For last few weeks, I had been engrossed in serious somber works of passionate Russian writers – Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Leo Tolstoy. Though, Crime and Punishment astonished me with Fyodor’s psychological insight into an idealistic criminal and Anna Karenina mesmerized me with philosophical and moral questions, somewhere down the line, I began to feel overwhelmed by these heavy weight stalwarts and yearned for a lighter, breezier novel. Luckily, I did get that much needed whiff of fresh air while reading ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain’.
Though, Mark Twain is more famous for Adventures of Tom Sawyer and I do have a faint recollection of having read it in my childhood, but Huckleberry Finn is definitely the first of Twain’s books that I have read with so much attention and I am more than satisfied with his comic timing, a larger than life approach towards children’s fantasies and a beautiful inlay of words laden with choicest phrases uttered in Southern American accents. I think while reading the present novel, as an adult, I was able to grasp the finer nuances of this apparently childish, yet fantastic adventurous tale.
Simply speaking, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the story of a young lad, who runs away from his home, to get rid of his violent oppressive father and embarks on an adventurous journey down south. But, as Huck continues his voyage, he realizes that it is not easy to survive in the ruthless world, without support from friends and loved ones. And, in such difficult times, he develops intimacy with a run away slave, Jim the Nigger.
Actually, Jim is the one who is suspected of murdering Huck and is in real danger. As Huck realizes that he has landed Jim into big trouble, he becomes tenderhearted towards him and forgets that he is just a slave, for whom nobody cares for. As the story progresses, Huck and Jim make friends with two small time rogues, self proclaimed Duke and King and unknowingly become accomplices in their petty crimes. How Huck would get rid of these rogues and would he be able to save Jim the Nigger from a doomed fate, forms the backbone of this simple, yet hilarious novel.
The first thing that struck a humorous chord was a sarcastic notice put up by the author at the very beginning of the novel, where he humorously warned his readers to read without any expectations of motive, moral or plot. This warning was enough to set the tone of the novel as comic and satiric. And this well meaning tongue-in-cheek tone continues throughout the novel. The book is laden with acidic, witty remarks about social evils like slavery, superstitions, feudalism and duels which were prevalent in those times and are brilliantly incorporated into the story as seen through the eyes of a young boy.
Huck is pained to see Jim in shackles, but is afraid of freeing him for the very reason that slavery was at that time a socially sanctioned sin. A gruesome duel takes place before the eyes of Huck in a small village, and a deadly feud breaks out between two rich families in another village. As Huck moves through these places and gains an understanding as to how these social evils are eating into the benevolence and love of Americans for their fellow beings, similar emotions are roused in the reader as well, through the powerful tools of well timed tongue-in-cheek narrative of Mark Twain.
Another fact that really impressed me was the childish exaggeration, the ability of a child to boast of impossible deeds with utmost conviction. Be it the unnecessarily prolonged and stupidly executed dark deep laid plans to try to help Jim or Huck’s naivety in uselessly trying to impress a woman by donning girl’s clothes – Twain’s ability to relate to a child’s view was apparent, as he even described nature as seen through the eyes of a child. And, there was a plethora of new word formation, such as rapscallions, flapadoodle and many more, just as a child would often do while narrating his idle overstated fanciful stories. There were many moments when I burst out laughing, and many more when a slight smile played on my lips, as the narrative reminded me of my own childhood. All in all, Mark Twain establishes his authority as a sensitive yet entertaining author in this one of its kind comic epic.
However, there were a few glitches that I encountered while reading the present edition of the novel. And these obstructions did mitigate the pure pleasure I could have derived, had these been not there. The foremost amongst these was the heading of the chapters which is done quite clumsily in the edition I purchased. Here the chapters are just given numbers, and the actual name appears on the top of the page, instead of being there at the very beginning. This hampered my understanding somewhat as I was quite engrossed in deciphering different accents.
Further, there are numerous dialects used in the narrative. At the beginning at least, I had to put in extra effort to understand the language as the book is mostly written in incorrect English, as was spoken by the natives, complete with their different accents and openly flouts syntax and grammar rules. It was really tough to decipher what different characters are saying, and I had to re-read some phrases and words again and again to understand the actual meaning. However, as I got hold of these dialects and accents, it became easier and I could feel that perhaps this shortcoming would work in the favor of the author, if listened to as an Audio Book.
Also at times, the story was stretched a bit too far, especially as Tom Sawyer enters, the novel becomes a steady stream of impossible events being executed by two young boys, way beyond their abilities and bordering on nonsense chatter.
But, all in all, these nitpicks are irrelevant when I compare these to the sheer enjoyment I had, while reading this classic by one of the most well known early American writer. I am delighted at having read this epic and do plan to re-read ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ so that I could re-evaluate the merits and demerits while sailing in the jerking ship of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, out on an adventurous journey in the unknown waters and strange shores. It is a well written book that deserves as much praise as it had when it was first written. And, more than anything, this comic breather has renewed my vigor and interest in the emotionally exciting yet intellectually challenging Anna Karenina. Definitely, worth a read!
Edition : 2008
Published by : Bantam Dell (Random House)
No. of Pages : 336