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Mr. Sam Worley
February 21, 1999
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, writing under the pen name Mark Twain, in his own unique style, has created two master pictures of life on and along the Mississippi river that will forever stand out in American Literature; Adventures of Huckleberry Finnand The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Although each novel focuses on the namesake leading characters, Tom and Huck appear together in both novels as friends. Through the two leading characters in each novel, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, Twain expresses himself, personally and politically, as controversial as his views might have been or might still be. Tom Sawyer has always been seen as a children's book, but Huckleberry Finn has created a wave of controversy since it was first published in England in 1884. Why has Tom Sawyer been so readily accepted and Huck Finn so readily scrutinized? We can get an insight to this question and the duality of Mark Twain by comparing these two very different characters.
Tom Sawyer was an orphan, raised in town by his Aunt Polly, along with his brother and sister. Aunt Polly was one of the "better sort of people" in town, affording Tom the respectability that Huck would never be able to achieve. Tom was raised to fear God and was very much on the moral side. Although mischievous, Tom was not vicious. He had a boys mind, full of adventure and imagination. Very much the idealist, Tom's imaginary band of Spaniards and rich A-rabs were as real to him as his Aunt Polly. Huck couldn't be any more different.
Huck Finn, an only child, was raised by his drunken, illiterate father in the woods and on the Mississippi river. Educated in folklore, rather than books, Huck was very literal minded, taking everything at its face value, which also made him gullible. A loner out of habit rather than choice, Huck was free spirited and did pretty much what he wanted to do. Huck was very adaptable, pretending to be many different people (Sarah Williams, George Jackson, Tom Sawyer). He did know right from wrong but could not understand the abstract idea of belief in God. Very much the realist, Huck had trouble understanding the story of Moses because he, "don't take no stock in dead people anyway." He had to see it to believe it. Through these two characters' physical differences we can see the two different sides of Twain's personality, and how he uses their character differences to speak what he cannot say out loud.
Tom's fear of God, being raised by the "right kind of people", and being respectable speak volumes of what Twain came to despise most, but what our society values the highest. Huck, on the other hand, epitomized Twain's contempt for the hypocrisy he saw around him in the world; the idea of slavery, questionable religious beliefs and practices, and breaking free from both. As long as race and religion are issues in American society Huck Finn will continue to be scrutinized very closely. Critics see Huck as someone running away from order, discipline, and responsibility; everything Tom stood for. It's easy to like a "good boy" like Tom Sawyer, but society can't be questioned by an ignorant, uneducated, boy who just doesn't want to grow up. The genius of Samuel Clemens was in developing characters like Tom and Huck, and through his own unique satire, making a statement about our society that still brings up questions today.
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Literature, Fiction, Cinema of the United States, Picaresque novels, English-language films, Readers Digest, United Artists films, Broadway musicals, Huckleberry Finn, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom Sawyer, Tom and Huck
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