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Essay/Term paper: Mark twain and his masterpiece: the adventures of huckleberry finn

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Huckleberry Finn

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Mark Twain and His Masterpiece: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn


A Research Paper
Presented to Mr. Neil
of Chula Vista High School


In Partial Fulfillment
of the Requirements for English 10 Honors/Gate


Id #: 937228
May 16, 1996


I. Samuel Clemens
A. Who he is
B. Where he was born
C. Family

II. How Samuel came to be Mark Twain
A. His working life
B. First writings

III. The Adventures of Huck Finn
A. Story Plot
1. The outside of the book
2. The inside of the book
B. Critics of the book.

IV. Samuel Clemens Downfall
A. Family Life
B. Money Problems
1. Bankruptcy
2. Move to Europe
C. His comeback
D. His death

V. Effects of Twain's stories
A. How he affected his era
B. How the era affected his writings

VI. Conclusion
A. My feelings
B. End notes
C. Bibliography

Samuel Clemens was an American writer and humorist who's best work is shown
by broad social satire, realism of place and language, and memorable characters.
Clemens was born November 30, 1835, in Florida, Missouri. His family moved
to Hannibal, Mississippi when he was four. There he received a public school
education. Samuel Clemens was a difficult child, given to mischief and mis
adventure. He barely escaped drowning on nine separate occasions. His fathers
death was a calamity in which Samuel was not prepared for. Albert Bigelow Paine,
Clemens official biographer, offers the following glimpse of the young Clemens

"The boy Sam was fairly broken down. Remorse, which always
dealt with him unsparingly, laid a heavy hand on him now. Wildness,
disobedience, indifference to his fathers wishes, all were remembered; a
hundred things, in themselves trifling, became ghastly and heart-wringing
in the knowledge that could never be undone. Seeing his grief, his mother
took him by the hand and led him into where his father lay."
"It's all right, Sammy," she said. "What's done is done, and it
does not matter to him anymore; but here by the side of him now I want
you to promise to me-"
He turned, his eyes streaming with tears, and flung himself into
her arms.
"I will promise anything ," he sobbed, "if you won't make me go
to school! Anything!
His mother held him for a moment, thinking, then she said:
"No, Sammy; you need not go to school anymore. Only promise
to be a better boy. Promise not to break my heart."

After his fathers death, Clemens got a hold of two Hannibal printers, and
in 1851 began setting type and contributing articles to his brothers newspaper,
The Hannibal Journal. After leaving his first job he took his printers and
became a journeyman printer in Keokuk, Iowa, New York City, Philadelphia, and
other cities, and then a steamboat pilot until the break out of the American
Civil War which brought end to traveling on the river. After a failed attempt at
silver mining in 1862 he became a reporter on the Territorial Enterprise in
Virginia City, Nevada, and later in 1863 began signing his articles with the
pseudonym "Mark Twain," a Mississippi River phrase meaning two fathoms deep.
After the move to San Francisco in 1864, Twain met the writers Artmeus Ward and
Bret Harte, who encouraged him on his work. In 1865 Twain rewrote a tail he
heard in the California gold fields and within months the author and the story,
"The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County," had become a national
In later years Twain visited Europe and the Holy Lands which he wrote about
in the book, "The Innocents Abroad," which was published in 1869. This book
discussed those aspects of the Old World culture which impress American tourists.
1870 is the year in which he married his loving wife Olivia Langdon. After a
short time in Buffalo the newlywed couple moved to Hartford, Connecticut. In the
years between 1870 and 1880 much of Twains best work was written. The book
Roughing It recalls his early experiences as a minor and a journalist; The
Adventures of Tom Sawyer, a book celebrating boyhood in a town on the
Mississippi River, was published in 1867; A Tramp Abroad, published in 1880,
describes a walking trip through the Black Forest of Germany and the Swiss Alps.
Along with four other books, Twain wrote his adventurous masterpiece, the sequel
to Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which was published in 1884.
This was the first of his books to deal with childhood and the Mississippi River
Valley in which himself had grown-up. It took Twain seven years to write the
book and it initially met mixed receptions, rejected in some places as "rough,
coarse and inelegant. . . more suited to the slums then to intelligent,
respectable people."But in his lifetime, Huckleberry Finn became the most
remunerative of all his works, and has since been called an American classic.
"This book was praised by T.S. Eliot, celebrated by Ernest Hemingway, and
recommended by thousands of high-school reading teachers." Twain's best novel
now holds the burden of much criticism that the work itself threatens to become
lost amid the almost endless volume devoted to its explication.
There is no question that Huckleberry Finn has become "one of the central
documents of American culture.""A book that can delight both fourteen-year-olds
and graduate professors of literature is rare indeed, and we should give it
careful attention." We should not take an exaggerated reverence to this book.
Twain himself, who devoted so much of his time and energy into his book, would
find it ironic if we did so.
The setting of this novel is in the Mississippi River Valley, "forty to
fifty years ago" according to the original tittle page of 1885. This story was
told by Huck. "Huck has been living with the widow Douglas and her sister, Miss
Watson, an experience that has left him feeling "all cramped up." Accustomed to
being "free and easy," he cannot abide life within this well-regulated household,
where he is expected to sit up straight, do his homework, and pray to a God he
cannot see." Huck is always looking for adventure. "All I wanted was to go
somewheres [SIC]," he tells us, "all I wanted was a change. I warn't [SIC]
Huck believes that his abusive father is dead so it is a surprise to him
that his father is waiting for him when he came back to the house. His father
wants money which had come to Huck at the end of Tom Sawyer. He claims his son
and brings him to a remote cabin in the woods. He suffers from delirium tremens
and in one of there many physical fights, Hucks father comes at him with a knife.
Realizing that he cannot live with his father anymore he fakes his death and
takes a canoe to Jackson Island." There he meets a runaway slave named Jim and
they begin a series of adventures on the Mississippi River. The whole story is
based around the part where Jim is captured and then Huck meets Tom Sawyer.
They free Jim and then there is no real ending to the story. It ends with a
quote that Huck is saying, "To light out for the Territory. . . because Aunt
Sally is going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can't stand it. I been there
Many readers are disappointed that the novel ended this way. They wanted
Jim and Huck to become some kind of heroes and they live happily ever after but,
it didn't, and that is why it has raised such bad criticism. Bernard DeVoto
complained that "in the whole reach of the English novel there is no more
abrupt or chilling descent." More recent critics have dismissed the conclusion
as a "travesty" and "a failure of nerve." As Walter Blair has explained,

"The chief crimes are against characterization: Jim, whom
the reader and Huck have come to love and admire, becomes a
victim of meaningless torture, a cartoon. Huck, who has fought
against codes of civilization, follows one of the silliest of them."

On the other hand many well known critics, most notably T.S. Eliot, have
tried to defend the conclusion saying that it has "a certain aptness" that lets
Twain restate his primary goal in another key and beat his way back from
inicipent tragedy to the comic resolution called for in the original conception
of the story. But this approach emphasizes the structure of the novel, and
structure is a big part, but it is also a mechanical part of the story.
"Robert Miller believes that the conclusion can be defended in the very
area where it seems the most vulnerable, characterization. If the final chapters
of the novel seem to divest both Huck and Jim of their dignity, it is because
Twain never intended them to be perceived as "a community of saints." The
widespread dissatisfaction with the novel's resolution may well spring from the
fact that modern readers may take Huck and Jim too seriously. If we take a look
at them throughout the novel we see that they are "attractive but imperfect."
Some people don't recognize the limitations of these characters so they might
seem them as super heroes. But they aren't, they are just regular people.
Huck is a skeptic, as shown by his disregard for Miss Watson's vision of
Providence and his unwillingness to accept Tom Sawyer's lies for instance, Tom
over exaggerates a normal Sunday picnic into being a crowd of Spaniards, Arabs,
and elephants. Huck believes in things he can see and touch which makes him
shrewder then most of the adults in the novel. He is also very superstitious as
in the part of the novel when he gets upset after he accidentally kills a spider.
He thinks that it will bring him bad luck. Or when he sees nothing funny in
Jim's beliefs of witches. Huck is also very honest but, he does lie a lot. These
lies can't really be called lies though because of there transparency. For
example when he dresses up like a girl to try and get some local news. When he
is confronted by Buck he can't even remember his assumed name.
Jim is a very loving caring person, an example of this would be when Jim
thought that Huck had drowned and became very mournful. Then Huck found his way
back to the raft and found Jim asleep, so the next morning Huck said that he had
never left the raft. After Jim found out about this little practical joke he

"When I got all wore out wid work, en wid de callin' for
you, en went to sleep, my heart wuz mos' broke bekase you wuz
los', en I didn' k'yer no mo' what become er me en de raf'. En
when I wake up en fine you back agin', all safe en soun', de tears
come en I could a got down on my knees en kiss' yo' foot I's so
thankful. En all you wuz thinkin 'bout wuz how you could make a
fool uv ole Jim wis a lie. Dat truck dah is trash; en trash is what
people is dat put dirt on de head er dey fren's en makes 'em

At this point Huck realizes that Jim is a person with feelings also and he can
be hurt just like anybody else. After this moment Huck never tells a lie or
plays a practical joke on Jim throughout the rest of the story.
Twain's work during the 1890s and the 1900s is marked by growing pessimism
from the result of his business reverses and later the deaths of his wife and
his two daughters. Twain also invested in a automatic printing machine but, this
failed and he lost money. He then had to file for bankruptcy. Do to the fact of
the money problems and the death of his family Twain moved to Europe. There he
kept writing but, his writings weren't funny. He talked about the way the world
stinks and how everybody is corrupt. No novels Twain wrote in this period even
came close to Huck Finn but, some of the best works are Pudd'nhead Wilson.
Another of his writings is the Personal Recollections of Joan Arc, a sentimental
biography. Through these novels he was able to make a comeback and able to live
wealthy again until his death in New York City on April 21, 1910.
Twain raised his voice in protest at a time when American life was
dominated by the materialism and corruption of the so called Gilded-Age
following the civil war. His writings were inspired by the unconventional west.
One of America's most important writers, Twain is renowned as a humorist, but
his literary reputation also rests on his realistic use of dialects and the
vernacular, especially of the Mississippi River Valley, realistic characters and
scenes makes his stories that much better.
Through Twain's novel he was able to express what he felt. The reason that
he wrote some of the novels so well is because that he lived his writing. Twain
lived in the deep south so therefore he used settings that contained the deep
south. Many of the things in which Huck did in the story relates to what Twain
did or wanted to do as a young child. Twain must have like his childhood
somewhat for him to reflect back on it through his stories and to also use humor
in it. He thought his life as a child was funny.
I believed that Twain was a very good writer. All of his adventurous books
are loved by millions of young children and adults. Twain was a great writer
when he was living and even a better one when he died. I wonder if there is
anything really deep about the books Twain wrote or if they were just written
for the pure reason for entertainment? I believe that this book represents an on
going struggle that will never be resolved. According to Roger Salomon,

"Both Huck and Jim are related to the demigods of the
river, to the barbarous primitivism of the Negro, and beyond that
to the archetypal primitives of the Golden Age, instinctively good,
uncorrupted by reason, living close to nature and more influenced
by its portents then by the conventions of civilization."

I believe that Salomon is looking for something that is just not there. I don't
think that Twain is trying to make some real deep point about Huck and Jim.
Salomon perceives these people as cave men. He is trying to tell us that this
story is about the beginning of life. He is looking too hard. Mark Twain has
been a famous writer for a long time and he will always be looked back on as one
of the best American writers not just of his time but, through out history. If
you read one of his books I wouldn't recommend reading it for some deep meaning
because I do bot believe that you will find one. Just read for the fun of it.


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