The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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THULLIER Quentin
M1 PLC
Commentary on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

This extract comes from one of Mark Twain’s novels, The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn, a book about a young boy and a former slave who does not know he had been freed, living together as friends. They try to survive by themselves during racist times in America, more precisely around the Mississippi river. This novel was first published in 1885; the passage we have to study is situated at the very beginning of the tenth chapter, and is mainly about Jim and Huckleberry Finn living on an island, apart from the rest of civilization, remembering souvenirs and trying to live in rather good conditions. We can clearly tell since the first lines of this extract that it belongs to the Picaresque genre (close to the novel of apprenticeship), as we follow the young boy in his various experimentations, discoveries and daily actions. The use of orality is also clearly noticeable, as many oral expressions, especially from the African-American culture, are used by both characters all along the extract. The internal focalization, marked by the constant use of the personal pronoun ‘I’, was chosen by Mark Twain as a way to give more importance to the principal character of the story, who is also the narrator. To study plainly these two pages, my first part will focus on the characteristics of the novel of apprenticeship that can be found in this extract. In a second part, I will study the relation between Jim and Huckleberry Finn, as well as the particular case of the young boy, who is ‘trapped’ between youth and adulthood because of his unusual lifestyle. I will finally study through this extract the superstitions and view of death that contemporaries of the late 19th century had, knowing that Mark Twain exaggerated them to mock the credulity of people around that time The first thing noticeable while reading this extract is the fact that it clearly belongs to a very particular literary genre called the Picaresque genre. Indeed, through this extract, we follow a young thirteen-year-old boy who discovers life all by himself, eventually helped by his friend Jim, a former African-American slave who does not know he has been freed, thus living in constant fear of being caught for being a fugitive, something very often punished by death at that time. Many elements of the Picaresque genre are present, especially the description of an individual’s youth and his daily discoveries and experiences; indeed, Huckleberry Finn is described in this extract as a boy craving for adventure and knowledge; he keeps asking questions, particularly to his friend Jim, who sometimes gets annoyed or afraid by the young boy’s curiosity: ”I wanted to talk about the dead man and guess out how he come to be killed, but Jim didn’t want to” (lines 1 to 2). Furthermore, as every young boy his age, Huckleberry Finn has his own opinions on certain matters and does not always agree with his elders. Indeed, sometimes he just takes for granted what is told to him: “That sounded pretty reasonable” (lines 5 to 6) even if the discussed subject is everything but reasonable and the statements he agrees with certainly false: “he might come and ha’nt us; he said a man that warn’t buried was more likely to go a-ha’nting” (lines 3 to 4). On the contrary, under different circumstances, the boy can judge that something is wrong or disagree with ideas; in these cases, he will not hesitate to express himself and even make fun of Jim: “You said it was the worst bad luck in the world to touch a snake-skin with my hands. Well, here’s your bad luck!” (lines 17 to 18). Moreover, apart from having opinions and telling what he really thinks, Huckleberry Finn learns and improves his skills while experimenting, learning and discovering: “Jim told me to chop off the snake’s head and throw it away, and then skin the body and roast a piece of it. I done it” (lines 38 to 39). As he discovers many things, Huckleberry Finn makes...
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