Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Huck Finn the Vulnerable Con Artist

Apart from the clear contextually subversive nature of the events of the latter half of the novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is ultimately threatening for its protagonist and narrator—a relatable, likeable con artist.  Huck’s mental resistance to both his conscience and his intelligence are endearing devices to an observant and sympathetic reader.

Huck is quick to draw conclusions about people, and he generally states these conclusions with extreme confidence, almost to the point of defensiveness.  The boldness of his claims encourage the reader to challenge his assessments in their minds, knowing full well that he is far from an objective narrator.  At certain points his tone is more conspiratorial, like his reaction to Tom’s bold idea to help him steal Jim: “Well, I let go of all holts then, like I was shot.  It was the most astonishing speech I ever heard—and I’m bound Tom Sawyer fell, considerable, in my estimation” (228).  Huck’s quick recovery from this ‘shock’—he casually shrugs off the idea of Tom coming with him in their dialogue—suggests that he is having fun being our infinite confidante.  But to what extent is humor simply another one of his defense mechanisms?

Huck employs abrasive sarcasm in his discussion of his opinion about conscience, claiming, “If I had a yaller dog that didn’t know no more than a person’s conscience does, I would pison him.  It takes up more room than all the rest of a person’s insides, and yet ain’t no good, nohow.”  Huck recognizes the immense power of the human conscience, indicated in his assessment of its “size.”  It gives the reader cause to suspect that certain moments, like Huck’s failure to distinguish between want and need (“Well, I says, I needed the watermelon. But he said I didn’t need it to get out of prison with, that’s where the difference was”) are more deliberate than they appear.  Of course, the most damning evidence of his latent social consciousness are his recurrent compulsion to compassionate behavior—he can’t help but help those whom society forgets.

The concluding paragraph and classic last line of the novel captures the Huck Finn the reader has gotten to know (and love?) throughout the work.  He acts relieved that the tale is finished for its time-consuming nature, but his jocular tone betrays him of having had a good time.  Huck knows (and knows that the reader knows) that he is nothing if not opinionated; the quip “there ain’t nothing more to write about” seems to be thrown in for his own amusement as much as ours. “I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can’t stand it. I been there before” (293).  Improper grammar, spelling and syntax are packed in with extreme economy of words.  Huck takes care to leave no question in the reader’s mind that he is a total hooligan, but, consistent with the novel as a whole, his obvious effort to convince the reader and himself of this fact is a dead giveaway to the contrary. 

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