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I must have first read this when I was seven; of course as an older reader one realises the depths of the narrative a bit more, understanding a bit better the warped family dynamic between Huck and his father on the one hand and his various prospective adoptive households on the other. Indeed families are a major theme of the book in a way I hadn't realised before - Jim's search for his own lost wife and children, the feud between the Grangerfords and the Sheperdsons, the fake dynastic history of the duke and the king, the affair of Peter Wilkes' estate and will, and finally of course the Phelpses who adopt Huck as Tom Sawyer and then Tom as his own brother Sid.

Even at seven I was disturbed by Tom Sawyer's failure to grapple with the reality of Jim's situation in the final chapters of the book. He sets up an elaborate plan to abuse the hospitality of his aunt and uncle, setting Huck's and Jim's lives at risk as well as his own, gets wounded in the process, and all for the sake of a rescue which he alone knows to be completely unnecessary. As a child I felt he got away with it rather too lightly and indeed is unfairly rewarded with Huck's continued admiration and a minimum of chastisement from his family, and my views haven't changed in 36 years.

Of course I'm even more disturbed as a mature reader by Twain's own failure to really rise above the racial stereotyping of his day. Jim is an instrument of Huck's own growing up rather than a three-dimensional character himself, and Mark Twain resorts to racist humour rather too often for comfort.

But it still remains a very enjoyable read, much better than Tom Sawyer (I think; though it is decades since I read the earlier book).


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Nov. 2nd, 2010 12:31 am (UTC)
Huckleberry Finn is a collection of very good short stories that are struggling to become a novel. Some of them use dark humor to describe the grim realities of life in small towns that have limited communication with the outside world. I see the Tom Sawyer character's shallowness as recognition that he is part of that limited culture, while Huck having been down the river, has started to see a bigger picture how human beings treat each other.

To me, the Tom Sawyer book hangs together better as a unified story. It has some grimness, but it is mostly comical. The interactions are mostly between children, and their problems involve family, friends and the imagination.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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