An Analysis of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as a Picaresque Tale

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An Analysis of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as a Picaresque Tale A picaresque novel is based on a story that is typically satirical and illustrates with realistic and witty detail the adventures of a roguish hero of lower social standing who lives by their common sense in a corrupt society. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, is an eminent example of picaresque literature. There are many aspects of the novel that portray picaresque through the history and personality of the main character, Huck Finn. Although Huck has good intentions and is by nature innocent, he is the picaro in the story. A picaro or rogue is an unprincipled adolescent who is very mischievous in personality, also known as a rascal or scoundrel. Through the use of Huck as the rogue there are several qualities in this novel that make it a solid picaresque tale. First it is necessary to exam the character of Huckleberry Finn’s personality traits to illustrate how he could invoke the role of the rascally hero. From the beginning of the novel, Mark Twain makes it clear that Huck is a boy that comes from the lowest level of white society. His father is a drunk, no good who disappears for long periods of time only to show back up to steal away his sons money. Huck is depicted as usually dirty, messy and often homeless even when he is provided shelter by the Widow Douglas. The Widow Douglas attempts to reform and “improve” Huck, but he refuses to give in to her attempts and maintains his self-regulating and ill-disciplined ways. His unruly ways are highlighted when casted next to his companion Tom Sawyer, who is educated and depicted more as a middle-class citizen. Tom’s role emphasizes the picaro role played by Huck Finn, while they both are boyish and do naughty things Tom’s civilized nature intensifies the readers perception on how uncivilized Huck is. A more abstract trait that shows Huck as a picaro is his name. Twain’s choice of giving him a name derived from things of nature Huckleberry Finn, a huckleberry being an edible berry found in nature and a fin being the body part of various sea animals; the use of the wildness in his name adds to the uncivilized emphasis of who Huck is especially when put against names like Widow Douglas, Tom Sawyer, Ben Rogers and even Jim. Another way that Twain accentuates Huck’s role as the rogue in this picaresque story is by speaking through him as the narrator and allowing his dialect to emphasize who Huck is, where he comes from and what his primary traits are. By speaking through Huck Twain uses the vernacular of the lower class citizens of the time. Also it gives the reader direct insight into the mind of Huck revealing his thoughts on being civilized, education, religion, and etcetera. For example when Huck says, “It was a close place. I took it up and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: ‘All right then, I'll go to hell’—and tore it up.

It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my head ; and said I would take up wickedness again which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn’t.” This excerpt from chapter XXXI (pg. 239 in the Norton Anthology of American Literature) is a good example of both how Twain uses Huck as a narrator to show through his language and thought that Huck is a picaro. This selection from the novel strongly expresses that Huck will not conform to society and confirms his roots as a scoundrel, stating that that is all he will ever be, but in the same passage the mood is cast for you to feel good about Huck’s declaration of independence of being reformed. This is the basis of what a picaresque tale is. Huck is consistently shown as the mischievous hero through his dialect and the reader’s ability...
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