Mark Twain’s, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, looks at the racial and moral world through the eyes of the protagonist Huck, exploring the relationship between Huck and Jim and their journey to freedom along the Mississippi River. T. S. Eliot opens his 'Critical Essay' on Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by declaring that it 'is the only one of Mark Twain's various books which can be called a masterpiece'.
T. S. Eliot marks ‘the Boy and the River’ as the most significant features of Huckleberry Finn within his essay, ‘An Introduction to Huckleberry Finn’. He states that these two elements, which when treated with ‘sensibility and his [Twain’s] experience formed a great book.’ The boy is used to narrate the story, with the unfolding events presented through his eyes, and by doing so Twain does not force Huck’s thoughts and opinions onto the reader, Huck simply observes the world and accepts the world for what it is and what it inflicts. The River holds great significance over the novel and has the power to control the journey of Huck and Jim. The River has the power to deter Jim from his freedom in Cairo and to separate Huck and Jim before reuniting them later in the novel. The River signifies the power of nature and the weakness of man.
|Mark Twain: 30th November 1835 - 21st April 1910|
Eliot discusses how ‘It is Huck, who gives the book style’ by presenting the book through Huck’s eyes. Twain creates a narrative that discusses the events with a natural, boyish flow that comes only with a character that is aware, reflective and true to themselves. Without the placement of Huck as the narrator and main character the story would be a great deal less effective and the underlying themes of the novel would be lost. Eliot characterises the role of the boy, Huck, in the adventure, as the boy that Mark Twain still was, unlike Tom Sawyer who was the boy that Mark Twain had been. (Eliot, Introduction p. 329) Eliot describes Huck as being an ‘impassive observer’ who ‘does not interfere, and […] does not judge.’ (Eliot, Introduction p. 330) This makes for a change in narrative as previously the narrator had some sway within the text.
The relationship that exists between Jim and Huck is a key theme throughout the novel as both characters are victims of an unjust society and relate to one another as outsiders. The relationship between the two is viewed by Eliot as one of co-dependency. Eliot states that ‘Huck in fact would be incomplete without Jim […] they are equal in dignity.’ (Eliot, Introduction p. 331) Huck is not allowed to act as a boy would and find joy within his practical joke on Jim but has to bear the responsibility of a man. At a time when Jim would be considered less than an animal, this shows the intensity of the relationship between Jim and Huck. Huck presents a more evolved child character as he is more aware of the world around him, allowing for a more grown up perspective of the real world, a world which Jim has experienced and been personally victimised by. This creates a deeper understanding between the two companions and highlights the problematic society of the time.
|The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn|
The significance of the landscape through which these figures journey is that the River actually manipulates and controls every situation. It is the River that decides where Huck and Jim shall go and it is the River that leads Huck on his adventure. Additionally, as Eliot states, Huck is ‘also the spirit of the River.’ (Eliot, Introduction p. 333) He seems to have no beginning or end, and he, like the River is experienced by the reader than just viewed or acquainted with. ‘It is Huck who gives the book style. The River gives the book its form.’ Elliot makes it clear that there is an obvious connection between the River and the landscape, with the River being a strong influence over the progression of Huck’s and Jim’s journey. The natural influences determine where the companions end up as it can often be unpredictable and unruly. ‘The River is never wholly chartable: it changes pace, it shifts its channel, unaccountably; it may suddenly efface a sandbar and throw up another bar where before was navigable water.’ The River is the determiner of their success and strays them on a course unknown.
With modern readings focusing solely on the issues of race and slavery within this novel, it is easy to dismiss the importance of the other aspects such as close relationship with Jim and Huck, where the former acts as a paternal figure to the latter. Issues of race are closely intertwined with the relationship between the pair however this soon progresses into something more, something held closely to humanity rather than a difference in appearance. Additionally, the importance of the River may also be lost on the reader, if the sole focus is placed upon race, however with close reading and analysis it is clear how all of these aspects link with one another in order to combine the tropes of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.