Saturday, September 17, 2011
The Real Problem with HUCKLEBERRY FINN
The real problem with Huckleberry Finn has nothing to do with the novel's notorious and historically accurate 219 uses of the word 'nigger.' (About which, Twain's comedic descendant Stephen Colbert said it best: "Mark Twain isn't just a great writer; he's a great rapper.") No, the real problem, the problem that remained unspoken in the highly-circumscribed media 'debate' over the book, is the fact that this widely-acknowledged 'great American novel' does not deserve the first of those adjectives. While it contains some great moments (Huck and Jim on the island and the raft in the book's first third, Huck's famous "All right, then, I'll go to hell" turning point scene later), the novel as a whole is fatally flawed by a series of poor authorial decisions. Once the two con men climb aboard the raft, the novel goes south faster than the flooded Mississippi, and Twain must have seen it floating swiftly away, because at this point he began to pad furiously. The last two-thirds of the book contain more padding than a room full of Victorian furniture. The misadventures of the duke and dauphin are bad enough, but when Tom Sawyer arrives, the book's quality drops like a boulder down a well. Tom's annoying schemes and his good-naturedly sadistic tormenting of Jim are like a long, painfully unfunny joke drawn out to soporific length--and then drawn out even further. I'm surely not the only reader who ends the book hoping that Jim's first act as a free man will be to whup that little white boy's ass all the way back to Missouri. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one-third great and two-thirds tiresome. While acknowledging that it's an essential and highly influential work of American literature, we should not overestimate its quality.