Mark Twain's classic novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, tells the story of a teenaged misfit who finds himself floating on a raft down the Mississippi River with an escaping slave, Jim. In the course of their perilous journey, Huck and Jim meet adventure, danger and a cast of characters who are sometimes menacing and often hilarious.
Let's set the scene...
It's what will come to be one of Rory Gilmore's last days at Stars Hollow High. In English class, the teacher is discussing the current assignment. She explains that if they haven't yet done so, the students should spent this class time reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. If they have finished reading, they are allowed to start their papers on the subject. A few of Rory's fellow students are, shockingly, more interested in painting their nails than reading classic literature. They slowly start to notice that Rory is concentrating on something she is writing. They start to speculate "maybe it's a diary... a love letter... a slam book?" Imagine the disappointment when they realize that, of all the things to possibly do in the middle of a high school English class, she is working on *GASP* the assignment!
Later on, Rory is conveying this meeting of the minds to Lane:
Lane: Was it a good color, at least?
Rory: It had sparkles in it.
Rory: And it smelled like bubble gum when it dried.
Lane: Oh well, there's no way Mark Twain can compete with that!
First of all, if one reads The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, one must first start with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The reader is first introduced to Huck Finn as Tom Sawyer describes his own misdeeds. Although both boys live in the same fictional Mississippi River town, their unlikely friendship is a commentary on the lines that can be crossed between various social classes. Tom is a rascally yet well-read boy brought up in a loving family, while Huck is constantly neglected by his father to the point where he is fully responsible for keeping himself alive on the streets of St. Petersburg. Huck and Tom discover a friendship and loyalty that transcends social constraints. That same unconventional friendship is then extended to the big-hearted, loyal slave Jim. This further emphasizes Twain's message of tolerance and love across all colors and socioeconomic classes.
Both books are told from the point-of-view of their respective characters. While Tom Sawyer is a great book and truly introduces the reader to the characters and their plights, Huck Finn is the story that truly serves as a commentary on racial injustices and the state of society at the time of it's telling. The liberal use of "the N-word" that begins in Tom Sawyer but is really ramped up in Huck Finn, has been extremely controversial, especially as of late. There has been a constant argument surrounding this particular instance of Twain's work, regarding whether or not Twain was a racist or was purposely using derogatory stereotypes to shed light on the heinous behavior that was perpetrated on black people during that time. There are many reasons that lead me to believe that Twain's reasons for the language used in this book were noble. Twain's views on slave ownership and the treatment of black citizens as sub-human creatures are subtle but are apparent in his discussions of conventions like the difference between how a man's dog is referred to in comparison to his slave (i.e. Penny Lane Allen is my cat, but if I owned a slave, his name would be Allen's Jim"... thereby completely removing the person's identity).
Prior to reading these books, I was aware of the recent outcry to have the N-word replaced with the word "slave" throughout Twain's works. Before reading these, I was instantly against this censorship... assuming that Samuel Clemens used the N-word as a commentary on the ignorance that racism breeds. After my second Black, White & Read Book Challenge assignment, I now know... I WAS RIGHT (it rarely happens, let me revel in it for a second)! The N-word isn't used because Twain is a disgusting racist who truly sees black people as nothing but the property of white men. Yes, that word makes the reader uncomfortable (I personally cringed each and every time I read the word during this experience) , but that strong wording sheds a much-needed light on the evils of human behavior. Removing the word almost acts to minimize the pain and history inherent in this story's telling.
Although these books deal with a very painful and embarrassing part of this nation's past (and to be honest, its present), Twain's humor and boy-like view of the world serves as a palate cleanser. In the beginning of these books, Mark Twain indicates that they were originally written as children's stories. The reader takes a ride with Tom and Huck as they become pirates, have sword fights in Sherwood Forest and dream up ways to make the most mundane tasks seem dangerous and exciting. These books have the power to bring you back to your own childhood and the imagination with which you live every second at that age.
Like The Hardy Boys, this is a book I can easily envision Kirk reading (you know, when he's not delivering mail, selling soap, fixing rooves, skydiving, installing faulty alarm systems, being Taylor's lackey... and on and on and on). The misadventures of Tom and Huck are something I can see exciting Kirk and inspiring future crazy antics.
Who do I see reading this in the Stars Hollow gazebo?