The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

by: Mark Twain

Style

Aside from the Notice and Explanatory sections, Huckleberry Finn is written entirely in the vernacular of the characters, which makes the story intimate and casual, but also requires careful reading. Huck, as the book’s narrator, speaks in a friendly, naïve, and uneducated style, often using slang and incorrect grammar such as “no” for “any.” At the same time, his detailed knowledge of the river and his extended, poetic descriptions of nature are sophisticated and informed, expanding the scope of the reader’s view. Huck also frequently reminds the reader that he is telling a story, beginning with a reference to the book’s author as “Mr. Mark Twain,” who “told the truth, mainly” and concluding with the sign-off, “yours truly, Huck Finn.” At times he cuts his narrative short, as after he sees the Grangerfords killed: “I ain’t agoing to tell all that happened” – again directing the reader’s attention to the fact he is telling a story. Twain also references many novels and the conventions of genres such as romances, reminding the reader that the work is a literary creation and part of a larger tradition of storytelling.

Huck’s casual style of speaking to the reader proves engaging and inclusive, creating a sense of intimacy and trustworthiness in contrast to the many deceitful adult characters he encounters. From the novel’s very first sentence, Huck addresses readers directly, inviting them into his tale whether or not they’ve read the prequel: “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.” Huck’s use of the second-person “you” imparts a feeling of familiarity that helps readers feel at ease with him, both as a character and as a narrator. Huck’s casual style enables readers to identify with him and trust him, even when we see him deceiving other characters. This intimacy and trustworthiness becomes even more important when Huck, and by extension the reader, must choose between the laws of society and his own moral judgment.

Twain incorporates a number of specific dialects to indicate social, educational, and above all regional differences between characters. Although numerous characters in the novel speak in dialects different from Huck’s, the most notable character who does so is Jim, as evident in the first sentence Jim utters in the novel: “Yo’ ole father doan’ know, yit, what he’s a-gwyne to do.” When we first encounter Jim, his speech may be hard to parse and slow our understanding of the book. Words like “gwyne” (going,) “us” (was,) and “pooty” (pretty) may initially cause confusion. Jim’s unique vocabulary marks him as a speaker of a dialect Twain calls “the Missouri Negro dialect” in his “Explanatory” note. However, once the reader becomes familiar with Jim’s manner of speaking, his dialogue becomes easier to understand. In this way, the reader may experience Jim’s speech similarly to the way Huck experiences him as a person: initially foreign and strange, but soon sympathetic and engaging.


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