One of the 32 classic novels in Western literature recommended by Susan Wise Bauer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was written by Mark Twain, the father of all good things in American belles lettres. I was surprised Huck Finn was picked over Tom Sawyer, but I guess I am still learning the subtleties of why one novel is considered more important than another.
Huck Finn is on the run – that’s the main theme of the novel. The quintessential American quest for freedom is exemplified in his running away from his alcoholic, abusive father, from the religious lady who tried to adopt him and make him into a Christian, and from the rest of the people who mean well, but are doing him more harm than good.
When Jim, a Negro slave, runs away and meets Huck by accident in the woods, the two band together and run into adventure after adventure. It is hard to read Jim’s language. Twain spelled the words phonetically, the way a Negro slave spoke back then. That really slowed down my reading as words did not make any sense. I ran into the same problem with Uncle Tom’s Cabin, of course.
I know some people refuse to read these books because of that language barrier. I confess that was tough even for me, and I love a linguistic challenge.
The value of any book starts when you find yourself in the story. I found myself in Huck in some ways. Even though my father was an honest man and held a job, he did have a drinking problem. I remember being a child and wanting to disappear from the picture of our not-so-happy family. The scenes with his father were hard to read from that point of view.
Maybe that’s why I found it easy to go overseas for college. It was my own quest for freedom, for wanting to put some distance between me and the domestic abuse I witnessed. In that sense, Huck Finn’s story spoke to my heart.