What do you remember about Huck Finn? As I prepared to reread THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN in preparation for writing a condensation of the story for Caramel Tree, I remembered that it was about Tom Sawyer’s sidekick Huck and Jim, a slave, and their adventures rafting down the Mississippi. I remembered it was hard to read; lots of first person dialect. That was a consideration since Caramel Tree specializes in books for second language learners. And, I knew there was a lot of controversy about the language and racial overtones in the book. Another consideration as I prepared to tell my version of the story.
I happened about this time to attend the Oklahoma Federation of Writer’s conference and hear a lecture by David Morrell, author of FIRST BLOOD which was adapted into the Rambo series, about when to use first person POV in writing. He began with an interesting history. The first ‘fictional’ accounts were called broadsides; the confessions of condemned people waiting to be hanged. These were fictional confessions by writers pretending to be the condemned confessing to all of their transgressions, and were sold to the crowds waiting to see the hanging. They were so popular that writers began to write other first person accounts such as Richardson’s PAMELA who dished dirt on her wealthy employers. Anyone who has watched a modern reality show can see where this has gone.
More to the dilemma I was pondering, Morrell addressed the best uses of the first person; when the main character is lying, insane, or fooled into believing something. He even used Huck Finn as an example of famous first person novels. This got me to thinking. Mark Twain wrote TOM SAWYER in third person, but HUCK FINN in first person. Why? Huck is not lying or insane as he tells his story. Therefore, if Morrell’s reasoning is adhered to, Huck thinks he believes things that are not true. Reading with this in mind changed my view of the book — even the controversial ending.
David Morrell kindly spoke with me after his talk and pointed out another aspect of the novel; the parallel between Huck running from his abusive father and Jim running from his abusive situation. More to think about!
As of now, I’m struggling to contain all of this insight into my limited word count on this book. Success means telling this entertaining story with its theme intact, but without reverting to objectionable content. I think I can.
Huck Finn is one of the most important and compelling American novels, and for all ages. It is also a harbinger for first-person narration which seems almost mandatory today, especially for novels for pre-teens. (i.e. MG)