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Controversy: Huck Finn. Readers have come to the book not only for the story, but for a distillation of pre-Civil War culture, for commentary on and insight into black and white relations.

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controversy huck finn
Controversy: Huck Finn
  • Readers have come to the book not only for the story, but for a distillation of pre-Civil War culture, for commentary on and insight into black and white relations.
  • In it they find satirical portraits of bigots and confidence men, an evocation of the violence and false courtliness at the heart of the Southern aristocracy, and they find in even the kindest people Huck meets, not to mention Huck himself, an unquestioning acceptance of slavery.

Notes adapted from Victor Fischer, Forward: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: 125th Anniversary Edition” 2010

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Controversy: Huck Finn
  • Readers lulled by Huck’s voice just talking his story, and lulled by Twain’s loving evocation of the sights, sounds, and smells of idyllic life on and along the river, are sometimes jolted by the discomfort they feel at Huck’s language, and at the people and incidents Huck encounters – including the violence of Pap Finn, the feud between the Grangerfords and Shepherdsons, the murder of Boggs, the bilking of the orphan Wilks girls, and the betrayal of Jim.
  • They all belong to a world profoundly flawed and uncomfortably real.
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Controversy:Huck Finn
  • Because in its plot and its narrative details the book brings up issues of class , violence, and racism in American society, and because these issues are still with us, the book remains almost as controversial as it is celebrated.
  • In the 19th century, critics were shocked at Huck’s “low” language, his rationalization of lying and stealing, and his undisguised skepticism toward such things as prayer and religious doctrine. They sought to ban the book, lest it set a bad example for children.
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Controversy:Huck Finn
  • In the 20th century, critics angry about Twain’s realistic language and impatient with his ironic condemnation of racism, have accused him of it, confusing the messenger with the message.
  • Lost in the serious issues is that Huckleberry Finn is a very funny book, told in deadpan. Huck is entirely humorless: only Twain and the reader “get it.”
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Controversy: Huck Finn
  • Initial reviews were equally mixed: Some “got it,” and others didn’t:
    • “It deals with a series of adventures of a very low grade of morality; it is couched in the language of a rough, ignorant dialect, and all through its pages there is a systematic use of bad grammar and an employment of rough, coarse, inelegant expressions. It is also very irreverent.”
    • Others called it the crowning achievement of a “literary artist of a very high order,” a “tour de force,” a “minute and faithful picture,” and hailed its evocation of the “lawless, mysterious, wonderful Mississippi” and of the “startingly real” riverside people who “do not have the air of being invented, but of being found.”
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Controversy: Huck Finn
  • Ralph Ellison, on the “spoken idiom of Negro Americans”:
  • “Its flexibility, its musicality, its rhythms, freewheeling diction and metaphors, as projected in Negro American folklore, were absorbed by the creators of our great 19th-century literature even when the majority of blacks were still enslaved. Mark Twain celebrated it in the prose of Huckleberry Finn; without the presence of blacks, the book could not have been written. No Huck and Jim, no American novel as we know it.”
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Controversy: Huck Finn
  • Toni Morrison
  • “Although its language – sardonic, photographic, persuasively aural – and the structural use of the river as control and chaos seem to me quite the major feats of Huckleberry Finn, much of the novel’s genius lies in its quiescence, the silences that pervade it and give it a porous quality that is by turns brooding and soothing. It lies in the approaches to and exits from action; the byways and inlets seen out of the corner of the eye; the subdued images in which the repetition of a simple word, such as ‘lonesome,’ tolls like an evening bell; the moments when nothing is said, when scenes and incidents swell the heart unbearably precisely because unarticulated, and force an act of imagination almost against the will … It is classic literature.”