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Controversy In Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Updated on October 27, 2011

Controversy is one of the aspects that can determine how relevant a work may become; whether it be in music, movies, or the all but lost classic media form…the book. A controversy that has lasted through the ages is Mark Twain’s infamous story about a young boy’s expedition down the Mississippi and up the river known as Morality. There are many instances, from the front cover to the final page and throughout, that have stirred up a number of conversations and debates that have grown to be very heated, to say the least. For this particular passage, we will overlook the obvious controversy in Twain's usage of certain racially sensitive nouns; way too many people make a big deal out of this already and I really don't want to perpetuate that conversation. Other than the obvious, not one of these instances has outlasted or been commented on more than the last few chapters. The conclusion is the most controversial segment of the entire text. Ernest Hemingway; a renowned author in his own right, who commonly critiqued other literary art of the time; went so far as to call it cheating. Here I will discuss the reasons behind this assertion. Because the book centers around the idea of “journeys,” it is only fitting that the readers should chronicle the story’s own journey from its beginnings as a simple boy’s tale to its position in the archives of literature as a giant of controversy.

An integral aspect of Huck Finn’s controversy; that often gets overshadowed by many of the other details surrounding the ending; is the reintroduction of Huck’s companion, Tom Sawyer. Some of the billions of scholars who have analyzed Twain’s work consider this the point where Finn; a book that has evolved into something that questions the tradition and morality accepted by an entire era in history; reverts back to being a children’s adventure book again. This is illustrated most noticeably in the instance in the book when Tom, posing as his cousin Sid, and Huck, posing as Tom, devise a plan to set Jim, the slave, free from the Phelps’ farm’s small cabin. The intricacy contained within Tom’s plan echoes back to the earlier chapters when the boys are posing as a band of pirates raiding a Sunday school class…before Finn became the political satire for which it is known. Nothing epitomizes this fairy-tale extravagance in Tom Sawyer’s character more than the part in the story when he rises up in bed to tell Aunt Sally to turn Jim loose because he is already free. Then Sally asks him if he knew the whole time that Jim was free, why would he bother with the scheme to break him out in the first place? The answer Tom gives here is one of the most revealing moments about his personality. He says, “Well that is a question, I must say; and just like women! Why, I wanted the adventure of it; and I’d a waded neck-deep in blood to.” This excerpt displays the return to the Tom Sawyer – ish children’s novel that awarded Twain such acclaim at the start of his career. Some critics have decided that this was a bad twist to the plot, that by this point in the book it has evolved past such trivial notions. But if looked at more closely, one might see this particular scene as something else entirely different. It could be seen as another journey; Tom’s journey from the inconsiderate prankster that would have Jim convinced a witch rode him around the world like a flying broom, to the young man that still desires the thrill of the chase, but would not engage in such an act if at the expense of a friend. The transformation from one to the other is obvious when he is presented with an opportunity to contrive another grand, over-the-top adventure for them to enjoy and instead, he puts his own wants and desires aside; despite how deep it is ingrained into him; to do right by his friend. It is a major improvement in a serious flaw of his personality, giving Tom his own moral journey.

The plot twist that is usually the one to overshadow most other controversies about the book is the section in the last chapter that explains the reason why running into Pap Finn is no longer a factor with which to be concerned…because he’s dead. In the very last few pages, Jim reveals to Huck that the body they found lying dead in the floor of the floating house was his father. This revelation at the very end seems to bring the whole story full circle back to the beginning, whereby it sends Huck into the start of another journey to undiscovered escapades in the western Indian territories (which composes the plot to another adventure for Tom and Huck). Some have asserted that this is nothing more than a cop-out, Twain’s way of trying to get around writing a complete ending. These people are not too partial to the direction that he points the characters toward. They may feel that Huck Finn deserved more attention to detail than just the vague conclusion that it received. But if these people took into consideration the amount of focus Twain had to apply in order to write himself into such a corner, they might realize that he had no other option. It took him the better part of a decade to find a place to end the story and when he did, it seemed as though Huck’s journey was one that ended right back where he started from and some of the readers did not like that much.

Some see the conclusion of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as a stroke of genius; some may see it as a plain, old-fashioned stroke. And therein lies the controversy. Where there are strong, differing opinions there is a controversy, either waiting to happen or already there. It drives literary conversations near to the point of exchanging blows, and it drives the works being discussed on into the next generation for other minds to question and confer about and start the cycle back over again.

Complete Mark Twain Collection (300+ works) (Illustrated)
Complete Mark Twain Collection (300+ works) (Illustrated)
Mark Twain's complete collection for Kindle Books


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