October 19, 2004

Twain's Finn, and the adventures therein

Who names their kid Huckleberry? I really don't know. That, and a whole lot of racial views crossed my mind while cruising through the surprisingly, fast read of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, or should I say, the illusive, rather odd character, Samuel Clemens?

The one element of the story that did slow me down was the issue of Jim's "dialect." When I read the disclaimers on the first few pages, I couldn't help laughing:

In this book a number of dialects are used, to wit:...the shadings have not been done in a haphazard fashion, or by guess-work; but painstakingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech. I make this explanation for the reason that without it many readers would suppose that all these characters were trying to talk alike and not succeeding.

Anyway, as Diana and Stephan said today, going back to figure out what Jim was saying was commonplace. I had a similar experience. Maybe I could get some kind of translation like I had for Shakespeare in high school. No, too boring, and constrained, and structured--don't get me started on English classes in high schools.

In Lit class today, we talked about the character of Jim and his "act" of playing the fool to keep on good terms with Huck. Through that companionship, Jim reaps many benefits: safety through travelling with a white boy, a sympathy vote in a 'chile', I mean child, and someone to keep him company. As for reading the dialect of Jim, I think Jim was putting some of it on to keep Tom believing that he actually was a "hick," that he really talked that way. Or maybe he really did speak that way--he was pretty consistent.

In this article a mention of Fishkin is made. Fishkin teaches Huck Finn and American Culture at Stanford (isn't that cool? :-D), asks "Was Huck black?" While the author of the article does offer some great points about the Fishkin argument:

In any case, for Fishkin to persuade us that Jimmy's talk in particular and BE in general is the main source of these features, she would need to compare Huck's talk not just with Jimmy's but with other oral storytellers speaking other dialects transcribed by other writers. Without such a comparison, we cannot judge how distinctively these features define a speaker as definitely African-American.

I cannot make up my mind because I have not read the original source, and Fishkin's books are a little out of my price-range right now. Besides, I console myself, I don't feel like filling out a form for Inter-Library loan. Maybe I will when I get into this more on my big-ol'-research extravaganza later this month.

In class we had this huge discussion about Huck and why he kept Jim around. We basically hit an impasse and said that Huck was either being nice for the sake of being nice, or he was completely selfish and wanted Jim around to play tricks, such as making Jim think the fog adventure, was a dream. I think that Huck does have a soul; unlike what some of the people said in class, I think Huck, knowing what it feels like to be constrained or hurt from the abuse of his father, does not tie up Jim.

Though the transition of Huck's character has not reached completion, the signs Huck shows: his remorse for leaving the robbers on the boat and his apology to Jim, are not of an unfeeling character, rather a naive, somewhat selfish young man trying to figure out his life, with all the angst that teenagers face today. Huck Finn has transcendent themes, that contrary to today's discussion in class, may be discerned without a history book.

Posted by Amanda Cochran at October 19, 2004 9:01 PM

I guess other bloggers are intimidated by my Huck Finn prowess. :-D Comments would be nice on this entry. I would love to engage in some literary diaglogue.

Am I an idiot in my assumptions? Wait a minute, don't answer that. :-)

Posted by: Amanda at October 26, 2004 11:03 PM

Well, Amanda, first of all I think that your blog title is catchy ;)

Considering that I have not read this book, one would normally think that dialogue of literary tenure would be somewhat difficult; however, I'm having some of the same identification issues in books that I'm reading at the moment. One book titled "Walking Through Mirrors," a contemporary piece set in a more modern time, plays through the trials of a young black boy. His mother dies giving birth and his father abandons him, so he lives with his grandmother. Often I have problems remembering which characters in the book are black. Language would normally be a key to determining more of a character's background, but not so in Huck Finn, nor in my present reading selection.

I don't, personally, believe that a character's race affects the way that readers should feel about a piece; however, sometimes it does have greater importance than the superficial pigmentation, whereas characters are given the shape of real people beyond stereotypes and social expectations. Despite the confusion in the races, I am truly enjoying the book, and I recommend it. The writing style is outstanding, and the story is moving as well. Maybe I'll find some time for Huck Finn somewhere along the line :)

Posted by: Karissa at October 27, 2004 5:21 PM
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