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Huck Finn  Techniques:

Craftsmanship:

This is a picaresque (Sp. Anti-hero/rogue of low birth living by cunning or wits) tale shaped and ordered from the amorphous raw material of the life of Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain).  Twain has re-enacted autobiographical episodes from his youth into significant patterns, using a first person participating narrator with the limited uneducated vocabulary of a fourteen year old vagabond.

 

The meanings of the novel emerge indirectly or implicitly via the vicarious personal involvement or identification and empathy of us the responders.  Through our relationship with Huck we see what he sees and share his experiences in a vivid way.  We trust his observations, even though we question his conclusions.

 

At no time does Twain intrude into the narrative to preach, moralise or philosophise, so we are limited to Huck’s observations, experiences, vocabulary and analysis – yet as mature responders we begin to suspect his lack of judgement and understanding  and  our conclusions may go beyond his innocence and gormlessness.   Huck becomes a mask (persona) behind which Twain can hide as he ridicules, satirises or derides the folly and foibles of American “sivilisation”.

 

The authenticity of the experiences is established by verisimilitude devices; the first person narrator, the use of the vernacular and realistic idiomatic speech patterns of a variety of dialects characterising  ordinary rural speakers,  the plausibility of most of the action and the creation of a gallery of characters equalling those exposed in The Canterbury Tales of Chaucer’s 14th Century England.

Picaresque Novel,

 A CHRONICLE, usually autobiographical, presenting the life story of a rascal of low degree engaged in menial tasks and making his living more through his wits than his industry. Episodic in nature, the picaresque novel is, in the usual sense of the term, structureless. It presents little more than a series of thrilling incidents impossible to conceive as happening in one life. The picaro, or central figure, through the nature of his various pranks and predicaments and by virtue of his associations with people of varying degree, affords the author an opportunity for SATIRE on the social classes. Romantic in the sense of being a story of adventure, the picaresque novel nevertheless is strongly marked by realistic methods in its faithfulness to petty detail, its utter frankness of expression, and its drawing of incidents from low life.

There are, perhaps, seven chief qualities distinguishing the picaresque novel.

(1) It chronicles a part or the whole of the life of a rogue. It is likely to be done in the first person—as AUTOBIOGRAPHY—but this is by no means essential.

(2) The chief figure is drawn from a low social level and is of “loose” character, according to conventional standards. The occupation of this central figure, should he tolerate employment at all, is menial in nature.

(3) The NOVEL presents little PLOT. Rather is it a series of EPISODES only slightly connected.

(4) There is little character interest. Progress and development of character do not take place. The central figure starts as a picaro and ends as a picaro, manifesting the same aptitudes and qualities throughout. When change occurs, as it some times does, it is external change brought about by the man’s falling heir to a fortune or by his marrying a rich widow. Internal character development is not a quality of the picaresque novel.

(5) The method is realistic. While the story may be romantic in itself, it is presented with a plainness of language, a freedom in vocabulary, and a vividness of detail such as the realist only is permitted.

(6) SATIRE is a prominent element. Thrown with people from every class and often from different parts of the world, the picaro serves them intimately in one lowly capacity or another and learns all their foibles and frailties. The picaresque novel may in this way be made to satirize both social casts and national or racial peculiarities.

(7) The hero of the picaresque novel usually stops just short of being an actual criminal. The line between crime and petty rascality is a hazy one, but somehow the picaro always manages to draw it. Carefree, unmoral perhaps, he avoids actual crime and turns from one peccadillo to disappear down the dust of the road in search of another.

(Excerpted from A Handbook to Literature, Holman The Odyssey Press )







Characters:

 

Huck Finn – First introduced in Tom Sawyer,  Huck has lost his boyish innocence and begins to attempt to make sense of the world.  He is more complex than Tom Sawyer in that he adopts a more realistic outlook in life.  Based on Tom Blenkinship, who did in fact “light out for the Territory” , Huck is a picaro, a character of low birth who lives by his wits.

  

Style and Language

 

Written in a colloquial vernacular, idiomatic style, using a first person participating narrator with the limited uneducated vocabulary of a fourteen year old vagabond and the realistic idiomatic speech patterns of a variety of dialects characterising ordinary rural speakers, this novel conveys many complex and profound issues.  Much of Jim’s dialect is difficult to decipher.

For many years the book has been banned from schools and libraries in the Southern states ostensibly because of its reputed low literary standards, but more likely for what it says about the treatment of Afro- Americans.




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