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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Comedy is a very likeable and a continually evolving practice in society. People find comedy funny, but comedy also contains its own secret power making it dangerous. It allows the person using it to push the limits of what is socially accepted; to break boundaries and to even reveal the flaws of society. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain clearly uses the secret power of comedy to ridicule and mock at the faults of southern society. Through the characters in the book and Twain's structure of the book, he successfully shows and then satirizes the different concepts of honor and social acceptance in the south. America began to rapidly change after the Civil war and people were refusing to let go of social barriers. Twain's novel is attempting to break those barriers.
The South had recently tarnished their honor when they lost the civil war. Twain had written this novel after the civil war in order to finally show, through humor, how many faults there are in the South. He set the book in the South with southern views, dialect and culture. The book was seen to be very controversial because he was purposely using satire to reveal faults of Southern society, and he went so deep into Southern society that it revealed the faults itself and that made people feel insulted. The novel gives out the truth with a sprinkle of humor, but the message comes out plain and clear.
There are many reasons as to why the novel was frequently banned and challenged by others. Specifically, the book seemed to have a negative view from both Southerners and Northerners. For Southerners, they found that the book insulted both southern culture and their institution of slavery. Twain does this by using “Comedy” in order to “break open the box that holds the untouchable and the unsayable. It's about making you face the things you don't want to face, and the easiest way to face it is through humor” (Ansen 1). Twain makes the South see the faults that they would push behind and hide with their southern pride and honor.
Twain attacks this root of Southern pride and ideologies of honor. This is probably one of the main controversial parts of the book that got it banned in the South. He would mock Southern pride with the feud between the Granderford and the Shepherdson families. Even though they are in feud, some of them, like Buck, are unaware as to why they are fighting, “ ‘Oh yes, Pa knows, I reckon, and some of the other old folks; but they don't know, now, what the row was about in the first place.' ”(Twain 134).
Of course the Northerners also had their objections to the book. Most believed that the book did not contain sophisticated language and that the constant use of the “N” word was also inappropriate. Toni Morrison herself reflected on the language in the book and concluded that, “Reading ‘ni**er' hundreds of times embarrassed, bored, annoyed—but did not faze me.” (Morrison 154). She did not like students being exposed to it but she did not let it throw her off the novels true messages. They could have also found it inappropriate because it satirized Romantic writers because, “of its language, grammar, and "uncivilized hero" ” (Sharper Insights).
Most of the people who did find the novel controversial or distasteful most likely missed the messages Twain was trying to get out. He was being a realist and giving the truth that slaves are human through Jim, that humanity can be corrupt with Pap the King or the Duke and how parts of southern culture were not very perfect through Huck's experiences. These topics that Twain used for satire were controversial because it touched on set social principles, but they were also clear messages that he was forcing onto people.
Twain shows how Jim is a person and not just a property through Huck's actions and Jim's actions of self sacrifice. He shows how Huck develops to respect Jim as a person and how Huck is really “un-learning” everything he was taught about blacks “and being re-taught that they are also people with feelings and emotion” (Burns). He gives us a chance to reflect on the emotions going through Huck after he tries to play a joke on Jim when Jim was being serious and was really worried about Huck. Huck feels like trash and actually took “fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a ni**er; but I done it, and I warn't ever sorry for it afterwards, neither . . . and I wouldn't done that one if I'd a knowed it would make him feel that way” (Twain 116). This shows how Huck is beginning to recognize Jim as a person with feelings that he hurt and is a very controversial message in Twain's time period.
Twain's messages continue to show how that people in the South are generally in-perfect and can be very corrupt. Pap is the first example Twain introduces as a corrupt Southerner. The first few signs of corruption that can be easily noticed are that Pap is a drunk and has a pride issue with Huck. Pap shows the clear message of how Southern pride can block out more important issues because all Pap cares about is to, “ ‘learn people to bring up a boy to put on airs over his own father and let on to be better'n what he is. You lemme catch you fooling around that school again, you hear . . . None of the family couldn't before they died. I can't; and here you're a-swelling yourself up like this” (27), and that he has enough alcohol.
Pap is not the only example Twain used to show how selfish and nasty humans can be. He also used the Duke and the King and how their thirst for money ended up fooling many people. In the end the King and Duke are caught by the townsfolk when they attempted to fool them to pay and watch a show that was not even worth their money. When they were caught Huck saw, “the king and the duke astraddle of a rail -- that is, I knowed it was the king and the duke, though they was all over tar and feathers . . .Well, it made me sick to see it; and I was sorry for them poor pitiful rascals” (306). Twain shows the cruelty of humanity; like how the Duke and King tried to fool people for more because they are greedy and how the townspeople are cruel for how they punished them. In The Damned Human Race, by Mark Twain, he clearly explains how humans take more than they need and how they can be cruel to on another; “men who have accumulated more millions of money than could ever use have shown a rabid hunger for more . . . man is the only one that harbors insults and injuries” (2).
Twains messages are very definite and key points, but the way he delivers the message can be misleading if not carefully interpreted. If someone is to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, he or she must be able to depict Twain's messages in order to fully understand the novel. He introduced his message through satire and farce because it is the easiest way to introduce a message that is dangerous or pushes the boundaries of society. The structure of the novel is also very interesting because it feels like a lot of different stories that are linked to one main storyline. As his story continues, his message begins to become much clearer.
The main storyline is that Huck and Jim are both trying to run away, Jim for his freedom and Huck from society. Twain fills in the story with the encounters that Jim and Huck experience as they go down the river in the raft. Each experience that they go through is when Twain adds in the message of the book hidden within humor. The scene where Colonel Sherburn stops the entire crowd and tells them, “a man goes in the night, with a hundred masked cowards at his back and lynches the rascal. Your mistake is, that you didn't bring a man with you; that's one mistake . . . You brought part of a man and if you hadn't had him to start you, you'd a taken it out in blowing” (195). The structure of this message can be taken in a few different ways; one is that Twain is saying many Southerners are cowards and hide behind one person, the more in depth look would be that he is making fun of the Ku Klux Klan.
Twain puts Huck and Jim into realistic situation of that time and brings out the true nature of human beings into it; whether it is showing how corrupt they are or how Jim is really a person. The situation near the end of the novel is a prime example of what might really happen when Huck and Tom tried to steal Jim. Huck had to go fetch a doctor because Tom was shot in the leg, but the Doctor struggled to pull the bullet out of Tom's leg. In this realistic situation Twain is able to effectively able to push the barrier of the ideals of a black man. Jim sacrifices his chance for freedom by revealing himself and helping him pull out the bullet. Twain sends his message through Huck when he says, “I knowed [Jim] was white inside . . .” (365). This was Twain's finale message that he delivered about black people in the very end of the novel. Throughout the novel he showed that Jim had feelings and actions like a white person, but he delivers the finale message very clearly at the end and it was a large blow in the society of his time.
The messages that Twain delivers in his novel act like a ripple that slowly turns into a wave at the end, with high tide and low tide in between. The beginning of the novel has Huck following all of the standards of society, even though it displeases him. As Twain continues his novel it shows how Huck and all the other events begin to challenge Southern views and culture.
He lets his message grow to the reader. In the case of southern honor or culture he starts off with Huck being a cultural rebel that wants to get away from society and education. Then Twain develops it into bigger issues of Southern culture and honor with the issues Huck witnessed with the family feud or from the points Sherburn made.
The way Twain lets his message grow is essentially what makes it very effective and it truly does break barriers between cultures. He lets his message crash into social barriers and leaves the reader to mull over his message and whether it should be accepted. For a very simple example, Twain uses his comedy to hide his message like a Jack in a box.
When people read his novel it is like turning the crank and enjoying its humorous music and then when Twain's message, or the clown, pops out it leaves the reader dumbfounded. That moment is usually given at a point that would set the reader back and make them start thinking about how everything else Twain had been writing, and what he or she had been enjoying or agreeing with, was really revolving around his message.
Twain used this humor to bring out his message or race and culture. He knew people would not ignore humor so he hid his messages in them. The end of the book was Twain's best moment where he left the reading thinking what the whole point of the story was. In the end where Tom finally revealed the truth the Jim was free because “Old Miss Watson” had made Jim “free in her will" (382). He did this on purpose to make the reader think the book was pointless, but he already had achieved his point when the reader finally reached that point. He was hoping that at the point the reader would reflect on all of his messages in the book.
People were refusing to let of old social and racial custom during the troublesome times of reconstructions. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain successful forces people to face those social barriers and adapt to a new and changed culture. He made his novel knowing that is would be controversial, but it was controversial to only people that were refusing to accept the truths of reality. He novel makes people face those barriers and to accept the reality; a reality about humanity that can still exists today and that people still cannot recognize with out help from comedians or writers that used Comedy the way Twain had done.