Huck's and Jim's idyll, because they were already free while searching for freedom and those passages might have been written under the influence of romanticism, but nevertheless their meaning is less than significant for the plot in general, but only sketches the desired relations on the hand with the world as Jim and Huck want to perceive it. River is more than freedom for both of them but nevertheless; they have to return to its banks, to the land, because it's a reality. And the things they experience on the land are quite sad: as the society had not changed at all, cruelty, vices, murder, lack of general morality and greed still reign over the souls of common people.
Another feature of…[continue]
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