Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Huck's moral conscience

As I was reading Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I noticed the variety of sentence structure in Huck’s voice. Most often, Huck’s speech is marked by short, choppy sentences that get straight to the point without any unnecessary detail or any ambiguity; but every so often there are entire paragraphs that are merely a series of these little bursts of thought separated by semicolons. At first I didn’t think anything of these paragraphs, paying more attention to what was happening than how it was structured, but in the second half I couldn’t help but notice what these paragraphs said about the plot, but more importantly about Huck. Many times I thought that the faster pace of Huck’s sentences all jammed together just marked excitement or an influx of emotion, but looking more deeply, I think that Twain portrays Huck’s moral conscience within his sentence structure. Whether it be anxiety over the lies of the king and the duke or over his own schemes going awry, Huck’s character can be read through his change in voice.

In Chapter XXV, the king and the duke use their theatrical talent to seize an opportunity in order to take advantage of both Peter Wilks’ family and his inheritance. The king’s “speech,” (pg. 178) as described by Huck, foreshadows his eventual betrayal of the king and duke as his reservations of such trickery are apparent. Rattling off the “flapdoodle” the king “slobbers” out, Huck says that “it was just sickening,” (pg. 178) marking his negative view of the elaborate plot. The fast paced paragraph ends, “and then he blubbers out a pious goody-goody Amen, and turns himself loose and goes to crying fit to bust” (pg. 178). Although Huck sits silently, a witness and even possibly a complicit accomplice to horrendous fraud, his moral conscience is at work in this anxiety-ridden paragraph. He describes the king as “blubbering,” “goody-goody,” and “loose,” none of which express anything but disgust and disappointment, hinting at the righteous actions Huck will take to undo the wrong committed.

On the other hand when Huck admits to Miss Mary Jane what the king and the duke have done to her family as well as what he has done to try to salvage the situation, the switch in his sentence structure is abrupt and therefore telling. Writing her a note in order to both express his apologies and rectify the crime, Huck admits, “It made my eyes water a little, to remember her crying there all by herself in the night, and them devils laying there right under her own roof, shaming her and robbing her; and when I folded it up and give it to her, I see the water come into her eyes, too” (pg. 202). The emotional exchange between Huck and Miss Mary Jane exemplifies Huck’s guilt and pure, innocent knowledge of what is right and wrong. He calls the king and the duke “devils,” emphasizing the sinfulness of their criminal actions. The use of the religiously loaded word, “devils” and the fast pace are juxtaposed with the exclamation “Pray for me!” (pg. 202) that Huck shouts to himself in relieved response to Miss Mary Jane’s forgiveness and furthermore, her kindness. His guilt is vanquished and therefore he no longer speaks anxiously. Huck’s character, although speaking so straightforwardly, is hard to read. His adventures are marked by action and a literal narrative of what happened, not of feelings. Mark Twain, though, infuses Huck’s voice and sentence structure with emotion, allowing his audience to relate to and even learn to love Huckleberry Finn.

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