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Twain's Style & Art of Writing in HUCK FINN

‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ &Twain’s Style and Art of writing.
The Elements of Twain’s Writing
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is both praised and attacked as the
“quintessential” American novel. Within its pages are found the great reaches of
the Mississippi River and the heights and depths of the journey of the American
democratic spirit toward its fullest expression, all presented in a slangy, colloquial
language that is half regional dialect and half intellectual irony and literary humor.
In Huckleberry Finn Twain proved the potential of the colloquial style. His
challenge to traditional forms of literary discourse is one of the novel's lasting
legacies to American literature. A brief look at any dictionary of Americanisms
reveals how many first uses are credited to Twain. In Huck, Twain discovered
the perfect spokesperson for the innovativeness of American English.
Huckleberry Finn is a wonderful book that captures the heart of the reader in its
brilliance and innocence. Despite many critics have attacked its racist
perspective; the piece merely represents a reality that occurred during
antebellum America, the setting of the novel. Twain’s literary devices in capturing
the focal of excitement, adventure, and human sympathy is a wonderful novel
that should be recognized, not for bigotry, but that it is the candid viewpoint of a
boy that grew up in that era. And even then, the protagonist does overcome some
social prejudices of slavery because he is concerned with the well-being of his
runaway slave friend Jim. That the mockery of the slave race in the end allowed
by Huck is more about fulfilling the awes of Huck towards Tom. The novel is a
success because it does not fail to capture the one singular point of growing up
for Huck’s boyhood.
Mark Twain’s ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ is a testament to freedom of
expression and is a reminder to Americans that this country’s dark past cannot
simply be erased with a trademark Tom Sawyer whitewash.
Language in Huckleberry Finn
The narrative in Huckleberry Finn is based on realism and truth. Mark
Twain achieves this effect principally by using a first person eye- witness boy
narrator. This device ensures greater reliability. The fact that the boy narrator is
a character living on the periphery of society without any ‘respectable’ ambitions
of his own, together with his moral sensitivity makes his narrative more objective
and more truthful. But though Huck’s language is close to spoken English of rural
Southwest America, Mark Twain has not created it merely by copying the speech
pattern of a young semi-literate white boy. Used by the writer to replace the
traditional literary style, it itself is a new literary style and utmost care has gone
into its fashioning. Mark Twain has apparently done a lot of stitching and
unstitching though when we read the final product we are carried away by the
apparent effortlessness of Huck’s narration. Implicit in this is the recognition that
the narrator is naïve and untutored. Such a recognition is imperative when Huck
is the eye-witness narrator –participant in the novel and has to take the readers
In the first paragraph of the novel itself Huck the narrator separates himself from
the author of Tom Sawyer who at times tampered with truth : You don’t know
about me, without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom
Sawyer but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he
told the truth, mainly. There were things which he stretched, but mainly he told
the truth.(Twain 29-31)
By distancing himself from Mark Twain, Huck is making space for himself as a
truthful teller of his story.
He achieved this effect with certain vernacular features, such as nonstandard verb forms, a limited vocabulary, and apparently simple syntactic
relations, while building into the style a highly sophisticated, innovative literary
voice that stretches the English language to its limits and draws on a wide variety
of poetic devices. Huck's limitations as a narrator enabled Twain to experiment
freely with the range of expressiveness inherent in the colloquial style without the
necessity of doctoring it to meet standard literary expectations. In Huck Finn,
Twain created a narrator with a boy's innocence and a social outcast's honesty.
The kinds of errors that Huck makes are by no means haphazard; Twain carefully
placed them to suggest Huck's basic illiteracy but not to overwhelm the reader.
Twain drew on two sources for vernacular models. His primary inspiration was
the oral tradition of the frontier---the boastful bombast of the tall-tale teller and
the plain, understated style of the simple, uneducated American.
Identifying Characters by their Language
In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain uses words and phrases that people
during the time that he wrote the book used in everyday life. Depending on the
character, Twain used different forms of slang used in that period. His way of
writing really shows how people spoke back then. Twain wrote this way because
he wanted the reader to get an accurate feel of how people back then spoke and
how society was much different than that of today. His way of telling a story
makes the reader feel like he is right next to the characters, listening to every
word that comes out of their mouth. His descriptive words paint a picture in the
reader’s heads and it works very well.
The main character of the story is Huckleberry Finn, also known as Huck. From
the beginning of the novel, Twain makes it clear that Huck is a boy who comes
from the lowest levels of white society. Although Widow Douglas attempts to
“reform” Huck, he resists her attempts and maintains his independent ways. The
Widow finally gives Huck some of the schooling and religious training that he had
missed; he has not been indoctrinated with social values. Huck’s distance from
mainstream society makes him skeptical of the world around him and the ideas
it passes on to him. Huck speaks very well, but he still uses some slang during
the novel. For example, …there ain’t nothing in the world so good when it’s
cooked right—and whilst I eat my supper we talked and had a good time…
(Twain : 456-457) . Though Huck does not speak proper English he still tells the
story in an easily understandable way.
Jim, Huck’s companion as he travels down the river, is a man of remarkable
intelligence and compassion. He is the slave of Miss Watson. Since he is a slave,
he is not very learned and speaks very bad English with a very strong accent. It
is a bit difficult reading Jim’s lines in the novel because the words are spelled the
way he would say it. For example, Yo' ole father doan' know yit what he's agwyne to do. Sometimes he spec he'll go 'way, en den agin he spec he'll stay.
De bes' way is to res' easy en let de ole man take his own way. Dey's two angels
hoverin' roun' 'bout him.(Twain 279-280)
In order to understand the passage, the reader must read the lines slowly and
try to figure out what words Jim is actually trying to say. Twain made Jim talk like
this because this is how he probably heard the slaves talk during that time. Jim
is a very unique character and no other character talks like him, which makes
him stand out.
Most of the adults shown in the book seem to talk like regular people nowadays,
with only mild slang words. For example, Pap speaks OK English, but he talks
with a southern accent with a little slang. Well, I'll learn her how to meddle. And
looky here -- you drop that school, you hear? I'll learn people to bring up a boy
to put on airs over his own father and let on to be better'n what he is. You lemme
catch you fooling around that school again, you hear? (Twain: 302-304) Pap,
like many other adults during that time, was not educated and spoke incorrectly.
But since the majority spoke that way, it was considered the normal way to talk.
Dialect as a form in Huckleberry Finn
The different dialects in Huckleberry Finn were by no means accidental,
because they are mostly systematic and people-specific throughout the novel. I
originally believed that he included the different dialects because he wanted to
portray the story as realistically as possible in order to captivate the reader. But
as it turned out, there was more of a story behind them than that. The dialects
do a wonderful job of incorporating the reader into the novel as a silent observer.
The dialects incorporated into the novel make Huckleberry Finn stand out, and I
believe they are the reason it is well-known. Without the dialects, Huckleberry
Finn would be a long boring dialogue and I doubt many people would have read
it. I believe that Mark Twain knew this, and that is why he briefly discussed the
dialects in the novel’s preface.
It is in Huckleberry Finn of Mark Twain, that the vernacular voice exerts its most
powerful influence. Twain dispenses with any frame narrative and celebrates
Huck’s ‘outlaw vernacular’ as if we are instantly hearing a vernacular tale: You
don’t know about me, without you having read a book by the name of The
Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter. (Twain:29-30)
Twain in fact edited this opening from ‘you will not know about me’ and ‘you do
not know about me’ into its final form, editing out any unrealistic eloquence and
instead capturing what Marianne Moore called the ‘accuracy of the vernacular.
I believe that Mark Twain compiled several different dialects based on
his readings of Pike County balladry and literature of the Southwestern
humourists, both of which were written in a heavy Southwestern dialect, and
matched them to the characters based on how he wanted them to come across.
Tom, Pap, Huck, the Widow, Jim, and judge Thatcher all came from Pike County.
However, they all had distinct dialects. While Pap said things like “hifalutin”,
Judge Thatcher spoke good English. I believe that Mark Twain used the dialects
to subjectively portray information about a specific character’s background and
personality. Furthermore, in the world of the novel, the way in which a character
speaks is closely tied to that character’s status in society. Huck, who was born
in poverty and has lived on the margins of society ever since, speaks in a much
rougher, more uneducated-sounding dialect than the speech Tom uses. Jim’s
speech, meanwhile, which seems rough and uneducated, is frequently not all
that different from Huck’s speech or the speech of other white characters. In this
way, Twain implies that it is society, wealth, and upbringing, rather than any sort
of innate ignorance or roughness, which determines an individual’s educational
opportunities and manner of self-expression.
No wonder Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is triumph of style, a living proof of his
consummate care with words. Twain’s literary style is that of a natural southern
dialect intermingled with other dialects to represent the various attitudes of the
Mississippian region. Almost every character has his or her specific language
style. Language is very important for this work and it enriches the novel
considerably. Jim’s voice in Huckleberry Finn differs considerably not only from
the standard but it also stands out from all the other dialects and voices in the
novel. Twain’s use of dialect, which has proved controversial over the years,
lends to the overall realism and vividness of Huckleberry Finn.
Works Cited
Brander, Mathews. “Mark Twain and the Art of Writing” Critical Essays on Mark
Twain, 1910-1980, p 54-65. Print
Culler, Jonathan. Literary Theory, Oxford: OUP 1997 p.83-94 .Print
Das, Dilip Kumar. “Language, Ideology and Style in Mark Twain” Mark Twain: An
Anthology of Recent Criticism, Ed. Prafulla C. Kar. Delhi: Pencraft, 1992.
60-72. Print.
Gray, Richard. ‘Making it new: The emergence of modern American literature
1900-1945’ A History of American Literature . Oxford: Blackwell Publishers
Ltd. 2004, .545. Print.
Patrick Hearn Michael. Twain, Mark. The Annotated Huckleberry Finn. New York:
Charleson N. Potter, 1981. Print.
RAMPERSAD, ARNOLD. ""Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" and Afro-American
Literature." Mark Twain Journal 22.2 (1984): 47-52. Web.
Sloane, David E. Student Companion to Mark Twain. Westport, US: Greenwood
Press, 2001. ProQuest ebrary. Web. 21 May 2016
Scholes, Robert and Robert Kellogg. The Nature of Narrative. New York : OUP,
1966. Print
Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Chapters 16 to 20 (Kindle
Locations 456-457). . Kindle Edition.
..., Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Chapters 01 to 05 (Kindle Locations 2931).Kindle Edition.
Ibid 279-280
Ibid 302-304