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HuckleberryFinn and Critical Readings

This study will examine five essays which focus on or refer to the ending of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain). The work will briefly consider essays by Lionel Trilling and T.S, Eliot (who make passing reference to the book's ending) and Roy Harvey Pearce (who deals historically with only the last few lines of the book), and will then focus on essays by Leo Marx and James M. Cox. The study will argue that Marx's essay is irrelevant to an enjoyment or understanding of the novel, that Cox's essay is more intriguing but stumbles on the important issue of the role of conscience in the book, and that Pearce's essay is less about the novel itself than about Pearce's extraneous knowledge about the Indian Territory to which Huck plans to "light out" at the end. Forced to agree with Marx or with Cox and Pearce, this reader must side with Cox and Pearce, not because their ideas are more scintillating, but because Cox recognizes the centrality of Huck's humanity.

Trilling argues that the ending is "too long" and is "a rather mechanical development of an idea," but adds that "some device is needed to permit Huck to return to his anonymity, to give up the role of hero, to fall into the background which he prefers" (Trilling 326). This plausible explanation is reflected in Eliot's essay as well. Both Trilling and Eliot feel that Tom serves the purpose of a distraction to let Huck slip off stage. Eliot concludes that Huck's "disappearance can only be accomplished by bringing forward another performer to obscure the disappearance in a cloud of whimsicalities" (Eliot 335).

Trilling's and Eliot's answers here are not satisfying. Marx may not have much profound to say in his analysis, but he is correct in pointing out that the "problem" of the "ending" involves the last fifth of the novel, if one includes the entire fake rescue of Jim from its inception in the romantic mind of Tom Sawyer (178) to Tom's revelation of ...

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HuckleberryFinn and Critical Readings. (1969, December 31). In Retrieved 20:49, May 27, 2020, from