1. A 19th Century Classic - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
by Mark Twain
Published in 1885 (US)
2017: Back to the Classics Challenge
My rating: 4.25/5
Summary (from Goodreads)
Of all the contenders for the title of The Great American Novel, none has a better claim than The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Intended at first as a simple story of a boy's adventures in the Mississippi Valley - a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer - the book grew and matured under Twain's hand into a work of immeasurable richness and complexity. More than a century after its publication, the critical debate over the symbolic significance of Huck's and Jim's voyage is still fresh, and it remains a major work that can be enjoyed at many levels: as an incomparable adventure story and as a classic of American humor
Huckleberry Finn is often crowned as "The Great American Novel" and is perhaps one of few sequels that has outshone its predecessor. This is actually a reread for me since I listened to the audio book way back in middle school (I highly recommend the audio for the narrator's southern twang if nothing else) and enjoyed it greatly. I was curious to see how my opinion and my memories of the book had changed after many years.
The first thing that struck me was how much more of the novel's satirical jabs and language I appreciated as an adult, particularly in today's currently racially charged climate. Twain's critical eye for social tendencies is something that I feel I can more fully appreciate and relate to. To jump right in, the novel's abundant usage of racial slurs has been nothing if not controversial prompting critical responses and banning ever since its publication. Regardless of one's individual feelings towards the language in the book, it is hard to deny that a lot of Twain's jabs at American attitutdes towards race feel (unfortunately) still relevant today. This books explores racism galore (from the overt, to the patronizing, to the subtle and unintended. Mark Twain did not shy away from making a point through his writing often in layered ways that had me re-reading passages to see if I had missed anything. Although this process can be an uncomfortable one for the modern reader I believe that the reading and analysis of this text is a rewarding processes for viewing both past and contemporary American race relations through the eyes of one America's foremost satirists.
As is the case with many classics, particularly satirical pieces, I found it was particularly helpful and enriching to have an abundance of footnotes and end notes to give fuller historical and political context to this novel, the author and its intended audience at the time. I certainly felt that my understanding and appreciation of the text itself would have been limited without this aid.
As a reading experience Huckleberry Finn was also a change of pace for me, generally I speed through books that I am greatly enjoying, but this book proved to be an exception as I found it worthwhile to purposely slow down my reading to examine both the narrative and lyrical aspects of the novel.
Like the Mississippi river that carries Huck and Jim, the novel has a dreamy meandering quality to it. The book can be split into 3 main parts. The first serves as the set up to Huck's river raft journey and narrates the events that prompt him to run away. The second follows his adventures with Jim along the Mississippi and this is where, in my opinion, the book really shines. The narrations alternates between winding, descriptive chapters of life aboard the raft with chapters detailing incidents, people and situations that Huck and Jim get entangled with. The last part sees Huck and Tom reunited and concocting a plan to save Jim from captivity. This last past tends to often let readers down and has been called a less than triumphant ending to the book and left me with mixed feelings as well ultimately my rating was a 4.25/5.
Trying your hand at literary analysis can be an intimidating endeavor especially with classics. But Crash Course provides super cute, though provoking and easy to follow video guides to a lot of books you would find in an American high school curriculum. I loved the ones for Huckleberry Finn, check them out below!