Does Huckleberry Have A Prayer?
In Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, the concepts of prayer, religion, and spirituality are introduced early on in the novel, and their influence on Huck's character and their role in the overall story is evident regardless of the theory of criticism that is employed for interpretation. A New Critic scours the text for conflicts, symbols, and resolutions while examining word choice in an effort to determine the literal meaning (Bressler 45-48). A Reader-Response Critic, particularly a subjective critic who advocates the reader's worldview over the text, reads the text and then relies on her own past experiences to give it meaning (Bressler 67). When these practices are employed, the Reader-Response Critic and the New Critic find that prayer and religion are essential components in the development of Huck's character as well as the perception of it.
Huck first mentions prayer when describing dinner at the Widow Douglas's home. He explains that "you couldn't go right to eating" because you had to wait until a prayer was "grumbled" (Twain 33). From the beginning, there is conflict involving prayer because it impedes on Huck's desire to eat his dinner right away, and this gives Huck a reason to dislike the practice of praying. Huck never details exactly what the prayer states; he only refers to its "grumbling" sound, implying that he regards it as nothing more than discontented muttering. As a Sunday School teacher at a church, I have spent a lot of time with children who were just becoming familiar with praying. In the beginning, they often view it as a chore that is simply something that has to be done before a meal. However, unlike most chores, I have rarely seen a child dislike it, probably because they are in a clerical setting and have been told prayer pleases God. Huck, however, seems to be indifferent to praying and God, and I believe this is because he has not accepted them to be superior concepts like the children...
Cited: Bressler, Charles E. Literary Criticism: An Introduction to Theory and Practice. Third
ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., 2003.
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Ed. Gerald Graff and James Phelan.
Second ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin 's, 2004.
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