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The Shepherdsons and the Grangerfords- Violence and Mealtime in Fiction
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One of the most memorable scenes in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was the feud between the Shepherdsons and the Grangerfords. For some reason, it stuck out to me the most in the book. Because that section was so meaningful to me, I decided to take a look at how it related to Foster’s How to Read Literature Like a Professor. I found some interesting connections between two very different chapters of Foster and the actual text.

One of the first descriptions of the Grangerford’s has to do with a meal. The description of how the family does drinks in the morning, which shows how important the act was in understanding the family. The scene is the picture of propriety:

When him and the old lady come down in the morning all the family got up out of their chairs and give them good-day, and didn’t set down again till they had set down. Then Tom and Bob went to the sideboard where the decanter was, and mixed a glass of bitters and handed it to him, and he held it in his hand and waited till Tom’s and Bob’s was mixed, and then they bowed and said, “Our duty to you, sir, and madam;” and THEY bowed the least bit in the world and said thank you, and so they drank, all three, and Bob and Tom poured a spoonful of water on the sugar and the mite of whisky or apple brandy in the bottom of their tumblers, and give it to me and Buck, and we drank to the old people too.

As Foster points out, taking so much time to write almost an entire paragraph on drinks means they are important. Understanding the family as a very proper family sets up the contrast that we see when we learn about the feud. Also, the ritualistic nature of the family leads us to understand how much tradition plays a part in the everyday life of the Grangerfords. This also plays into the feud aspect of the story. When Huck starts asking a lot of questions about the fued, including why it started, Buck responds “‘Oh, yes, pa knows, I reckon, and some of the other old people; but they don’t know now what the row was about in the first place.’” It’s all tradition and family honor.

All of this makes lots of sense when one considers what Foster says about eating/drinking scenes: “. . .  writing a meal scene is so difficult and, so inherently uninteresting, that there really needs to be some compelling reason to include one in the story. And that reason has to do with how characters are getting along . Or not getting along”  (8). This short scene explains so much of the Grangerford family dynamic that further explains the later events in the story.

The other connection I made was a more obvious. Foster’s chapter on violence was also very pertinent to the section on the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons. Foster says “violence is one of the most personal and even intimate acts between human beings, but it also can be cultural and societal in its implications” (88). You can see all of this with the Grangerfords.

The Grangerford/Sheperdson fued is clearly ingrained into the area’s culture. Buck seems confused when Huck doesn’t know how a feud works. The other families try hard to stay out of the way of the families. It deeply affects the personal lives of the two families two. The deaths are obviously very touching and emotional, but it also affects the members from each family that fall in love and have to run away. The violence in this story is effective on multiple levels.

All of this leaves Huck, who is on the outside, confused by the ideas of propriety, honor, family, and violence. These two elements greatly affect Huck as he comes of age and develops his own opinions and desires throughout the novel. It leads him closer to his understanding that society is sometimes wrong especially when it comes to Jim. These events let Huck further question his world, moving the emotional plot of the book right along.

Twain, Mark; Clemens, Samuel (2010-12-10). The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Cambridge World Classics Edition) Special Kindle Enabled Features (ANNOTATED) (Complete Works of Mark Twain) (Kindle Locations 2763-2831). Cambridge World Classics. Kindle Edition.


via Foster.

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