What can be said about Huck Finn that hasn’t already been said by someone better and smarter than myself? Well, it’s about the only book that can unironically be called the Great American Novel because Huck Finn is so full of irony it naturally deflects, like the stronger of two repelling magnets, any attempts from lesser storytellers or critics to parody or critique it. Anything you can throw at Huck is already being thrown by Mark Twain. This is why it’s impossible to exaggerate about Huck Finn. Somehow Twain managed simultaneously to crank his satire and poignancy dials all the way to eleven, and then kept on going, and made a masterpiece.
I must admit I love when Huck Finn is attacked or maligned as a bad book or as undeserving of its status, because, well, there’s that rush you get when someone attacks or even hates something you love, and it’s all the sweeter when they do it from the moral high ground; and attacking Mark Twain or Huck Finn or the ending of Huck Finn from any moral high ground is stepping into an obvious trap.
Let me just say that Huck Finn isn’t a how-to manual for upending racism, although many readers have superimposed that onto the novel. Huck Finn is a highly symbolic and picaresque story. (I think the best serious novels have to be in some way be deeply unserious at their core, and since Don Quixote was Twain’s favorite novel, I suspect he thought something similar.) The whole point of novel writing is not to spout a lesson or wag a finger (many writers fill whole volumes of this sort of thing), but to entertain and, if you happen to possess a once-in-a-generation talent, to facilitate a sense of wonder, which, as a writer, requires making yourself lower than the reader rather than higher. Something Twain was always happy to do for us.
I think as long as people are free to buy and read any book they like–these days who knows how long that will last?–a certain type of person will always hate and go so far as to want to censure Huck Finn, either by trying to tarnish Twain’s reputation or by some other “committee” or “board” decision or some such trash. You know the type. This is the person who eats kale because “they just like the taste of it,” or the person who would rather than simply congratulate you on exciting news must instead immediately share something of their own, or who complains endlessly that the reason they cannot find a date is because their standards are so “high.” These are not people to have in your life. Really, these are lizards who look like people, and things like Huck Finn will always get on their nerves because there is no twinkle in their eye.
As long as Huck Finn is around and making noise it means that great art need not be sterilized. It means that deep down we still believe great stories are from the heart and not from strict moral philosophies or propagandists or boardrooms full of bores. It means, despite all evidence to the contrary, we can still have a bit of fun now and then. It means that the schoolmarms still haven’t yet outsmarted Huck, and hopefully never will.
I give Huck Finn 9.4 out of 10 whoopee cushions
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