Friday, October 12, 2007

Book Review: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

October 12, 2007

I find classics difficult to review because they've all been reviewed a thousand times, and because, well, they are classics. Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was the second book we've read in the American Lit class I'm teaching at our support group's co-op. The students have enjoyed Huck Finn much more than The Scarlet Letter. Huck Finn is, of course, more accessible, and the vocabulary itself, while rich in dialect, is not difficult. But truthfully, class discussion surrounding The Scarlet Letter was more interesting than it has been for Huck Finn. The students probably don't realize that The Scarlet Letter, as archaic as it seems, struck a more familiar chord with them.

I love Huck Finn. On a purely surface level, it's a coming-of-age story--the kind of story that makes every kid want to float down the river in a raft. I was particularly interested, though, in comparing memories of my first reading of Huck Finn over 20 years ago with my most recent reading. What sticks the most in my memory is a wide river, Huck and Jim on a raft, and the never-ending floating. But my reading this time was completely different. For one, the river scenes really aren't the bulk of the book. I didn't even remember the scenes with Jim in captivity or Huck escaping from his father. In my high school lit class, we must have talked primarily about the river--why else would I remember it as such a grand part of the book? Or, perhaps, I just really wanted to float down a river on a raft.

This time around I was terribly appalled at the use of the "N" word. I understand that it was a common term at the time; still, I am uncomfortable with that word appearing a dozen times on each page. I don't remember this from high school, however. Was I less sensitive, or did I just accept an author's literary dialogue as such? When we started reading Huck Finn a few weeks ago, it was Banned Books Week. We had some lively discussion about why books are banned. We all ran up against a brick wall as to why Huck Finn is often banned, although I did cite reasons according to various websites. Still, the only reason we could come up with for ourselves was the use of that word. Would Mark Twain be appalled now? I think probably so.

Mark Twain is a marvelous author. His humor comes out of nowhere. He's the kind of author that makes me say, "Ha! What a genius!" as I'm reading. I feel unworthy, in fact, to teach and review his writing. I wish he were here to explain it all himself.

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