posted by anonymous on .
In my boyhood summers, we lived in a Dutch-fieldstone house a dozen yards from the western shore of the Hudson, and the river's damp sounds and smells, its wide white expanse of glassy or wind-mottled water, its brackish tides, its ceaseless movement, and its night lappings impinged on my young consciousness unawares. Twenty miles up from the Battery, I waded in the Hudson, swam in it, fished in it (for eels and tommycod and blue crabs), skipped stones on it, shot fireworks over it, and all day dozily studied its upstream and downstream traffic. Catboats, rowboats, and runabouts appeared and went away, while, over in the eastern cahnnel, river freighters and sluggish tugs with low processions of barges made passage with banner-streaming vessels from the great white fleet of the Hudson River Day Line. Way off, along the New York Central's water-level route, trains silently drew and redrew the straight line of the farther bank.
I must have been eleven or twelve when I first encountered "Huckleberry Finn," but from the moment Huck and Jim took to the river - their river, the Mississippi -- I was overtaken with a thrilling proprietary excitement, because, of course, Mark Twain had it right: this was what a great wide-water, north-south stream was like, and here was how it felt to pass time on its banks. For the first time, literature had confirmed for me a patch of life that I recognized from my own experience.
In the book, Twain appears to give little attention to scenery, but his river-prospect interludes preserve the clarity and unhurried gazing of an empty-sky morning passed within the sound of moving water:
A little smoke couldn't be noticed, now, so we would take some fish off of the lines, and cook up a hot breakfast. And afterwards we would watch the lonesomeness of the river, and kind of lazy along, and by and by lazy off to sleep....Next you'd see a raft sliding by, away off yonder, and maybe a galoot on it chopping, because they're most always doing it on a raft; you'd see the ax flash, and come down -- you don't hear nothing; you see that ax go up again, and by the time it's above the man's head, then you hear the k'chunk! -- it had took all that time to come over the water.
The famous passage -- it comes along early in Chapter 19 --lies near the center of this most central American novel, and one returns to it each time with refreshed alertness. One might even look at that "sliding by" and then recall how often Twain uses the word or a variant --not just when he is writing about the river but when he is writing about Huck Finn himself. Huck by turns slides out of houses and bedrooms, slips off quiet, slides into a canoe, slips down a ladder, clears out away from his drunken father, and, with his companion, Jim, hurries again to the raft and lets her go a-sliding down the river. Each of these hero-outcasts holds secret hopes of finding a place for himself somewhere in proper, dry-land society, but they are kept on the run by the grownups they encounter-- thieves and lynchers, rapscallions and skin-artists and murderers -- during their precipitous vertical odyssey. Almost without noticing, they discover that the great sliding river itself is the only constant, their one fixed home.
"Huckleberry Finn" invites rereading, but I find less sunshine in it each time around. Its crue and oafish backwater crowds, and the itinerant grotesques who prey upon them, don't feel all that funny or far away, and the bitter pains of Jim's condition, on which Twain poured out his irony, are dated more in details than in substance. I notice, too, as I did not before, that HUck and Jim become older in the book, partly as the result of their comical and horrific experiences but really because they are also riding that other stream whose insensible, one-way flow is felt perhaps even by children staring at distant sails and trains on a summer afternoon. In the end, the two run out of river, and so does their story, which becomes less when it must find a way to stop. Time has slid away, and we wish ourselves upstream again, beginning the voyage.
I need help restating the author's central claim or thesis. I need help coming up with insightful commentary to explain how the author supports his claim. I need help determining its assumptions, assessing its evidence, and weighing its conclusions.
Does he view The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as something of praise or controversy?
This seems to be his central idea:
"For the first time, literature had confirmed for me a patch of life that I recognized from my own experience."
The supports are the main ideas in each of the paragraphs between the first and last paragraphs.
He saw the work positively when he first read it, but then he writes that the book "invites rereading, but I find less sunshine in it each time around." In other words, as he grows older and has more of life's experiences, he sees the book differently each time he rereads it.
I hope this helps.