Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

An American friend was surprised when the topic of Mark Twain came up in conversation, and I mentioned I hadn’t read anything by him. I hadn’t even read Huckleberry Finn, which I understand has been a fixture of reading lists in many US schools for many years. So, I decided now was the time to see what I’d been missing!

I knew the book was a children’s classic that centred around a boy named Huck Finn. I knew nothing else before diving in and, if anything, had been expecting a fairly lightweight children’s adventure. It, therefore, caught me off guard to discover much more serious themes.

Released in 1885 but set in the 1830s, the book is written in the first-person narrative, told by the 13-year old Huck. We’re taken on the journey of Huck running away from his abusive father and then teaming up with Jim, a runaway slave, to travel down the Mississippi River.

Although Huck forms a bond with Jim and ultimately takes risks to free him, he remains convinced that he’s morally wrong for not giving Jim up to the authorities. Right up until the closing chapters, Huck’s still having thoughts like “I knowed he was white on the inside” in response to Jim showing kindness and compassion. The pair form a loyal bond, but it’s clear Huck never views Jim as his equal.

As someone who isn’t overly familiar with Mark Twain, it’s hard for me to judge whether he was intentionally making a point about the hypocrisy of racism. It certainly seems like that might have been the intention, with the lack of morals shown by many of the white characters and the juxtaposition of reactions to both characters running away (Huck’s shown empathy by Mrs. Judith Loftus while Jim’s given little regard).

It was hard for me to get into the flow of the story, as the ‘n’ word is used hundreds of times throughout. I kept stopping to research, confused at why a book with the ‘n’ word is such a fixture in the US curriculum. I found that the book’s place in the curriculum continues to be a hot debate and, in fact, it was also banned from some libraries upon its release in 1885, partly due to racism.

I’m not convinced Huckleberry Finn belongs in school curriculums, but I’ll also never be one to advocate for the banning of books. Although discomforting, I understand this is an important book, especially within American literature, that holds some valuable lessons if taught right.

A random but entertaining fact to end with: The book very nearly didn’t get published at all. After the first 250 copies had been sent out, it was discovered that a mysterious prankster had added a penis to an illustration of Uncle Silas. The copies had to be recalled and publication was postponed for a reprint. 🙈

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