Commentary on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Commentary on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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This passage comes from the first chapter of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. Huckleberry is explaining how life is with the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson. He is describing one evening at his new home in their company. This section serves to characterize the two ladies, to foreshadow some events that will happen later in the novel, to create a mood of death, to reinforce the theme of death and rebirth, and to characterize Huckleberry.
At the beginning of the passage, Huck describes Miss Watson as a deeply religious person. She talks about the “good place” (3), as a reward for “sivilized” people. Twain satirizes religion when the widow says that all a body does in heaven is play the “harp and sing forever and ever” (3). Indeed, why would she want to sing endlessly once she is dead? But because of Huck’s pure heart, he “didn’t think much of it” (3). All he wants is to be with Tom Sawyer. So even at the beginning of the story, Huck is already rejecting society because he does not care about going to heaven. In addition, Miss Watson is mean toward Huck. She keeps “pecking” (3) at him. The word “pecking” is very important in this passage because it compares Miss Watson as a bird that strikes with its beak. This comparison suggests that Miss Watson is a nag and that her constant criticism is painful to Huck. With the help of Huck’s description, the reader can infer that the two ladies are civilized and educated, but surprisingly, when it comes to slaves, they lose all of their humanity and just “fetched the niggers in and had prayers” (3). They treat them no better than they would treat animals. Their behavior toward slaves demonstrates how superficial and hypocritical they are.
In addition, Mark Twain foreshadows death, which will happen later in the book. For example, when Huck goes up to his room, he feels “lonesome” (3), he wishes he were dead. In this passage, Twain emphasizes the theme of Huck’s quest for freedom. Huck has a need for liberty. Since he is stuck in a house he feels “tiresome” (3), and locked in. The author also uses many morbid words to foreshadow death, such as “mournful”, “dead”, “crying”, “die”, “shivers”, “ghosts”, “grave” and “grieving” (3). As a result, the death imagery and diction creates a dreadful mood.

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This paragraph also foreshadows that Huck is going to go back to nature “the wind was trying to whisper something to me, I couldn’t make out what it was” (3), and leave “sivilization”.
Furthermore, this passage satirizes superstition and characterizes Huck as a superstitious being. For example, when “a spider went crawling up his shoulder” (3), he thinks it is “an awful bad sign, and would fetch him some bad luck” (3). For most of the readers, it could be interpreted as a foolish thing, but back in the 1850s a lot of people were superstitious, however it did not mean that they were dumb, they were just not well educated. When Huck “tied up a little lock of my hair with a thread to keep witches away” (4), and “turned around in his tracks three times and crossed his breast every time” (3), the author actually mocks superstition in general. He satirizes people’s way of thinking. So this passage is a situational irony because of Huck’s behavior toward the death of the spider, and it also foreshadows death by the use of superstition (“awful bad sign” (3) and “bad luck when you’d killed a spider” (4)).
In summary, this passage serves to characterize and introduce one of the main character in the novel, Huckleberry Finn. But it also describes two other “sivilized” ladies, who contrast with Huck’s pure soul and sivilization. The author describes Miss Watson as a disagreeable person by using the word “pecking” (3). Even if the lady does not appear as a nice person, she still thinks that she will go to the “good place” (3) once she is dead. By describing heaven, she tries to make civilization and religion appealing to Huck, but she fails when the young boy says that he “didn’t think much of it” (3). Soon after, Huck goes up to his room. But all of this “sivilization” is too much for him, he feels “lonesome” (3) and “tiresome”” (3). The boy wishes he was dead. This paragraph foreshadows the return of Pap. Therefore it brings out the theme of death and rebirth. In this passage, the author satirizes superstition. The way Huckleberry acts with the death of the spider is humorous, and tells the reader a lot about his character. In this excerpt, Mark Twain characterizes Huck as having a lack of education. Because the book is in the first person, which is in Huck’s voice, the reader can infer from the writing style that the main character has not learned proper grammar when he uses phrases like “You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain't no matter” (1). From this passage, we can conclude that Huckleberry is a good-hearted, smart but not well-educated boy with a diseased conscience because of “sivilization”.
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