Huckleberry Finn Ending Controversy

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Mark Twain is widely regarded as one of the greatest writers in the history of the United States, having spun many memorable and iconic tales in his own creative and unique style. Held high in this position as a great “American” novelist, Twain flirted with the creation of a universal masterpiece in his novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. However, critics disagree on whether or not Twain’s work with Huckleberry Finn truly reaches the stature of a masterpiece, and that disagreement stems from the course the author chose for his conclusion. T.S Eliot finds Twain’s ending to be true to his style and the rest of the novel. Leo Marx finds that the ending abandons the apparent goals of the novel, leaving the work short of excellence. Twain ventured into the arena of greatness by combining two timelessly classic elements, and casting them as the central “characters” of his work. According to Eliot, Twain uses the “character” of the Mississippi River to relate to all nature, and he uses the title character of Huckleberry Finn to relate to the boy of mankind. Twain uses the former to guide the story and the latter to experience it. He engages the reader with his signature, easily accessed narrative and builds a strong foundation from these two universal elements. The only real question is the payoff; can the strength of the beginning be carried through to the end? This is where debate ensues, for Twain seemingly departs from the path he has laid throughout the novel to bring the story to resolution in a manner consistent with Twain’s writing, but not so much with the established course of this novel. Critics, such as T.S. Eliot, see the story’s ending, filled with the game-like attempts of the Tom Sawyer to free Jim, as a way to bring the reader back to the feelings of the beginning of the novel. It is a position with which I cannot disagree more. Instead, it is the view of Leo Marx that I see as the best dissection of the ending of The Adventures of...
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