The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the noblest, greatest, and most adventuresome novel in the world. Mark Twain definitely has a style of his own that depicts a realism in the novel about the society back in antebellum America. Mark Twain definitely characterizes the protagonist, the intelligent and sympathetic Huckleberry Finn, by the direct candid manner of writing as though through the actual voice of Huck. Every word, thought, and speech by Huck is so precise it reflects even the racism and black stereotypes typical of the era. And this has lead to many conflicting battles by various readers since the first print of the novel, though inspiring some. Says John H. Wallace, outraged by Twain’s constant use of the degrading and white supremacist word ‘nigger’, “[The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is] the most grotesque example of racist trash ever written” (Mark Twain Journal by Thadious Davis, Fall 1984 and Spring 1985). Yet, again to counter that is a quote by the great American writer Ernest Hemingway, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn…it’s the best book we’ve had…There has been nothing as good since” (The Green Hills of Africa [Scribner’s. 1953] 22). The controversy behind the novel has been and will always remain the crux of any readers is still truly racism. Twain surely does use the word ‘nigger’ often, both as a referral to the slave Jim and any African-American that Huck comes across and as the epitome of insult and inferiority. However, the reader must also not fail to recognize that this style of racism, this malicious treatment of African-Americans, this degrading attitude towards them is all stylized of the pre-Civil War tradition. Racism is only mentioned in the novel as an object of natural course and a precision to the actual views of the setting then. Huckleberry Finn still stands as a powerful portrayal of experience through the newfound eyes of an innocent boy. Huck only says and treats the African-American culture accordingly with the society that he was raised in. To say anything different would truly be out of place and setting of the era. Twain’s literary style in capturing the novel, Huck’s casual attitude and candid position, and Jim’s undoubted acceptance of the oppression by the names all signifies this.
Twain’s literary style is that of a natural southern dialect intermingled with other dialects to represent the various attitudes of the Mississippian region; he does not intend to outrightly suggest Negro inferiority. Had Twain intended racial bigotry, he would not write the about the sympathies of Huck towards Jim. This can easily be seen in that Huck does, in various points in the book, realize Jim to be a white equivalent at times. Huck tells the reader, when he realizes that Jim misses his own family and children, “I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks does for their’n” (150). I do believe that Twain’s literary style, that is, his informal language through Huck, is more a captivation of thoughts as though in a conversation than as an intended use of white supremacist inclination. Any words that seem to degrade African-Americans is merely a freelance use of Southern jargon and not deliberate. That is, Huck talks the way he knows how and was taught according to the society then to stylize a specific treatment at black slaves. However, his sympathies towards Jim throughout the river odyssey has taught Huck to overcome certain stereotypes, such as black stupidity and apathy, but not quite thoroughly to rebel against societal prejudices. Huckleberry still believes Jim to be irrelevant and pig-headed at times, as in their exchange over the Biblical story of King Solomon and the French language. Huck does not tell Jim but to the reader,” If he got a notion in his head once, there warn’t no getting it out again…I see it warn’t no use wasting words – you can’t learn a nigger to argue” (76-79).
Huckleberry is also a very important character to study to further contemplate Twain’s literary style in that Huck is the main character and the voice through which Twain conveys the images of the South. The reader will notice that Huck acts based on his own morals. Despite the Widow Douglas’s and Miss Watson’s attempt to “sivilize” Huck by teaching, sheltering, and instructing him on how to behave, Huck’s actions throughout the novel do not always reflect their teachings. The protagonist has limited perspective and his outlook in life is honest, containing no propagandist suggestions. Huck neither advocates slavery nor does he protest against it. He sees slavery as a natural occurrence in daily life and the inferior disposition of slavery to be of little significance. Whenever a situation occurs that requires Huck to assist Jim, Huck does so accordingly to his own moral standards. He may agitate over the morality of helping a runaway nigger, as southern society condemns the act, but his own love for Jim allows Huck to accept his own “wickedness”. “I come to being lost and going to hell…and got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time… But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him…how good he always was… I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he’s got now… I [will] steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too…” (206).
Finally, Jim and many other African-American slaves seem to accept their lesser positions as contended to “white folks”. This is the most critical junction that has earned Twain innumerable criticism and caused such long discrepancies among the scholars of American heritage literature. The oddest, most peculiar description in the novel after Huck’s almost symbolic acceptance of Jim’s persona, Twain makes a pivot that then mocks Jim’s buffoonery towards the end. After all that Huck and Jim has endured together, Huck seems to compromise it all simply to please the childish and ridiculous ploys of Tom Sawyer. Outrageous proposals such as having rats, snakes, and spiders occupy the same small “prison” Jim is in, that Jim water a plant with his tears until it flowers, that Jim make engravings on stone to reveal his oppressed imprisonment in the hut when Jim is living quite well, etc. All of these preposterous acts might make the reader laugh aloud! Yet, they serve a different meaning and belong to a wider course. For one, Huckleberry extremely admires Tom Sawyer. The situation is not merely targeting blacks and humiliating them, it is rather simplistic. Towards the beginning of the novel, Huck specifically says, being proud but humble about faking his death,” I did wish tom Sawyer was there; I knowed he would take an interest in this kind of business, and throw in the fancy touches. Nobody could spread himself like Tom Sawyer in such a thing as that” (33). Later and throughout the novel, anytime Huckleberry managed to trick somebody, he would imagine Tom to be there and more capable. Though the reader knows Huck is quite intelligent by himself, seeing how he dupes so many people with his stories. Huck continues this stark admiration of Tom even to the end when he says, “He [Tom] knowed how to do everything” (250). However, Huck does not seem to possess a kind of jealousy towards Tom but still maintains the innocence of simplicity. Try as Tom might, Huck is not swayed by his “Spaniards and A-rabs”, magicians, and genies. Claiming them, after trying it himself by rubbing an old tin lamp and an iron ring, “was only just one of Tom Sawyer’s lies” (16). This also suggests that Tom plays on the ignorance of others. So when Tom makes plans to free Jim, Tom is just bragging his knowledge and continuing his usual insulting of others when they disagree or question him. He again plays on the ignorance of Jim’s caretaker Nat by having Nat believe he was hallucinating. Huck and Tom undertake so much trouble but it all makes the novel appear very boyish and reminiscent of the Mother Goose nursery rhyme on what boys are made of. Once more, Mark Twain isn’t necessarily suggesting that African-Americans are inferior and should be discriminated against, the author desires to capture the innocence and playfulness of childhood, specifically depicting Huckleberry as a true boy.
Huckleberry Finn is a wonderful book that captures the heart of the reader in its brilliance and innocence. Despite many critics have attacked its racist perspective; the piece merely represents a reality that occurred during antebellum America, the setting of the novel. Twain’s literary devices in capturing the focal of excitement, adventure, and human sympathy is a wonderful novel that should be recognized, not for bigotry, but that it is the candid viewpoint of a boy that grew up in that era. And even then, the protagonist does overcome some social prejudices of slavery because he is concerned with the well-being of his runaway slave friend Jim. That the mockery of the slave race in the end allowed by Huck is more about fulfilling the awes of Huck towards Tom. The novel is a success because it does not fail to capture the one singular point of growing up for Huck: boyhood.