Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Book Review: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

I'm glad I re-read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I was motivated by the hubbub of last year when a bowdlerized version of the novel was published, taking out the "n-word." In fact, I was motivated to not only read Twain's version but to teach it.

Goodreads lists 495,491 ratings and 5,327 reviews for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:
  • 5 stars: 28%
  • 4 stars: 32%
  • 3 stars: 27%
  • 2 stars: 8%
  • 1 star: 3%
I'm not going to try to break new ground; over 5,000 reviews have already covered quite a lot. I do have a few personal reactions that I'd like to share, having re-read the novel after a many-years gap between readings.

  1. The river was a huge presence for me in this reading. Twain's outlandish characters came and went, but the river flowed on and on, the embodiment of nature, the source of all.
  2. The first part of the book establishes Huck and Jim's relationship. The rest of the book contrasts and challenges that relationship with the inequities of society.
  3. Jim is a noble character in the novel; he is noble even in his moments of laughable ignorance. Other characters are foils to his nobility.
  4. Huck rises above his background--and falls below our expectations. He is great in his promise and potential to transcend the limitations of his upbringing and the consciousness of his times. He is our hope and exasperation.
  5. Twain is wickedly realistic with the ending of the story. It's no surprise that Huck is lighting out for the Territories before someone "sivilizes" him. Who needs civilization like that?
If you want to choose one review of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn out of the thousands, choose this one by Norman Mailer for The New York Times: "Huckleberry Finn, Alive at 100." By the way, Huck Finn is available from many sources as a free ebook; Project Gutenberg is one source.

Copyright 2012 by Thomas L. Kepler, all rights reserved


  1. I have taught this book many times, Tom. And I love it. And I have always thought it ridiculous that anyone could consider it racist. Jim is the father figure. Huck's Dad is a white trash, drunken sociopath. Arg, it makes me so angry. BTW, I taught this book mostly to African American students and they loved it. They didn't seem to feel they needed to be protected by mostly white, conservative folks. Such a shame that one of the most brilliant, forward-thinking books ever written gets slammed for it's realism.

  2. @JD Mader Thanks for the comment, JD. Using the commentary from the New York Times was very helpful for me. The writers, many of them Black, spoke to their experiences.

    It's a great book, and I value having you for a resource when I teach it again.