Huck Finn's America: Mark Twain and the Era That Shaped His Masterpiece
Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub
A provocative, exuberant, and deeply researched investigation into Mark Twain’s writing of Huckleberry Finn, which turns on its head everything we thought we knew about America’s favorite icon of childhood.
In Huck Finn’s America, award-winning biographer Andrew Levy shows how modern readers have been misunderstanding Huckleberry Finn for decades. Twain’s masterpiece, which still sells tens of thousands of copies each year and is taught more than any other American classic, is often discussed either as a carefree adventure story for children or a serious novel about race relations, yet Levy argues convincingly it is neither. Instead, Huck Finn was written at a time when Americans were nervous about youth violence and “uncivilized” bad boys, and a debate was raging about education, popular culture, and responsible parenting — casting Huck’s now-celebrated “freedom” in a very different and very modern light. On issues of race, on the other hand, Twain’s lifelong fascination with minstrel shows and black culture inspired him to write a book not about civil rights, but about race’s role in entertainment and commerce, the same features upon which much of our own modern consumer culture is also grounded. In Levy’s vision, Huck Finn has more to say about contemporary children and race that we have ever imagined—if we are willing to hear it.
An eye-opening, groundbreaking exploration of the character and psyche of Mark Twain as he was writing his most famous novel, Huck Finn’s America brings the past to vivid, surprising life, and offers a persuasive—and controversial—argument for why this American classic deserves to be understood anew.
more chilling descent.” Marx, “Mr. Trilling,” 440, 439. He wonders how much worse it might have been if Twain had included the elephant scenes he had envisioned in his notes. Doyno, Writing Huck Finn, 221–26, does a good quick summary of the outlines of this familiar controversy. Chadwick-Joshua, Jim Dilemma, 4–8, focuses on characterizations of Jim. As does Oehlschlaeger, “ ‘Gwyne to Git Hung,’ ” 117–18. not running from it: In the Buffalo Huck Finn, MS0953: in the first draft of Huck’s famous
places, but that nevertheless achieved closure at the hundreds of balloting places where the Klan and other paramilitaries turned away the black vote. All the individual stories about unsuccessful black criminals, all those inept black insurrections, reinforced the election story that celebrated the pleasures of denying black political agency. In an editorial on November 18, the New York Sun spoke for many of its readers: “At the south . . . the whites have now had their way, and will be less
that Huck was “the best book we’ve had” but to stop reading after Chapter 31, because “the rest is just cheating,” he expressed a widespread belief that what followed Huck’s vow to go to hell to protect Jim’s freedom—the “evasion”—was backsliding. Twain faltered at the end, Leo Marx wrote in “Mr. Eliot, Mr. Trilling, and Huckleberry Finn,” because he didn’t have “the moral vision” to “acknowledge the truth his novel contained.” When one looks at Twain’s deep and ascending commitment to racial
Huckleberry Finn, 16–17, notes Albert Paine observing that it is incorrect to call Mark Twain only “Twain”—but, it would seem, next to unavoidable. Cox, Fate of Humor, 3–33, is much recommended here. He reminds us that “Mark Twain,” in river parlance, means “barely safe water” (23)—not comforting, but not discomforting, either. Shelden, Man In White, xxii, notes the “convenience” of using “the name by which most readers know him.” PREFACE “all modern American literature . . . Huckleberry Finn”:
collection of “comic dialogues and sentimental songs” that corresponds to the early comic exchanges between Tom Sawyer and Huck, Huck and Pap, and Jim and Huck; an “olio of novelty acts,” corresponding to the King and Duke set pieces; and a finale, “a short musical about life on the plantation, or a one-act burlesque of a classic drama or opera,” that corresponds particularly closely to the final “evasion” sequence in Huck (Berret, “Huckleberry,” 38, 44; note that Mahar, Behind, disputes that