“All modern American Literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn..” claimed Ernest Hemingway, a American author and journalist. This quote represents the idea and perception of Huckleberry Finn as a defining moment in American Literature, a time when a new culture was being formed west of the Atlantic that had many different subjects and characteristics than that of the literature in Europe. What makes The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn so original and such a representation of America is that whatever Huckleberry Finn, the character, is about or can be defined by, is what America was all about. Through this complex character, Mark Twain was able to create a new American experience and show the reader all about it. The main characteristics of the American experience that Mark Twain represented through this character included a social commentary on the southern culture and its response to slavery and its general antebellum culture, the nature that defines America and how America defines its nature and the freedom from it, and the new anti-materialistic hero.
The opening of the book deals with the most serious issue depicted; the idea of slavery and the response of the southerners to its injustices. The majority of the American experience of slavery and its response are shown through the relationship between the main protagonist, Huck and his friend Jim. When Jim first approaches Huck to tell him that he has run away from his master Huck replies, “People would call me a low down Abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum- but that don’t make no difference. I ain’t agoing to tell..” (1379). In a time when it was illegal to aide slaves in their escape, Huck was just beginning to start his moral dilemma of his loyalties to the law, and his friendship with Jim. This brings about a side note on the American experience of slavery that is not as developed as the response to slavery in Huck and that is: how does a person act and feel in a society in which they have friends that can become slaves. In many Abolitionist books and essays at the time, the reader was directed to feel for the slave as a man, as a brother. They used emotions to show the hardships of the slaves and play upon the guilt of the white American to end slavery. In Huckleberry Finn, Twain asked the reader to determine how they would act on slavery when they saw their friends under servitude. This was a large issue because it brings out personal alliances with cultural alliances of the south.
However, the main American experience Twain is trying to develop on slavery is not the personal relationship and whether or not slavery was a terrible issue, it was the southerners response to slavery. This is exemplified by two separate cases. The first is with slavery and Jim, and the second is with Huck’s abusive and drunken father who would “lay drunk with the hogs in the tanyard” (1359). Both of these issues were just symbols of the southern distorted culture of the time. A culture that could enslave a man, calls themselves good Christian men, and then falls asleep drunk. What is peculiar about this novel is not necessarily Twain’s feelings regarding the morality of this culture. It is fairly obvious that he disapproves of such and shows that it is a morally defunct society, but rather what makes this novel truly representative of the American experience is showing how even someone who is not morally corrupted acts upon it. Huck, who is shown through his helping of Jim and his friendship with Jim, clearly understands the injustice of slavery and the immoral acts his father does. What does he do about it though? Does he seek to transform this southern society through work or a mini-revolution? No, he just simply moves along. This is the central irony of the book, and thus represented of one of the ironies of the American experience in the 19th century. Huck Finn chooses to leave intact this society that is clearly in need of change,...
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