Sunday, July 1, 2007

Huck Finn

There's nothing I can say about The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that hasn't already been said. But since I just finished reading it for the first time ever I thought it would be worthy of mention, since it is the Greatest American Novel Ever and all. I don't agree with Hemingway that all other American novels have originated from this one, but then again I've never written an American novel so I really can't say what inspired or influenced any of them.

It wasn't the most fun or enjoyable book to read, though it had its moments, but I'm glad I finally read it. The overarching story of a boy helping a slave escape is serious and important and uniquely American; the subplots were more humorous, even slapstick, but I didn't really like them as much as the main story. The characters are rather two-dimensional but the language, which can be hard to read at times, makes the story more genuine. I have to agree with the reviews I've read (and the introduction to this edition) that the ending is a bit...lackluster. Things were going along quite nicely, but after Tom Sawyer showed up, it all went to hell. (Just go back to your own book, Tom.)

Critics have called the book racist, but I would argue to the contrary. Sure, it takes place in the South when slavery was an accepted institution - that's the way life was in that place during that time. Huck, although he "knows" that freeing a slave is wrong, continues to help Jim because his conscience won't allow otherwise. I'm no academic, but I think this triumph of humanity over unjust social mores and oppressive institutions is much more important than how many times the N-word appeared in the text. But what do I know?

If you plan to read this book, I highly recommend the edition with the introduction by George Saunders. Hilarious!

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