Satire in Huckleberry Finn Thesis
Excerpt from Thesis :
Satire in Huck Finn
Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel of great acclaim, and great controversy. The work embodies ideologies of the day, utilizing satire to demonstrate the long and short of the institutions and ideas of the context, which Twain so colorfully creates and embellishes. Some argue that the satire is a poor guise for the demonstratively racist ideas that Twain does not counter in his statements about the world as he sees it.
Critics vilify Twain most often and most vehemently for his aggressive use of the pejorative term "nigger." Detractors, refusing to accept the good intentions of a text that places the insulting epithet so often in the mouths of characters, black and white, argue that no amount of intended irony or satire can erase the humiliation experienced by black children. Reading Huck Finn aloud adds deliberate insult to insensitive injury, complain some.
Yet, there is a clear sense of satire, no matter how tamed it is by propriety and colloquialism. Though the novel's satire is not subtle, it is not risky either. It is spoken by a narrator who shares the authoritative word with his audience; in a sense, his readers have granted him the authority."
The satire most often addressed, with the regard tot the work is the attachment of the most comical and literarily powerless of individuals with the words that demonstrate a desire for redress of social construct. The language of the novel demonstrates a call to question the authority of the ideas that are being issues through pejorative terms like "nigger," the most complicated and controversial of all of Twain's term tactics appearing at least ninety times (in singular only) within the text, in both positive and negative connotations. When describing Jim as an admirable character to both the adolescents and his peers the word is simply a moniker, to Jim's name as it is so frequently used almost to a point of notoriety, a question of itself, "Jim was monstrous proud about it,...Niggers would come miles to hear Jim tell about it, and he was more looked up to than any nigger in that country."
Twain 8) While like in the ranting of Pap the whole gambit of social ills afforded to the black man, free and enslaved are embodied in the manner in which this character speaks of the situation at hand. Pap, waxes on and on about black success and white failures, as if the whole of the nation was in a state of flux because the black man had rights and the white man was denied them.
It was 'lection day, and I was just about to go and vote myself if I warn't too drunk to get there; but when 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 ag'in. Them's the very words I said; they all heard me; and the country may rot for all me -- I'll never vote ag'in as long as I live. And to see the cool way of that nigger -- why, he wouldn't 'a' give me the road if I hadn't shoved him out o' the way. I says to the people, why ain't this nigger put up at auction and sold? -- that's what I want to know.
Pap is a caricature of the angry poor white trash, the anomalous character who has been denied his rightful piece of the American dream and does the best thing he can to respond he further disenfranchises his abilities by becoming the town drunk, falling over himself in his vehement effort to let his opinion be known, in a culmination of what can only be called a list of excuses for his own failings. "Pap was a-going on so he never noticed where his old limber legs was taking him to, so he went head over heels over the tub of salt pork and barked both shins..."
Twain uses the literary forms of irony and satire to convey his message about the hypocrisy of American society. One example is the feud of the two families who are portrayed as pillars of the community and who go to church regularly, carrying their guns with them. They see no connection between their church-going and Christian beliefs and the killing of each other for reasons no one can remember. The conscience of the nation is
symbolized by the journey of a runaway slave and a rebellious white teenager. Loyalty, friendship, respect for others who are different -- especially different because of race -- are all explored for their moral implications.
Satire is the driving force behind the messages of the work. The individual characters, and especially the protagonist is on an epic journey that will determine his whole life, as in the mind of the teenager perception is reality. The world in which Huck lives (and Twain as a child for that matter), not to be an apologist included the complicated and extreme characteristics of the peculiar institution of slavery with all its brutality and ironies.
Satire specifically becomes a vehicle for the Twain to express the contradictions in the fiber of the society in which he lived. One outstanding example of the utilization of Satire to create a message is the production of the World-Renowned Tragedians DAVID GARRICK THE YOUNGER! AND EDMUND KEAN THE ELDER! when they trick a good majority of the town into paying for a magnificent show, only to be treated with a five to ten-minute heavily painted but none the less nude man on hands and knees crawling across the stage. The anger that the crowd displays after the events conclusion is mighty, and well deserved but the logic that stops the croud from tearing the actors from limb to limb is an expression of satire with regard to the state of the world as it was. The people were instructed by a level headed stranger to go home and tell everyone how great the production was so that no one would be wise enough to know that they had all paid good money to a see a show that was entertaining to say the least but where the joke was on them.
The colorfully painted production is an analogy to the secrecy that men use to cover for bad decisions and wicked choices. The nation as a whole pretending that the division of class, known as slavery and freedom, a satire in and of itself in reality is an institution that should be protected with laws and legislation, even in the face of seeing that for the most part it was inherently flawed and wickedly destructive to everyone concerned. The satire could be carried to almost any "traditional" institution, where everyone knows that only those on top are really gaining while those on the bottom are losing everything, including but not limited to opportunities to live a productive life.
This is a testament to Twain's utilization of satire to point out why men continue to protect institutions that do not better society but fill it with violence, anger and destruction. Even the very division of people by race (color) is reflected in the drama and how it is received by the people, the Technicolor dream coat of theatrical paint on the naked man being a representation of the greater stratified hierarchy of race division in America. "Next day you couldn't hear nothing around that town but how splendid that show was. House was jammed again that night, and we sold this crowd the same way. When me and the king and the duke got home to the raft we all had a supper"
Twain 210) When the ruse was up and the people who had been "sold" a bill of goods on the other two showings of the "drama," created by the band of brothers to earn some money for the road there is a clear sense of the satire associated with how much people hate to be shown the truth about their character, and more specifically the truth about their institutions. (211-212)
The white men in Huck Finn are not given the representation of being good. The white man, through satire is painted as a loser with limited intelligence and expressive greed. This can be seen as the description of Finn's father utilizes alliteration, repeating the word white over and over, interspersed with associative words of hatred and disgust. "There warn't no color in his face, where his face showed; it was white; not like another man's white, but a white to make a body sick, a white to make a body's flesh crawl -- a tree-toad white, a fish-belly white."
Twain 26) Adults, for the most part, and with the most colorful of expressions were depicted as men in rags, with no redeeming qualities, while Jim the Nigger was Finn's surrogate father, protector and literal…
Sources Used in Documents:
Henry, Peaches. "The Struggle for Tolerance." Satire or Evasion?: Black Perspectives on Huckleberry Finn. Ed. James S. Leonard, Thomas A. Tenney, and Thadious M. Davis. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1992. 25-48.
Jackson, Barbara L. "Debating Huck Finn." College Teaching 38.2 (1990): 63-66.
Lynch, Paul. "Not Trying to Talk Alike and Succeeding: The Authoritative Word and Internally-Persuasive Word in Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn." Studies in the Novel 38.2 (2006): 172. http://www.questia.com/PM.qst?a=o&d=5015994873.
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York P.F. Collier & Son, 1918.
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