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Dec 06, 2005 02:07 PM 5696 Views
(Updated Dec 06, 2005 02:07 PM)



When one talks of the scenes, settings, incidents and action of Huckleberry Finn – what essentially has to be discussed is the structural principles of the novel.

To my mind, the strength of Huck Finn lies in the structure – the manner in which so disparate experience, various episodes and events separated by time and space are shaped into an organic whole. And this unity and form are provided by the river. Small wonder then, that T.S. Eliot, in his famous and classic introduction to the novel remarked; “it is Huck who gives the book style. The river gives the book its form.”

The river was there in the beginning of the novel and the river is there in the end of the novel. The flight of Huck and Jim is through the river. Huck’s growth to maturity occurs on the raft. Even when Huck is away from the river, its invisible presence can be felt.

The progress of the novel is dependent upon Huck’s frequent ‘escapes’ from the raft to the shore; and his ‘re entry’ into the river. Thus it is the river with sets in motion, the chain of action and events. With river as the main setting, it sustains the action of the novel.

The river determines and controls the destiny not only of the two fugitives, but of the whole society on the shores. The aim of the novelist was to focus on the entire South-Western society sprawling over the entire length of the Mississippi river.It is the centre of all human activity – social, economic, and even criminal. We get a full view of the men, morals, manners of the people living on the town of the banks of the river. It is through the novel that we get to understand the frontier culture of the then America; and one can witness a nation in the making. The frontier (outer limits of settlement) meant ruthless fight against the unknown mysterious nature – the forests and mountainous soil; and the natives who had a different culture. The movement of the settlers was accompanied by the attendant violence and bloodshed. People lived violence, enjoyed cruelty, sensationalism, shootings, killings and lynching. Such a society produced persons like Colonel Sherburn, lunatic alcoholics like Boggs, hypocrites like the Grangerfords and Shepardsons, humbugs and frauds like the Duke and the Dauphin.

The uniqueness of this great American novel lies in how the river becomes the main amphitheatre and how it witnesses interplays between the actual and the ideal. The values of the actual world (as we see on the shores and even on the river) is contrasted with the ideal world on the raft on which Huck and Jim move on being sustained by the river. The interplay has three layers – and each layer operates on a different theatre and finally all the theatres merged into one; the river. We have the South Western society (the actual world); and then we have the society on the raft (the ideal world) and finally the river which becomes a link between the two value worlds, though it remains inert and indifferent.

Though many critics have criticized Huckleberry Finn for its ‘loose structure’, the fact is that various incidents, settings and scenes are placed closely along the river like running slides that are moving from one to the other. They intensify rather than alter or change our experience. Huck becomes the central link in the entire action.

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Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain