In the sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (my review), Huckleberry Finn is centre stage. This made me excited to pick up the book as Huck was by far the most interesting character in Tom Sawyer. Tom is a lot of fun and his imagination is amazing but he comes from a sheltered, loving family, whereas Huck is that child from the wrong part of town. If Huck existed nowdays, he'd be the child who always turns up late to school without any equipment and in the wrong uniform, who hasn't been washed in a few days and who has been forced to grow up too quickly by being exposed to things he shouldn't have been. In the story, Huck's main problem is his abusive, alcoholic father, who he eventually decides to escape from. On the way, he meets runaway slave Jim, and the pair travel down the Mississippi together.
Huck Finn is a better book than Tom Sawyer, and it's all because of Huck himself. Huck could have been a stereotypical character but Twain writes him in a wonderfully complex way. Despite all that has happened to him, Huck has retained his essential goodness and also the bravery to go against society if he needs to. We get to see him really grow up throughout the novel, as he goes from someone who is lacking in self-confidence and looking to those around him to decide what to do, to someone who makes their own decisions, even if society tells him he is wrong. All through the book, he wrestles with the fact that he should hand Jim in, as this is the way he has been taught to think about slaves. But Jim is actually one of the only people looking out for Huck, and the development of their friendship and Huck's decision to stick by Jim, even though he thinks that makes him a bad person, are handled masterfully by Twain.
I also liked that Huck Finn is a darker book than Tom Sawyer. There's no sense that everything has to work out well in the end, and Huck and Jim have some horrible as well as fun adventures. This was summed up perfectly when Tom himself makes an appearance, when Jim has been recaptured. Tom agrees to help free Jim but wants to turn it into some prison release fantasy, complete with letters written in blood and tame rats, but Huck knows the seriousness of the situation and just wants to help Jim. Tom's protected from the real world, Huck has to live in it.
A lot has been made about the use of word nigger in this book, especially recently. For me this was a non-issue as Huckleberry Finn is far from a racist book. Huck would have thought and used that word all of the time, as he was a product of the society he lived in. It doesn't make the book racist and I certainly don't think it needs to be taken out, that would be like rewriting history to remove the nasty bits. There are far more racist books out there that don't have the word nigger in them.
As you can tell, I very much enjoyed The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. My only real complaints would be that sometimes the stories felt a bit disjointed, almost as though I was reading a short story collection rather than a novel, and that the ending was way too happy/convenient compared to the rest of the book. It was as though Twain suddenly remembered that this was supposed to be a children's book and decided to make everyone happy by the last page. Even so, it's still a wonderful book and I'd definitely recommend it.
Source: Personal copy
First Published: 1884
Edition Read: Penguin English Library, 2012
Score: 4 out of 5
The Classics Club: Book 19/72
My full list can be found here.
We read this as one of our family read aloud books a few months ago. I had never read it before. It was always one of those should-reads that I kept getting pushed to the bottom of the pile. What struck me about it (as my husband read aloud) was how funny it was. It is a book that deals with serious issues, but Huck's innocence, as he provides commentary on situations that the reader can see for what they are, showed me why Twain is known for his humor.ReplyDelete
This would be a great book to read aloud or listen too, gets rid of the dialogue issues. Glad you enjoyed it :)Delete
I read this in high school and I remember it being very disjointed. Many of the plot points seemed to come out of nowhere, and I felt at the end that it was a cheap way to finish off the story of Huck and Jim to have them both be absorbed into an obnoxious game Tom Sawyer was playing. But still, a fantastic book in many ways.ReplyDelete
I agree about the ending, although I liked that Tom's game playing was exposed a bit.Delete
Both Tom and Huck books are also in my Classics Club list. I think I read Tom Sawyer when I was a kid, but shyed away from Huckleberry because it felt too heavy/dark. I also went to see a children's play adaption of Tom Sawyer, which must have been good since I can still remember some Tom and Becky (I hope I remember the name correctly) scenes. But I think these are those books that when reading as an adult you will have a completely different emotion. I hope I will get to them next year.ReplyDelete
I hated Tom Sawyer as a teeanger, so I was pleased to like both books so much as an adult. Hope you enjoy Huck when you get a chance to read it.Delete
I loved this story as a child. I surely need to read the book too!ReplyDelete
You sure do :)Delete
I read this book shortly before I decided to start blogging. I loved Huck because he was sweet and caring, but I often felt frustrated with him for getting himself into so many hairy situations. I wasn't a big fan of Tom because I felt like he was a bad influence (I know I sound like a mom right now!), but I did enjoy Tom's imagination and the funny way they approached saving Jim. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer is still on my TBR list.ReplyDelete
Yes, Huck doesn't have much luck! I think Tom is fine but he has no awareness of the read world/consequences at all!Delete
Thanks for the reminder that I really need to get this classic read! :)ReplyDelete
Hope you enjoy it, Kate.Delete
I'm reading this now, and I agree with you about how complex a character Huck is. I think I expected him to be much more one-dimensional. Also agree about the various adventures feeling a little disjointed. But I love how Huck wrestles with what he feels is right and what he's been taught is right. I also love Twain's cynical humor.ReplyDelete
Glad you are enjoying it as well! Twain's cynical humour is wonderful, I loved that about the book too.Delete
I read this in high school and remember enjoying it, but am vague now on the details of the story. I agree with you that the book shouldn't be censored or cleaned up - it's important to remember history as it was and not how we wish it had been.ReplyDelete
I read both books as a kid and I should love to read them again. Tom Sawyer is on my Classic Club List.ReplyDelete
A wonderful review.
This was one of my favorites stories as a child and very educational one (even if, growing up behind the Iron Curtain, I did end up believing it describes USA as it is and, I must confess sometimes the book may mess with my interactions with real life Americans even today).ReplyDelete
I read it in translation and it was also a book that taught me "do not judge a book by its cover" in practice (I disliked the cover art and misinterpreted it - somehow I believed it to be a book about rich people having existential discussions and love affairs in decadent West!)