Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was first published in 1884. It is considered by many to be his masterpiece. It is set between the years 1835-1845, and depicts the story of a boy’s struggle against society and the ways in which it tries to “sivilize” him. Throughout the book, Huck tells of his adventures and of his relationship with the novel’s second main character, Jim, who is an escaped slave. The extract I will analyse in this essay is taken from Chapter XVII of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Huck has just arrived to the Grangerfords’ house.
The Grangerfords are a family which have taken Huck in and are letting him stay for as long as he wishes. Huck is in Emmeline Grangerford’s bedroom, the Grangerfords’ deceased daughter, and is reading her poetry. First, I will take a look at the language used in this passage. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the narrator, Huckleberry Finn, uses a Southern dialect instead of a more formal style of American English. This makes this literary work very different from most works published around that time; indeed, using ‘the vernacular’ in writing was very uncommon, and even frowned upon.
Instead of shying away from using dialects in his work, Mark Twain employs several in Huckleberry Finn, reproducing them “painstakingly” (Twain 1994: 6). In this particular extract, terms like ‘by-and-by’ and ‘warn’t’ are used, helping to make Huckleberry Finn more credible as a Southern narrator. When Mark Twain writes lines with a syntax such as “… it didn’t seem right that there warn’t nobody to make some about her, now she was gone… “, it makes it easier for us to believe that it is Huck – an uneducated young man – that is telling the story, instead of Mark Twain himself.
This does not mean that Mark Twain’s own personality and opinions do not shine through. Huckleberry Finn’s naivety and lack of education make him the perfect tool for Twain, who uses him to poke fun at various aspects of 19th-century American society. In the extract, Huck is marvelling at the quality of Emmeline Grangerford’s poetry, saying “[i]f Emmeline Grangerford could make poetry like that before she was fourteen, there ain’t no telling what she could a done by-and-by. ” Earlier in chapter XVII, the reader is served a sample of Emmeline’s poetry, the “Ode to Stephen Dowling Bots, Dec’d. , which is mediocre at best, and incredibly melodramatic.
The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn By Mark Twain
It becomes obvious that while Huck’s admiration is genuine, Twain is being satirical and holds that kind of literature in contempt. The character of Emmeline Grangerford is based on a poet called Julia A. Moore (Hess: 2003a; Blair: 1996). Moore was known as ‘the sweet singer of Michigan’ and wrote dreadful poetry. When Huck says “… she could write about anything you choose to give her about, just so it was sadful”, it is an obvious reference to Julia Moore.
Some of Moore’s subjects of choice were deaths of neighbours, deaths of neighbours’ children, heroic soldiers being killed in the Civil War… (Blair: 1996) Mark Twain counted Moore amongst his favourite poets because she was always able to make him laugh. She tried very hard to make her poems as sad and tragic as possible, but in the end, they turned out funny, just as Emmeline’s ‘tributes’ did. Twain is not only making fun of Julia Moore: he is attacking the whole movement of romanticism.
Romantic gothic works such as Edgar Allan Poe’s poetry and Washington Irving’s The Legend of Sleepy Hollow were popular in Victorian America. Death and mourning were subjects that were often written about in Romantic literature, and were treated in an overdramatic, histrionic manner. Emmeline Grangerford’s horrible poetry serves as a caricature of Romantic literature and shows how Mark Twain really felt about it. Twain was more of a realistic writer, and preferred to describe events and people as they truly were.
His use of the vernacular, which I have mentioned earlier, amplifies the feeling of ‘reality’ the reader gets while reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Romantic literary works were written in a very formal style, with many superfluous adjectives and adverbs. Twain cuts out anything unneeded, and focuses instead on the storyline, on dialogues, and on the relationships between characters. At one point in the extract, Huck says that after once, Emmeline “hung fire” (hesitated) on a rhyme in one of her ‘tributes’.
Because of this, the undertaker got to the dead body before her, and Emmeline “… arn’t ever the same, after that; she never complained, but she kind of pined away and did not live long. ” Emmeline used too much time on her poem and she could not recite it in front of the dead person. Twain is insinuating that this made her so upset that it killed her. This can mean two things: either that Emmeline was extremely narcissistic, or that she was too sensitive for her own good. It seems like Twain is using Emmeline to represent the mass of Romantic authors. One can probably assume that he is accusing Romantic writers of taking themselves, and life, too seriously.
Later in the passage, Huck feels sorry that Emmeline does not have her own tribute, and tries to write a couple of verses about Emmeline. For some reason, he “[can]’t seem to make it go somehow”. It is evident that Huck feels very sorry for Emmeline, and truly cares about her and her family: “I liked all that family, dead ones and all, and warn’t going to let anything come between us. ” I believe that Mark Twain is saying that Romantic writers are phony, or, at least, writing about fake emotions. Huck’s feelings about the Grangerfords are genuine.
The naivety and childlikeness of Huck do not allow him to pretend he is feeling anything he is not, and therefore, he cannot write anything like Emmeline’s poetry. Huck also mentions that Emmeline’s pictures had been aggravating him, something which further proves that Huck is definitely not a Romantic. He is horrified at the macabre elements in Emmeline’s art. The Romantic movement was very present in Victorian America, and not only in literature. When Huck says: “The neighbors said it was the doctor first, then Emmeline, then the undertaker…
Twain is really telling the reader about the attitude a lot of people had about death around that time. In Puritan America (17th-18th century), people welcomed death, because it was a way out of the hardships of life. On the other hand, they feared its consequences: death was a passageway into a world which could be immeasurably better, or, if one were not among the chosen ones, unbearably worse. (Hess: 2003b) In the 19th century, the Romantic movement came to America from Europe, and people started seeing death in a very different way.
By reading Romantic literature, people became increasingly fascinated with death and the mystery that surrounds it. Death was a big part of these people’s lives, and they confronted it head-on. Taking pictures of dead people in their coffins was extremely common in America in the 19th century (Hess: 2003c). Emmeline is a product of her time: she wishes to see death, to write about it, and to draw pictures about it (as described earlier in Chapter XVII). Therefore, when somebody dies, she is very quick to arrive on the scene.
It is not specified how long ago Emmeline died, but the family is obviously still in mourning: “They kept Emmeline’s room trim and nice and all the things fixed in it just the way she liked to have them when she was alive, and nobody ever slept there. ” Mourning was a very important part of life in Victorian America, and would last for years (Hess: 2003d). Twain seems to be writing about this to further define the Grangerfords as Romantics. Huck touches on the subject of slavery near the end of the passage.
He mentions that the Grangerfords own many slaves, and also that the old lady Grangerford spends a lot of time reading her Bible in Emmeline’s room. Mark Twain is drawing attention to a paradox: how can slave owners consider themselves Christians, when they are buying and selling human beings as if they were animals? Huck seems oblivious to this contradiction, at least for the time being. He is casually stating facts, and does not seem disturbed by them. He is even wondering why the “niggers” do not clean Emmeline’s room. This may seem strange to the reader, since Huck’s best friend is a runaway slave.
I think that Twain is denouncing the indifference of the American people to slavery. It is so common to own slaves in the South before the Civil War that most White people fail to see the great injustice that is being done. HReligion was central in Victorian America, and people prided themselves on attending Church regularly and being able to recite passages of the Bible. Yet many of these people owned slaves, and throughout the whole novel, Twain shows the reader many Christians doing ungodly acts. By doing so, he is attacking hypocritical Christians.
He is saying that Christianity is not about keeping up appearances, but about doing onto others as you would have them do onto you. In the last paragraph of the extract, Huck resumes describing the parlour, something he had started to do earlier in Chapter XVII. Huck has never really lived in a house, apart from the Widow Douglas’ house, which was simple and sparsely furnished. Therefore, Huck is really impressed at the Grangerfords’ house, which is lavishly decorated, with “beautiful curtains” and pictures of “castles with vines all down the walls… “.
Mark Twain is deliberately making the Grangerfords’ house look as tacky as possible, to mock the Victorians’ taste. It was typical for people at that time to pretend they were wealthier than they really were, by decorating their homes in an exaggerated manner, with objects that seemed expensive. They did so because they aspired to a higher status in society. Twain is poking fun at this, and implying that they are not fooling anybody, except very naive people such as Huckleberry Finn. In conclusion, this passage deals with a lot of important subjects, such as slavery and religion. These are also approached in other chapters.
The main theme in this particular extract is Romanticism and Twain’s dislike of it. Twain is using the naive, wide-eyed Huckleberry Finn to mock the 19th-century American society and its exaggerated emotionalism. He is suggesting that this society is phony and that Huck is probably better off uncivilised. To make Huck more credible as an uneducated and young narrator, Twain writes in a Southern vernacular dialect. This also makes The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn stand out from other literary works published in the 19th century, which were written in a much more formal kind of American English.