Mark Twain’s nods to classic European literature

Mark Twain’s nods to classic European literature
Yareah Magazine


Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Review by John Glass

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel by Mark Twain first published in England in 1884 and a year later in the United States.

Not only is Mark Twain one of the oldest authors from the United States (he was born in Florida, Missouri, on November 30, 1885, and he died in Redding, Connecticut, on April 21, 1910) but he is the first author who wrote in the vernacular language, not in the traditional English from the United Kingdom.

The novel is told in the first person by Huckleberry Finn (Huck) and this allows Twain to express with local color regionalism: a regionalism which serves the author to recreate the life in the Southeast of the United States before the Civil War.

However and although the language is newfangled, the winks to classic European literature are constant. The novel starts in fictional Langlem, Missouri, on the shores of the Mississippi river. There, the wild boy Huck is living with two strict sisters (Widow Douglas and Miss Watson) a doll life. But he and his friend Tom Sawyer have some money (we know how they got it for Twain’s previous novel ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’) and Tom helps Huck to run away. Bad thing, since he is trapped by his horrible drunker father, who wants his money. His sufferings remember us Dickens’ novels of innocent boys as Oliver Twist but afterwards, and when Huck escapes and joints Jim, a fugitive black slave, starting a crazy trip along the Mississippi river to arrive Ohio, a free land where Jim will not have problems anymore, we notice a parallel with Don Quixote and his Spanish tour.

The novel has hundreds and hundreds of adventures, sometimes humoristic sometimes tragic, which serves Twain to criticize some aspects of Southern laws and behaviors while he displays his passion for the land of his birth (as every great novel, ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ has different levels of reading).

When Huck and Jim meet The Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons, two feuding families since the dawn of time, we are meeting Shakespeare and his world of duels. And when we meet The Duke and the King, two grifters who remember us the bad partners of Pinocchio, we are meeting the fairy tales, even Cinderella when a gentleman, called Colonel Sherburn, warns a drunk man, called Bogg, that he can behaving bad until one o’clock; afterwards he will kill him… because the spell will disappear.

Adventures keep on, very many with Jim as protagonist, since everybody wants to capture him to collect the reward offered by his capture. Here, Twain’s pessimistic ideas about mankind emerge and that had not happened in previous books but perhaps this is an announcement of his later depression.

Twain resolves the novel quickly, as in the theater of Spanish Golden Age. The horrible father of Huck has died, also Jim’s owner (Widow Douglas) and she has given him the freedom in the will. Everybody is happy and they can joint Tom Sawyer and his aunt Polly.

Nevertheless, the wild boy Huck plans to flee west to Indian territory, because a free soul dislikes (as Mark Twain) this polite industrialized adult society. In this point, I think, it is Mark Twain who precedes the whole generation of European writers after First World War (Graves, Joyce…).

Literature is a feedback and every great author assumes the legacy of previous authors and he sows the seeds of things to come.

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