Life On the Mississippi; Mark Twain Without Huck Finn

Chain of Rocks Bridge, St. Louis photo by David Hinkson from Wikipedia
Chain of Rocks Bridge, St. Louis photo by David Hinkson from Wikipedia

Since I last posted about the New South publication of Huckleberry Finn without the N-word, I have done a lot of thinking about the influence this book has generated. Maybe some historical context might help illuminate the situation.

Before Mark Twain became a successful novelists he was a riverboat pilot on the Mississippi and then a rounder and newspaper reporter in the western territories.  From these experiences he put together a humorous account  of riveting of life in 19th century America. Such books as “Life On the Mississippi”, “Roughing It” and “Tom Sawyer” helped make Mark Twain a household word in mid-century US. His ability to capture the dialogue, conflicts and attitudes of the times, especially since the American man of letters never attended college, is quite remarkable. Perhaps, it was his early experience working in his father’s print shop that gave the young Sam Clemens his love of words, but no matter how you look at it Twain was the least likely candidate to become one of the nations leading writers.

Regardless of how good his “slice of life” and travel writing was, Mark Twain would have had a different impact on American readers without a view of life from the son of a river rat, named Huck. Twain’s classic does several things throughout the course of Huck’s journey down the Mississippi. Most importantly he humanizes the struggle of Huck to deal with slavery. Even though this book was written after the civil War had ended, it clearly deals with the aftermath of issues that resulted from the centuries, when slavery was legal.

 

The Mississippi River near New Orleans, from Wikipedia
The Mississippi River near New Orleans, from Wikipedia
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