Ernest Hemingway probably summed it up best when he said, "All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn" (source). We’re dealing with quite a book here. Published in 1885, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain’s follow-up to the Adventures of Tom Sawyer, carved new territory into the American literary landscape in several ways.
As one of the first novels to use a specific region’s vernacular in its narration, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn set a precedent for many other distinctly American works to follow. Some readers didn’t exactly "get" this new colloquial style, however. Accustomed to the proper prose of Hawthorne, Thoreau, and Emerson, some readers didn’t know what to do with Huck’s particular way of storytelling.
Aside from the novel’s new style of writing, Twain’s decision to use thirteen-year-old Huck as the narrator allowed him to include certain content that a more civilized narrator probably would have left out. At first, Twain’s novel was labeled crass by some readers. The book was even banned in schools for its use of the n-word which is ironic, given that the novel is up in arms over slavery. Even today, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn makes "Banned Books" lists.
Twain’s novel jumped head first into one of the biggest issues of its day: racism. Although the Emancipation Proclamation had been signed over two decades before Huckleberry Finn’s original publication date, African-Americans everywhere were still victims of oppression and racism. They were technically "free," but often by name only in Reconstruction-era America. Many southerners were bitter about the outcome of the Civil War.
By guiding his characters through several states of the Confederacy, Twain was able to reveal the hypocrisy of many pre-war southern communities. As a southerner himself, Twain had first-hand experiences to draw on, and he was able to walk the fine line between realistic depiction and ironic farce. Not to...
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