Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Why do we not get that Huck and Jim were friends?

January 5, 2010

How vast an estate it is that we came into as the intellectual heirs of all the watchers and searchers and thinkers and singers of the generations that are dead! What a heritage of stored wealth! What perishing poverty of mind we should be left in without it! -- J.N. Larned

Last year (about this time) I wrote a post about literary revisionism concerning a publishers idea to rename the Joseph Conrad Classic The Nigger of the Narcissus (The "N-Word" of the Narcissus). The title of that post was Mark Twain Lovers Beware! I suppose the post was more like a prophecy then because here we are a year later with Huckleberry Finn under attack - again.

So... I decided to revisit Huck Finn. I listened over the course of a week or so to the unabridged audio book as I went about various household chores and set my studio to rights. I found myself laughing out loud at the antics of ol' Huck and Big Jim just like I used to laugh when I cracked the cover of this childhood favorite as a youngster.

An academic friend of mine says, Twain wrote using the idioms, vocabulary, and speech of the times and area he wrote about. He wasn't degrading African-Americans. In fact, it is generally accepted that his sympathy was with the slave character, Jim.

I agree. As a child I learned not a shred of bias from ol' Huck or Big Jim - to me they seemed the very best of friends. As an adult... entering the world of Huck and Big Jim again with all the preconceived notions people have about this book in mind did not send me into paroxysms of shame nor did I emerge as a racist - at least no more so than I was before.

I do not believe in revisionist literature or revisionist history or revisionist art. In fact, I am steadfast against it. I do not recall who said it but this is how I approach books in particular... If you resist reading what you disagree with, how will you ever acquire deeper insights into what you believe? The things most worth reading are precisely those that challenge our convictions.

There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book; books are well written or badly written. -- Oscar Wilde

I believe the very reason there is a decided shortage of good contemporary fiction is directly related to revisionist tendencies of political correctness. Sigh!

The intro (or disclaimer) to the book is as follows:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
by Mark Twain

attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted;
persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished;
persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.

By Order Of The Author,
Per G.G., Chief of Ordnance.
In this book a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect; the ordinary "Pike County" dialect; and four modified varieties of this last. The shadings have not been done in a haphazard fashion, or by guesswork; but painstakingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech.

I make this explanation for the reason that without it many readers would suppose that all these characters were trying to talk alike and not succeeding.

The Author

Last year's post: Mark Twain Lovers Beware
Revised Mark Twain novels create controversy
Auburn-Montgomery professor Alan Gribben not shocked his editing of Twain classics drawing fire
AUM professor edits slurs from books by Mark Twain
New edition removes Mark Twain's 'offensive' words

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