Huck Finn Is Not a Bildungsroman Marx Is Wrong Term Paper

Excerpt from Term Paper :

Against Marx: Huck Finn Is About a Boy -- And Is Not a Coming-of-Age Novel

The character of Huck Finn is based upon the idea of the crucial inversion, which Twain develops at every instance of the novel. For example, in the beginning of the novel, Huck is meant to be civilized by Miss Watson -- but instead he is climbing out the window to play at being pirates with Tom. When Pap arrives, Huck is supposed to hand over the money that he won from the previous book -- but money does not mean anything to Huck, so it is in the hands off the Judge, who will not give to Pap. When Huck runs away from Pap, he teams up with Jim, the runaway slave -- and instead of turning Jim in to the authorities, he helps to hide him (even though there are moments of a "crisis" of conscience in which he thinks he is doing wrong but is actually doing right -- an instance of an inversion within an inversion). And even at the end of the novel, when Huck is supposed to be more mature and more in command of his surroundings (and therefore should easily be able to free Jim from the Phelps farm), he hands over control to Tom who has just arrived. Marx criticizes this ending as being unrealistic, considering what Huck has gone through and how he has come of age. But it is consistent with Twain's overall aim, which is to make Huck the embodiment of the crucial inversion -- an idea that means Huck always does the opposite of what he ought or of what we think he ought to do -- and usually he is right to do so. Therefore, the purpose of the following essay is to examine where and why Marx's argument against the novel fails.

While Marx sees the novel as a quest or as a bildungsroman, in which Huck is meant to grow and mature, Twain plays it more from the comedic angle (even as he inserts moments of agonizing realism and profundity). The pivot upon which the book turns is the comedic juxtaposition of Huck against the style='color:#000;text-decoration: underline!important;' target='_blank' href='' rel="follow">world, or of Huck and Tom against common "sense," of Huck against "civilization" -- and as Huck has "been there before" there is no need for him to see it all again (which he is why he sets back out on the road at the end of the novel, heading out for the territory ahead). If this were a journey, as Marx states, the novel would just conclude and not be so open-ended, with Huck's continued defiance of convention. But Marx wants the novel to be other than what it is. He misinterprets Twain's intention of using the crucial inversion as a plot device, and instead mischaracterizes it as a mistake. Marx wants the story to be a journey -- but it is not, and Twain asserts as much in the beginning when he tells the reader that there is no plot whatsoever to the novel in his novel's preface.

The irony that Twain wishes the reader to enjoy is that his hero Huck Finn is unable of seeing his own virtue. Marx wants Huck to be a character who grows and comes of age, but in order for this to true, Huck would have to arrive at some self-knowledge, which he does not really ultimately possess. He is through and through committed to judging himself from the conventional standards of his age and constantly finding himself wanting -- and being unhappily resigned to that fact: "All right, then, I'll go to hell," Huck says after deciding not to deliver Jim up in order to "save" his own soul (Twain, p. 217). This is high comedy as far as Twain is concerned because it is so full of wonderful irony. Huck is, at root, an ironic character who is completely unaware of being so.

And apparently Marx is also unaware of this. He is not content to appreciate that in spite of everything (Tom included), Huck is still a boy trying to help a fugitive slave to freedom. This is enough to win the reader's admiration and approbation. At the same time, an astute reader will appreciate the handy framing device that Tom serves: he is there at the beginning leading Huck, and he is there at the end leading Huck. In between, Huck does…

Sources Used in Documents:


Marx, L. (1953). Mr. Eliot, Mr. Trilling, and "Huckleberry Finn." The American

Scholar, 423-440.

Twain, M. (1915). The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Hayes Barton Press.

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