Saturday, April 7, 2012

What it do

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Many people argue the appropriateness of Huckleberry Finn in the classroom of our youth today. The thefts, constant lying, disrespecting of religion and other misdeeds that occur in this book will continue to be controversial in regards to children. Lionel Trilling believes that Huckleberry Finn is “One of the world’s greatest books and one of the central documents of American culture (57).” But where does the greatness lie exactly? He believes the greatness of the book lies in its “power of telling the truth (57).” He uses the technique of simplicity to complexity among others to explain his point of view.

One of the arguments Trilling poses is that Huckleberry Finn can be viewed as both a children’s book and an adult’s book. The beauty of Huckleberry Finn is that one can grow up with this book. A child may read it once at age 10, again at age 11, and again at age 0, and interpret the novel in a different way each time. Trilling uses an Athenian boy reading the Odyssey as an analogy to an American boy reading Huckleberry Finn. He argues that very few other novels have nearly as much re-reading value as Huckleberry Finn. Not all Twain novels have the same versatility that Huckleberry Finn possesses. He compares Huckleberry Finn to another Mark Twain novel, Tom Sawyer. He believes that the reason Tom Sawyer is not taken beyond boyhood is because “he would lie just like all the other one-horse men of literature and the reader would conceive a hearty contempt for him (58).” He believes that Huck’s truth is more complex and more passionate.

The novel is also compared to T.S. Eliot’s poem, “The Dry salvages.” Trilling uses comparison to explain his nd main point, which is that Huckleberry Finn is “about a god- about that is, a power which seems to have a mind and will of its own, and which to men of moral imagination appears to embody a great moral idea (5).” He believes that Huck is a “servant” and comes close to being aware of the river’s divinity. Huck shows his awareness by being aware of omens and other superstitions such as, shaking the tablecloth after sundown, the evils of handling snakeskin, and not looking at the moon over your left shoulder. Trilling also gives the river divine-like characteristics. He claims that it is compassionate, but also can be ruthless and misleading. He shows these characteristics by giving examples of the river’s power. The river can use its sand bars to destroy a steamboat, and steal a man’s house from under a person’s feet. Trilling believes that the danger of the river “is what saves the book from any touch of the sentimentality and moral ineptitude of most works with contrast the life of nature with the life of society” (5). He also believes that the river is good to people who live in harmony with its ways. Huck does not run away to complete freedom, because Jim becomes a father figure to him.

The morals of Huck are very seldom noticed in a first reading, but with analyzation, it is obvious to Trilling that he is not as carefree as Tom and his other colleagues, but instead always “in a sweat” over some sort of problem (60).” He is a much more complex character than one first thinks. Huck is a very sympathetic person, and Trilling explains this with examples from the text. One situation in the novel that shows his sympathy is when the circus audience laughs at the drunken man on the horse. When he stumbles upon the murderers on the steamboat, he still feels sympathy for them, even though they had killed people. Even when he knows the Duke and King have lied to him, he still feels bad for them when they are tarred and feathered. Personal Pride never gets in between Huck and his duties. Even though Huck has never had a part the social ladder, Trilling believes that he is still a “respectable person” (61). There is only one instance in the novel where pride gets in between Jim and Huck. Nevertheless, Huck puts his pride aside, and actually apologizes to a slave. He says, “It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger; but I done it, and warn’t sorry for it afterwards either (6) ”. Trilling states that this is the beginning of testing which a character “so morally sensitive as Huck’s must inevitably undergo (6)”.

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Lionel Trilling successfully proves his point of Huckleberry Finn’s greatness as a book with his admiring and praising tone. He fully explains the question he poses at the beginning with a simple to complex structure which ties his analysis together. His sophisticated language makes the reader conclude that the critique was written for a more educated reader, but the well-developed piece can be enjoyed by due to his thorough explanation of his thoughts.

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