Mark Twain in his introduction to the novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn says, they [readers] will be persecuted if they attempted to find “a motive. . .or a moral” in the novel. But since Twain is long dead, I think I can take the risk.
Of the two books of Twain, Adventures of Tom Sawyer was published earlier (in 1876) and Huckleberry Finn later (in 1885). But I am reading Tom Sawyer now, while I finished the latter last week. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is set in the backdrop of 19th century American institution of slavery. The novel has two principal characters, Huckleberry Finn, a young lad who despises civilization, and an old fellow Jim, a runaway nigger and Huck Finn’s companion on their river escapades.
This book is clearly one of the best books that I have ever read. Ernest Hemingway said about the book: “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. There has nothing as good since.” Huckleberry Finn makes you question the basic tenets of our civilization. The narrative is gripping and language enchanting. The book amused me, and made me think, chuckle, laugh, and cry too (at one instance). I am citing the passage, which made me cry, below. The passage describes the torment Huck Finn is going through as he decides to tell the whereabouts of Jim to Jim’s owner. It was then considered a sin to help a negro run away and claim his freedom. Here is the passage:
So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I’ll go write and the letter—and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing., the way I felt as light as a feather, right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:
Miss Watson, your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville and Mr Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. HUCK FINN
I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking—thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And I got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me, all the time, in the day, and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a floating along, talking, and singing, and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had small-pox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only only one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around, and see that paper.
It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute; sort of holding my breathe, and then says to myself:
‘All right then, I’ll go to hell’—and tore it up.