Friday, February 18, 2011

Notes For February 18th, 2011

This Day In Writing History

On February 18th, 1885, the legendary writer Mark Twain (the pseudonym of Samuel Clemens) published his classic novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The novel was a sequel to his previous classic, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, with Tom's friend Huck on an adventure of his own.

Set in the pre-Civil War South, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn finds Huck under the guardianship of the Widow Douglas, who, along with her sister Miss Watson, are attempting to "sivilize" him. While Huck appreciates their efforts, he feels stifled by civilized life. Tom Sawyer makes a brief appearance and helps Huck sneak out one night.

When Huck's shiftless father Pap, an abusive drunkard, suddenly appears, Huck wants no part of him. Unfortunately, Pap regains custody of Huck and they move to the backwoods, where Pap keeps Huck locked in his cabin. Huck escapes and runs away down the Mississippi River. He soon meets up with Miss Watson's slave, Jim.

Jim has also run away, after Miss Watson threatened to sell him downriver, where life for slaves is harsh. Although he is heading for Cairo, Illinois, Jim ultimately plans to get to Ohio, a free state. He hopes to buy his family's freedom and move them there. At first, Huck is unsure about whether or not he should report Jim for running away.

Throughout the novel, as Huck travels with Jim, talks with him, and becomes his friend, he begins to change his mind about slavery, people, and life in general. He comes to believe that Jim is an intelligent, compassionate man who deserves his freedom. One day, Huck and Jim find an entire house floating down the river. They enter it, hoping to find food and valuables. Instead, in one room, Jim finds the body of Huck's father, Pap, who was apparently shot in the back while robbing the house. Jim won't let Huck see the dead man's face and doesn't tell him that it's Pap.

Later, to find out what's going on in the area, Huck dresses up in drag and passes himself off as a girl named Sarah Williams. He meets a woman and enters her house, hoping that she won't recognize him as a boy. She tells him that there's a $300 bounty on Jim's head, as he is accused of killing Huckleberry Finn! The woman becomes suspicious of Huck's disguise. When she tricks him into revealing that he's a boy, Huck runs off. He warns Jim of the manhunt, then they pack up their raft and flee.

As Huck and Jim continue their journey, they encounter more people and more trouble. First, they get caught in the middle of a blood feud between two families, the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons. Then they rescue two clever con artists and get caught up in their schemes. Huck is outraged when one of the grifters turns Jim in for the reward. Even though it's against the law, Huck helps Jim escape after rejecting the advice of his conscience, telling himself, "All right, then, I'll go to Hell!"

Around this time, Huck witnesses the attempted lynching of a Southern gentleman, Colonel Sherburn. The Colonel turns back the lynch mob with his rifle - and a long speech about the cowardly nature of "Southern justice."

Although Huck had helped Jim escape from custody, he is soon recaptured. Later, Huck learns that Miss Watson died, and in her will, she freed Jim. When Jim tells Huck that the dead man they found in the floating house was his father, he realizes that he can finally go home.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is rightfully considered an all-time classic work of American literature. Although geared toward young readers, the novel has become a favorite of readers of all ages. It has been adapted numerous times for the radio, stage, screen, and television.

A month after it was first published, a public library in Concord, Massachusetts, banned The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from its shelves, calling the novel tawdry, coarse, and ignorant. It was the beginning of a controversy that continues to this day. From its first publication through the early 1950s, bans and challenges to the novel were the result of its condemnations of slavery and lynching, and its depiction of a black slave who proves to be more intelligent and compassionate than the white Southerners who had enslaved him.

Since the late 1950s, (when the Civil Rights movement began to gain momentum) the novel has faced bans and challenges in classrooms and school libraries from black activists for its frequent use of the racial epithet nigger and for its allegedly racist stereotyping of blacks. Twain scholars point out that in using the word nigger, the author criticizes his fellow Southerners' racism by letting them speak their own ugly language. Those who accuse the novel of racism fail to place it in its proper context.

Nevertheless, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn remains an all-time classic work of literature.

Quote Of The Day

"God made the idiot for practice, and then He made the school board." - Mark Twain

Vanguard Video>

Today's video features a reading of the first chapter of Mark Twain's classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Enjoy!

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