Not trying to talk alike and succeeding: the authoritative word and internally-persuasive word in Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn.
Tom Sawyer-Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 304
"I went along, not fixing up any particular plan, but just trusting to Providence to put the right words in my mouth when the time come; for I'd noticed that Providence always did put the right words in my mouth, if I left it alone."
Huck Finn--Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 277
"In this book a number of dialects are used.... The shadings have not been done in haphazard fashion, or by guess work; but pains-takingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech. I make this explanation for the reason that without it many readers would suppose that all these characters were trying to talk alike and not succeeding."
The author-Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Given Mark Twain's embrace of a diversity of dialects and the painstaking accuracy with which he renders this diversity, (1) it seems natural enough to read Adventures of Huckleberry Finn through the theory of Mikhail Bakhtin. As David Sewell writes in Mark Twain's Languages, "If Mark Twain discovered empiricism without reading Locke, he also looked forward to the particular interpretation of linguistic variety that we associate with Bakhtin" (7). In fact, much criticism that does not make direct reference to Bakhtin's work still reads Twain in ways consistent with Bakhtin's definition of the novel as a "diversity of social speech types ... and a diversity of individual voices, artistically organized" (262). "The prose writer," writes Bakhtin, "does not purge words of intentions and tones that are alien to him, he does not destroy the seeds of social heteroglossia embedded in words, he does not eliminate those language characterizations and speech mannerisms (potential narrator-personalities) glimmering behind the words and forms, each at a different distance from the ultimate semantic nucleus of his work, that is, the center of his own personal intentions" (298). Certainly this description fits a novel that features a cast of characters who are not all trying to talk alike. In the following essay, I wish to offer not only a Bakhtinian reading of Huck Finn, but also of that novel's relationship to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. I wish to suggest that Bakhtin's distinction between the "authoritative" and the "internally-persuasive" word can also distinguish the central differences between The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. These differences lies in Twain's decision to make Huck the narrator of his own tale. Whereas the narrator of Tom Sawyer is absolutely authoritative, Huck presents a rather unliterary authority. In Tom Sawyer, Twain forces language to submit to his own intentions; however, by making Huck the narrator of Huck Finn, Twain relinquishes control over heteroglossia, which Michael Holquist has called "a roiling mass of languages" (69). Because Twain gets out of Huck's way, he allows Huck to be a different kind of hero, and one that is ultimately more compelling. Whereas Tom is "the sanctioned rebel" (Fetterley, "Sanctioned" 126), Huck--and his companion Jim--are entirely beyond sanction. Tom does not need to struggle to assimilate the authoritative word to his internally-persuasive word because he takes the latter from the former. Huck, on the other hand, must struggle to assimilate the authoritative word and his own internally-persuasive word. As a result of this struggle, Huck's story is different than one written "mainly for the entertainment of boys and girls."
Because Twain allows Huck to tell his own tale, the reader witnesses what Bakhtin calls an ideological becoming, a struggle between authoritative discourse and internally-persuasive discourse. Holquist explains that authoritative discourse "is a privileged language that approaches us from without; it is distanced, taboo, and permits no play with its framing context (Sacred Writ, for example). We recite it. It has great power over us, but only while in power; if ever dethroned it immediately becomes a dead thing, a relic" (424). Huck has no such authority. In addition to being the town pariah, he has only lately learned to read. He has no part in the authoritative discourse of St. Petersburg, a town that has made him an outcast. Until the end of Tom Sawyer, he has had only his internally-persuasive discourse as a guide. The internally-persuasive discourse, Holquist writes, "is more akin to retelling a text in one's own words, with one's own accents, gestures, modifications" (424). But in Huck Finn the Widow Douglas's attempts to override Huck's own accents, gestures, and modifications by "sivilizing" him--which Kevin Murphy calls "a progressive entanglement in literacy" (365) (2)--put his internally-persuasive word and the authoritative word in direct conflict. Bakhtin writes that the struggle between the authoritative and the internally-persuasive rarely resolves itself perfectly:
... it happens more frequently that an individual's becoming, an ideological process, is characterized precisely by a sharp gap between these two categories: in one, the authoritative word (religious, political, moral; the word of a father, of adults and of teachers, etc.) that does not know internal persuasiveness, in the other internally persuasive word that is denied all privilege, backed up by no authority at all, and is frequently not even acknowledged in society (not by public opinion, nor by scholarly norms, nor by criticism), not even in the legal code. The struggle and dialogic interrelationship of these categories of ideological discourse are what usually determine the history of an individual ideological consciousness. (342)
The authoritative word, Bakhtin continues, "demands that we acknowledge it, that we make it our own; it binds us, quite independent of any power it might have to persuade us internally" (342). On the other hand, "internally persuasive discourse ... is, as it is affirmed through assimilation, tightly interwoven with 'one's own word'" (345). Because it is created through assimilation, "[t]he semantic structure of an internally persuasive discourse is not finite, it is open; in each of the new contexts that dialogize it, this disclosure is able to reveal even newer ways to mean" (346). The story of Huck Finn is a story of an attempted ideological becoming as Huck tries to assimilate the authoritative word to his internally-persuasive word and the possibility of newer ways to mean. Throughout the novel, he struggles to trust his own instincts, to listen to his sound heart, and to get out of the way of his own words; he also struggles against the hypocrisy of the authority that he encounters along the river. In the end, however, Huck fails; he succumbs to the authoritative word by surrendering to Tom Sawyer and confessing himself the writer of a book.
In order to understand the importance of Huck as narrator, I first want to contrast him to the narrator of Tom Sawyer, an omniscient narrator who aligns himself with the authoritative word. Though the sophisticated humor of Tom Sawyer makes it clear that it was not written only as a children's book, it is also not a book that challenges conventional wisdom or morality. And while we might hesitate to call the narrator's tone sentimental, his humor, though pointed, does not quite pierce. As Alfred Kazin writes, "Despite the dread, the fear-soaked superstitions, and the violent deaths described in Tom Sawyer, the book is a comedy and in tone benign and more than a shade condescending to boys who, when all is said and done, are merely ... boys" (59). Consider the following passage from Chapter Four:
The sun rose upon a tranquil world, and beamed down upon the peaceful village like a benediction. Breakfast over, aunt Polly had family worship: it began with a prayer built from the ground up of solid courses of Scriptural quotations welded together with a thin mortar of originality; and from the summit of this she delivered the grim chapter of the Mosaic Law, as from Sinai. (26)
This is humor that might, at most, inspire an adult to chuckle, but probably not at him or herself; the irony here is not too uncomfortable to contemplate. Besides, the author has already instructed the reader not to take the novel too seriously. Though he claims in the "Preface" that the book is primarily for children, he also writes, "I hope it will not be shunned by men and women on that account, for part of my plan has been to try to pleasantly remind adults of what they once were themselves." Though we can dismiss this claim as ironic, the narrator continues to signal throughout the novel that he intends to be pleasant. More importantly for the present discussion, the narrator draws attention to himself and his literary authority by means of the affected language that reveals the irony. The passage's heavy-handed metaphor reminds the reader that a professional author is in control. Other passages also call attention to the narrator: "If he had been a great and wise philosopher, like the writer of this book, he would have now comprehended that Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do and that Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do" (16). In drawing attention to himself again, the narrator reminds us that his intentions will populate this novel. The narrator also takes pains to remind his audience that he is one of them. About the tittering choir of the town church, the narrator writes, "There was once a church choir that was not ill-bred, but I have forgotten where it was, now. It was a great many years ago, and I can scarcely remember anything about it, but I think it was in some foreign country" (38). He, too, has heard the same whispering in the choir loft that readers have heard. Though the novel's satire is not subtle, it is not risky either. It is spoken by a narrator who shares the authoritative word with his audience; in a sense, his readers have granted him the authority.
Thus, it is not surprising that the language of Tom Sawyer is also much more "unitary" than the language in Huck Finn; as Sewell notes, Tom Sawyer featured dialects whose "shadings ... are much lighter ..." (87). Injun Joe's speech, for example, does not much differ from any other character's: "What business has a pick and a shovel here? What business with fresh earth on them? Who brought them here--and where are they gone? Have you heard anybody?--seen anybody?" (190). Rather than revealing differences in dialects, these words move the plot along for entertainment's sake. The words do not distinguish Injun Joe from any other character, nor do they indicate a region, community, class, or race. Injun Joe might as well be Aunt Polly: "Not a word against my Tom, now that he's gone! God'll take care of him--never you trouble yourself, sir! Oh Mrs. Harper, I don't know how to give him up, I don't know how to give him up!" (116). Even the voice of Muff Potter, town drunk, is not that distinctive: "O, I didn't know what I was a-doing. I wish I may die this minute if I did. It was all on accounts of the whisky; and the excitement, I reckon" (76). Moreover, in addition to resembling each other in their speech, these characters resemble the narrator; his dialect is not starkly distinguishable from theirs. In the words of Bakhtin, the novelist appears to have forced his characters to submit to his accents, rather than himself submitting to theirs. This unitary language marks the essential difference between the two novels. Kevin Murphy writes that Tom Sawyer "is couched in highly conventional diction, told in the third person by an adult narrator, and tailored to reinforce, not call into question, the virtues of the society in which the action takes place" (365). Sewell explains the difference in this way: "[in Tom Sawyer] the normative standard language is the dialect of St. Petersburg's ruling institutions: the church, the law courts, and the public school. In Huck Finn, however, the standard is virtually absent. Almost nobody speaks what linguists politely today call Standard American English" (87). And only in the heteroglossia of Huck Finn, where we encounter this roiling mass of languages, can the internally-persuasive voice emerge.
Not only does the narrator's voice dominate dialogue in Tom Sawyer, it also dominates the experience of the protagonist. Tom is sanctioned both by the community and the narrator. As critics have long noted, Tom is very much a "literary" character. Though he appears to defy authority, he always cites the authority of literature for his escapades. Furthermore, his every literary wish is granted by the narrator. As Robert Tracy writes, "The boys pretend to be pirates and find themselves tracked by a murderer. They speculate about treasure according to Tom's half-baked romantic ideas, and behold, a treasure appears. The haunted house is haunted, by dangerous criminals ..." (108). Judith Fetterley agrees: "Haunted houses do contain treasure which robbers have been unable to come back for or have forgotten. Thus the treasure Tom finds is a testament to the reality he represents and his interest in rules is subsumed in that role" ("Disenchantment" 70). In this novel, Tom's imagined reality is mirrored by actual reality. The authoritative voice that Tom seeks in literature is thus seconded by the authoritative voice of the narrator himself, who makes real Tom's imaginings. It seems that the protagonist and the narrator are in cahoots in the sort of scheme that Tom would hatch. However, there is no acknowledgment of this collusion; the authoritative voice merely penetrates the narrative as smoothly and inconspicuously as a good butler who is always at his master's elbow but never calls attention to himself.
Because of this collusion, in Tom Sawyer there can be no real rebellion because there is no real risk. Does any reader think for a moment that Tom and Becky will not escape from the abandoned mine? In this way, Tom Sawyer is indeed a children's book. Huck, on the other hand, confronts real risk throughout his story. Tom pretends to drown on a lark; Huck pretends to be murdered to escape imprisonment, abuse, and exploitation. Tom pretends to run away; Huck really runs away, and he does so with a runaway slave. Most importantly from the standpoint of heteroglossia, Tom risks no ideological becoming because a professional author tells his story; Huck tells his own. Tom's exploits never threaten the authority of the community or the authority of literature. He "[insists] on things being done according to the rules--a characteristic which links him to the hypocrisy and rigidity which he is otherwise engaged in exploding and looks forward to what he will become in Huckleberry Finn" (Fetterley, "Sanctioned" 128). (3) In fact, Tom does not become anything in Huck Finn; rather, he remains a one-horse man of literature. In both novels Tom finds his internally persuasive word in the authoritative word; as a result, no struggle or assimilation is required. Even when he appears to commit an actual act of rebellion by freeing Jim, he is simply enacting a legally sanctioned manumission, not an actual escape.
Twain knew that his sanctioned rebel could go only so far in the reader's imagination, and alludes to this limitation at the conclusion of Tom Sawyer: "So endeth this chronicle. It being strictly the history of a boy, it must stop here; the story could not go much further without becoming the history of a man" (260). The possibilities of that man, however, are as limited as his rebellion. Twain's famous comment to William Dean Howells is more pointed: "If I went on, now, & took [Tom Sawyer] into manhood he would just be like all the one-horse men of literature & the reader would conceive a hearty contempt for him. By & by I shall take a boy of twelve & run him on through life (in the first person) but not Tom Sawyer--he would not be a good character for it" (91-92). Twain's most important decision, however, is the parenthetical one: in the sequel, Huck will speak for himself.
Manuscript evidence supports an emergence of heteroglossia in Huck Finn. In "Slavery and the Boys: Tom Sawyer and the Germ of Huck Finn," Edgar J. Burde argues that a scrawl between paragraphs on page 690 of the Sawyer manuscript represented the beginnings of Huck as protagonist (and, we can guess, the beginning of the end of Tom as protagonist). In the scene, Tom asks pragmatic questions about his next scheme, and Huck begins to offer the simple answers that characterize him in Tom Sawyer. (4) But as Burde observes, Twain crossed out the beginning of that response. Instead, this one appears in the novel:
I tote water for Uncle Jake whenever he wants me to, and any time I ask him he gives me a little something to eat if he can spare it. That's a mighty good nigger, Tom. He likes me, becuz I don't ever act as if I was above him. Sometimes I've set right down and eat with him. But you needn't tell that. A body's got to do things when he's awful hungry he wouldn't want to do as a steady thing. (200-201)
Huck blurts out something that neither the reader nor perhaps Twain himself could have expected. Tom not only does not expect it; he does not care. The information is superfluous and so he ignores it. It also challenges his view of the world, a view that again is never really challenged anywhere in Tom Sawyer. Burde suggests that "Tom is oblivious to Huck and Uncle Jake because such a relationship is beyond his capacity to imagine" (87). A relationship like Huck and Uncle Jake's--a relationship that lies outside any conventional authority--lies beyond Tom's schema. In many ways, it still lies outside Huck's notion of authority, as well: Though he reveals his sound heart, his conscience remains deformed. He likes Uncle Jake, but their relationship is not a catalyst for any rethinking. The authoritative word still dominates Huck's thinking: slaves are not supposed to extend charity to whites, even when those whites are poor and homeless.
As far as Huck is concerned, we see at this first moment of revelation not only the clash between Huck's "sound heart and deformed conscience," but also the genesis of the Huck of Huck Finn. Perhaps this is the moment when Twain realized who his next narrator had to be. If so, then that genesis could be described as a heteroglot genie escaping his bottle. Once that genie has escaped, two things can happen in the next novel: First, the narrator of Tom Sawyer can fade into the background, and second, there can be room for a new narrator's internally-persuasive word to confront the authoritative word. With the authoritative narrator out of the way, Huck can attempt an ideological becoming. Henry Nash Smith described this interplay as a "dialectic process" that allows both for the emergence of Huck as narrator-protagonist and the central problem that that narrator-protagonist will face. "By situating in a single consciousness both the perverted moral code of a society built on slavery and the vernacular commitment to freedom and spontaneity, [Twain] was able to represent the opposed perspectives as alternative modes of experience for the same character" (92). Again, Smith's ideas resemble Bakhtin's ideas by suggesting not only a roiling mass of voices, but also a struggle between different authorities. (5)
What makes Huck's voice compelling is the illusion that he, rather than the professional novelist, is telling the story (that distinction, however, disappears by novel's end). Not only is Huck's voice different from the voice of the narrator of Tom Sawyer, but Huck, as Robert J. Lowenherz suggests, does not speak or think linearly (or "literally") as though he had first drafted his thoughts and only then uttered them. Lowenherz parses this sentence from the novel's opening paragraph, "That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly" (1): "First comes the polite praise. Then, like a small bomb at the very end, Huck drops the qualifying adverb--mainly. Try putting mainly anywhere else in the sentence, and see how the quietly devastating effect is lost. Afterthoughts like this, not all of them humorous, are common in Huck's speech as narrator" (198). By letting Huck speak, Twain lets the truth escape from the boy's lips just as Huck's voice originally escaped from Twain's pen. On one level, Huck is pointing out that Twain's intentions drove Tom Sawyer, and Huck cannot help saying that, as a result, the novel was not entirely truthful. Moreover, this remark escapes in a way that defines Huck's character: His deformed conscience leads him to tell the truth, but his sound heart leads him to tell it as an afterthought, as though he does not want to emphasize
Twain's failure. Huck is, after all, Twain's fellow raftsman, and "what you want, above all things, on a raft, is for everybody to be satisfied, and feel right and kind towards the others" (165).
Huck's disinclination to cause friction does not prevent his internal discourse from persuading him to question Tom's leadership of the Tom Sawyer Gang. Just as he has tested praying, Huck tests Tom's account of genies through an empirical experiment. He rubs a lamp, the genie fails to appear, and Huck dismisses Tom's authoritative discourse, saying, "It had all the marks of a Sunday school" (17). The authoritative word of authors does not suffice for Huck. The Bible's lessons are lost on him because he "don't take no stock in dead people" (2), even if they're written about in a book. Nor is Huck inclined to buy the debased literary authority of the king and the duke: "It didn't take me long to make up my mind that these liars warn't no kings nor dukes, at all, but just low-down humbugs and frauds. But I never said nothing, never let on; kept it to myself; it's the best way; then you don't have no quarrels, and don't get into no trouble" (165). Though it appears that Huck is submitting to the authoritative word of the king and the duke by "majestying" them, he actually maintains the internally-persuasive word that tells him these men are not to be trusted. Huck's attitude toward language resembles his attitude toward confrontation: he is not fooled by their stories, but he knows it is best to get out of the way.
At this point in the novel, however, it is difficult to know how far Huck has gotten out of the way and let his fellow raftsmen--be they the king and the duke or the author--take over the tiller. By letting these crooks onto the raft, Huck does reveal whole new seams of heteroglossia into the work. Perhaps the most obvious example of heteroglossia is the duke's performance of the Hamlet soliloquy: "To be, or not to be; that is the bare bodkin / That makes calamity of so long life; / For who would fardels bear, till Birnam Wood do come to Dunsinane, / But that fear of something after death ..." (179). But Huck's reaction is more interesting than the duke's strange performance, a performance that impresses Huck mightily: "It was beautiful to see him ... he strikes a most noble attitude ... and just knocked the spots out of any acting ever I see before" (179). Huck goes on to mention that he learned the speech while the king was learning it. The question here is whether or not Huck's internally-persuasive word has disappeared under the weight of this seemingly authoritative word. By memorizing this "conventional" literature, is Huck accepting other conventions that accompany such literature? His lack of skepticism does seem strikingly absent: If he can dismiss Tom's play-acting--the only acting he ever has seen--why does he not dismiss this play-acting?
More disturbingly, Huck begins to align himself with the king and the duke once they begin performing: "Almost as part of the troupe himself, Huck uses the first-person plural in describing the burlesque follow-up to their Shakespearean failure" (Murphy 373). Bakhtin argues of the authoritative word that "[i]t is not a free appropriation and assimilation of the word itself that authoritative discourse seeks to elicit from us; rather, it demands our unconditional allegiance" (343). The hackneyed and debased authoritative word that the duke represents does not even have to demand; Huck offers his allegiance without hesitation. He appears here to begin a transformation that seems to indicate that the authoritative word is forcing the assimilation of the internally-persuasive word, rather than the other way around.
But even before Huck appears to relinquish his incredulity, the novel complicates Huck's position as narrator and thus his ideological becoming. Interestingly, the Hamlet soliloquy is closely followed by the murder of Boggs, a scene that has been criticized as an instance of authorial intrusion (McKay 157). Perhaps we can call these scenes heteroglot insofar as they introduce other voices; however, they seem to interrupt Huck's authority insofar as they override Huck's intentions and accents. Huck does not appear to struggle to assimilate these words into his own; instead, he seems to become merely a conduit for a point that the author wants to make. Moreover, Huck seems to abandon the internal word, and for a time it is only Jim who retains any critical stance. Jim asks Huck whether they are going to meet any more kings on their trip. When Huck says no, Jim says, "dat's all right den. I doan' 'mine one er two kings, but dat's enough. Dis one's powerful drunk, en de duke ain' much better" (176). Later, when Jim tries to puzzle out how kings can be such rapscallions, Huck makes an interesting move: He appeals to literature: "You read about them once--you'll see. Look at Henry the Eight ..." (199). Jim does not necessarily buy Huck's appeal; at the end of Huck's explication, Jim remarks, "But dis one do smell so like the nation, Huck" (200). "What," Huck asks himself, "was the use to tell Jim these warn't real kings and dukes? It wouldn't a done no good; and besides, it was just as I said; you couldn't tell them from the real kind" (201). In this question--which recalls Huck's remark that "you can't learn a nigger to argue" (98)--Huck takes the position that Tom has always taken as the professor of literature, and he places Jim in his former position as the illiterate but commonsensical critic.
We do not get to hear Jim's thoughts on this situation, but we are privy to a remarkable story that emerges in a heteroglot burst not unlike Huck's in Tom Sawyer. When Jim tells the story of his daughter 'Lizabeth, it is a singular moment in the novel, the only time we see a character allow his heart to form his conscience. After Jim discovers that she is deaf and thus he has hit her unjustly, Jim understands the depth of his wrong: "O, Huck, I bust out a-cryin', en grab her up in my arms en say, 'O de po' little thing! de Lord God Amighty fogive po' ole Jim, kaze he never gwyne to fogive hissef as long's he live!' O, she was plumb deef en dumb, Huck, plumb deef and dumb--en I'd ben a treat'n her so!" (202). With these words, Jim reveals a critical capacity that even Huck does not possess. Unlike Huck, Jim seems capable of being persuaded to a new ideology by his internally-persuasive word. (6)
Aileen Chris Shafer argues that Jim understands the power of his speech, which consists largely in "signifying," which is "a language of subversion or indirection" (151). She lists several examples of Jim's mastery of discourse; he knows when to speak as a slave and when to speak as a man. In Chapter XIV, during a discussion of King Solomon, Jim observes: "Blame de pint! I reck'n I knows what I knows. En mine you, de real pint is down furder--it's down deeper. It lays in de way Sollermun was raised. You take a man dat's got on'y one er two chillen; is dat man gwyne to be waseful o' chillen? No he ain't; he can't 'ford it. He know how to value 'em" (96). Shafer argues that this analysis does not represent "minstrel humor," but "something about Jim's system of signs which Huck does not perceive" (155). Jim's internally-persuasive discourse tells him how to read the story, and as a slave perhaps forever separated from his family, Jim reads Solomon rather differently from those who are free. Jim also knows when he should not reveal himself. In Chapter XXXIV, he denies "singling] out like he knowed" Huck and Tom (296). As Shafer suggests, these episodes reveal Jim's linguistic prowess (156). Jim can use language to divert and deceive; his voice is powerful enough in this novel to manipulate other characters when he needs to do so.
I have alluded to a difference in the ways in which Huck and Jim assimilate the authoritative word to the internally-persuasive word. As we have seen, Jim is capable of reading authoritative discourse according to the authority he finds within his own experience. He is thus capable of self-criticism in a way that Huck may not be. At the end of Chapter XV, Huck again puts himself in the position of Tom Sawyer, both in his orchestration of the trick and his interpretation of Jim's "dream." When Jim chides Huck, he "becomes daringly direct, only as friends or equals can be" (Shafer 156): "Dat truck dah is trash; en trash is what people is dat puts dirt on de head er dey fren's en makes 'em ashamed" (105). His use of the word "trash" toward the town pariah marks a serious confrontation with his friend; "trash" is probably a word that Huck has heard before. After Jim goes into the wigwam, Huck reveals the struggle between the authoritative and the internal: "It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger--but I done it, and I warn't ever sorry for it afterwards, neither. I didn't do him no more mean tricks, and I wouldn't done that one if I'd a knowed it would make him feel that way" (105). Huck's sense of authority prevents him from recognizing that he is not humbling himself, but rather that he has been humbled. Unlike Jim, who is able to read Solomon's story and say flat out that the conventional interpretation is wrong, Huck remains incapable of seeing past the putative conventional interpretation of this very incident. He feels empathy for Jim, but he still finds it remarkable that he would "humble [him]self to a nigger." He is unable, however, to critique the convention that would make apologizing to a black man a remarkable thing. Huck's ideological becoming has not progressed much beyond his relationship with Uncle Jake in Tom Sawyer, a relationship that he reduced to a necessary evil.
The most crucial scene of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn occurs in Chapter XXXI, when Huck decides not to inform Miss Watson of Jim's whereabouts. As in earlier scenes, Huck's guilt derives from the same social code that rejects him and that he himself cannot reject: "Well, I tried the best I could to kinder soften it up somehow for myself, by saying I was brung up wicked, and so I warn't so much to blame; but something inside me kept saying, 'There was the Sunday School, you could a gone to it; and if you'd done it they'd learnt you, there, that people that acts as I'd been acting about that nigger goes to everlasting fire'" (269). Once again Huck cannot reject the code; in fact, he chastises himself for not properly learning it in Sunday school when he had the chance. In a telling moment, when Huck tries to pray, the words will not come (268); the language that has always come so easily to him has now deserted him. He writes a letter, and the letter's redemptive effect seems to confirm Murphy's assessment that there is "an inadvertent connection between his learning to read and write and his acquisition of the social norms which now disturb him so much" (369). However, though the letter relieves Huck's guilt, it also relieves his need to pray. Instead, he thinks of all that Jim has done for him, and his thought reflects the heteroglossia that Bakhtin argues is the mark of the novel genre: "[he] would always call me honey, and pet me ... at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had small-pox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he's got now" (270).
How would we read this scene through a Bakhtinian lens? It could be argued that the internally-persuasive word triumphs the moment Huck tears up the letter. This passage thoroughly exemplifies heteroglossia, and it is interesting that it accompanies Huck's most important choice. The thoughts of Jim that are created in part by Jim's own words manage to persuade Huck to make the most terrible decision of his life: "'All right, then, I'll go to hell'--and tore it up. It was awful thoughts, and awful words, but they was said" (271). On the other hand, Huck still reads the authoritative word in the way the authoritative word wishes. This inability makes his act a moral one insofar as Huck is willing to risk his own suffering to save Jim from further suffering. But unlike Jim, who can resist the authoritative reading of the wisdom of Solomon, Huck cannot resist the authoritative reading of the wisdom of a slave-holding society. Certainly Huck has a sound heart. But he seems incapable of reforming his conscience, and this incapacity makes him vulnerable to the authoritative word when it reemerges incarnate in the form of Tom Sawyer.
In Bakhtinian terms, the "evasion" ending is the final confrontation between the authoritative word and the internally-persuasive word, and the lament of critics is essentially a lament that the authoritative wins out. Tom returns with his literary schemes and his appeals to literary authority, and the reader must sit through several discussions that revolve around the same theme: Tom hatches a plot from his reading, Huck objects from the ground of common sense, Tom berates him for his lack of reading, and Huck submits. Literature, rather than Huck's sound heart, maintains its authoritative position.
Nevertheless, Huck's deformed conscience remains intact:
Well, one thing was dead sure; and that was, that Tom Sawyer was in earnest, and was actually going to help steal that nigger out of slavery. That was the thing what was too many for me. Here was a boy that was respectable, and well brung up; and had a character to lose; and folks at home that had characters; and he was bright and not leatherheaded; and knowing, and not ignorant; and not mean, but kind; and yet here he was, without any more pride, or rightness, or feeling, than to stoop to this business, and make himself a shame, and his family a shame, before everybody. I couldn't understand it, no way at all. (292-93)
Here, we seem to have returned to the familiar ground of Tom Sawyer: Huck admires Tom Sawyer greatly though he cannot understand him. Moreover, we have returned to a narration, if not a narrator, that will give Tom whatever his imagination desires. After their escape, Tom discovers that his plan has worked as well as he could have imagined: "We was all as glad as we could be, but Tom was the gladdest of all, because he had a bullet in the calf of his leg" (340). The difference, however, is that Huck is narrating this novel and could not have provided the bullet himself. Jeffrey Steinbrink argues that this bullet "bears evidence of deliberate authorial meddling as indelibly as Huck and Jim do when, a little earlier in the story, they are made to find their way to the Arkansas farm of Sally and Silas Phelps" (29). Steinbrink goes on to argue that the evasion chapters do not represent Twain's ridicule of Tom and his authoritative word: "Our dudgeon over Tom's treatment of Huck and especially of Jim during the evasion is more a reflection of our contemporary sensibility than a response to authorial signals that Twain sends.... [A]s I read the ending of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain comes across as entirely tolerant of Tom's outrageousness--appreciative of it, even" (34). Not only has the "Providence" that Huck has invoked (277) placed Huck and Jim on the Phelps farm, that same Providence has given Tom a real, but harmless, bullet. This is the providence of the "wise philosopher" of Tom Sawyer, and his reentrance reduces Huck Finn to the same sort of children's entertainment. Here, Twain undermines his narrator by offering Tom Sawyer a treat that Huck could not manufacture.
As Steinbrink argues, Huck's tolerance is more disappointing than Twain's intrusion and the reappearance of literary authority. Huck, who earlier in the novel recognizes the Sunday school influence on Tom's imagination, now seems to have regressed, inexplicably, to the role of dimwitted apprentice. Leo Marx describes the inconsistency in this way:
The fact is that Huck has rejected Tom's romanticizing of experience; moreover, he has rejected it as part of the larger pattern of society's make-believe, typified by Sunday school. But if he cannot accept Tom's harmless fantasies about the A-rabs, how are we to believe that a year later Huck is capable of awe-struck submission to the far more extravagant fantasies with which Tom invests the mock rescue of Jim? (300)
The answer is that Huck's ideological becoming has failed (which is not to disagree with Marx and say that Twain's artistry has not). At the beginning of the novel, Huck does seem capable of reassessing his values as the result of reasoning: he does dismiss "Tom Sawyer's lies" (17). So how is it possible that his conscience can possibly remain deformed? In Bakhtinian terms, how is it possible that Huck has not taken one step toward the unification of the authoritative word and the internally-persuasive word? How is it possible that Huck can judge Jim's care for the injured Tom as evidence that he is "white inside" (341)?
The answer to these questions lies in Huck's assumption of literary authority. At the end of the book, Huck, who has just learned to read, suddenly reveals that he is both narrator and author of Huck Finn. He says that "there ain't nothing more to write about, and I am rotten glad of it, because if I'd a knowed what a trouble it was to make a book, ! wouldn't have tackled it and I ain't agoing to no more" (362). There is also Huck's signature at the end. These two items represent a distinct shift from the opening of the novel, where we read the two prefatory notes. Both are written in a voice that is certainly not Huck's, and both are signed by "The Author," an appellation that Huck has not used to describe himself. Moreover, Huck's recapitulation of Tom Sawyer that opens Huck Finn indicates that he is a member of the audience of the former novel, as well. Huck's intentions have so thoroughly taken over the novel that he is no longer distinguishable from the "real" author, who has hitherto revealed himself only during the Sherburn episode. Twain has returned to the authoritative word of Tom Sawyer; not only does he invest Tom with narrative authority in the final chapters, he also foists it upon Huck by imputing that the work is his, and that Huck would claim it so clearly. In effect, Twain tries to civilize Huck in ways similar to the methods of the Widow Douglas: she has made Huck literate, and Twain makes him literary. Huck says that he will escape into the Injun Territory, but even if we did not have Huck and Tom Among the Indians (1884), we know that both Tom and Twain would follow.
In many ways, Huck and Twain find themselves in the same position at the end of Huck Finn as they did at the beginning. They both face an ideological becoming, and their only difference lies in the places from which they come. Huck struggles to maintain his internally-persuasive word in the face of condemnation. He is an outcast who does not understand Tom's literary fantasies; he will be redeemed through literacy, which will impose the authoritative word. The question is whether he wants redemption. The author of Huck Finn's ending, on the other hand, is the author of Tom Sawyer, who is the authoritative word. Though he recognizes that he can write a more compelling narrative by rejecting the authority he has accrued, he reasserts that authority and writes an ending better suited to Tom Sawyer than to Huck Finn. Somewhat like Huck, who risks redemption, Twain has to risk condemnation, for heteroglossia always risks the unpredictable. Perhaps the failure of Huck Finn's ending is the failure to take that risk.
The author would like to acknowledge Professor Gary Scharnhorst of the University of New Mexico for his suggestions and advice.
Bakhtin, Mikhail. The Dialogic Imagination. Ed. Michael Holquist. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: U of Texas P, 1981.
Burde, Edgar J. "Slavery and the Boys: Tom Sawyer and the Germ of Huck Finn." American Literary Realism 24 (1991): 86-91.
Carkeet, David. "The Dialects in Huckleberry Finn." American Literature 51 (1979): 315-32.
Holquist, Michael. "Glossary." The Dialogic Imagination. Mikhail Bakhtin. Ed. Michael Holquist. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin: U of Texas P, 1981.
--. Dialogism: Bakhtin and his World. London: Routledge, 1990.
Kazin, Alfred. "Huck Finn Forced Mark Twain to Become a Master Novelist." Readings on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Ed. Katie de Koster. San Diego: Greenhaven P, 1998.59-67.
Fetterley, Judith. "Disenchantment: Tom Sawyer in Huckleberry Finn." PMLA 87 (1972): 69-74.
--. "The Sanctioned Rebel." Critical Essays on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Ed. Gary Scharnhorst. G. K Hall: New York, 1993. 119-129.
Lowenherz, Robert J. "The Beginning of Huck Finn." American Speech 38 (1963): 196-201.
Marx, Leo. "Mr. Eliot, Mr. Trilling, and Huckleberry Finn." Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: A Case Study in Critical Controversy. Ed. Gerald Graff and James Phelan. Boston: Bedford Books, 1995. 290-305.
McKay, Janet Holmgren. Narration and Discourse in American Realistic Fiction. Philadelphia: U of Pennsylvania P, 1982.
Murphy, Kevin. "Illiterate's Progress: The Descent into Literacy in Huckleberry Finn." Texas Studies in Language and Literature: A Journal of the Humanities 26.4 (1984): 363-87.
Peck, Elizabeth G. "Tom Sawyer: Character in Search of an Audience." Critical Essays on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Ed. Gary Scharnhorst. New York: G. K. Hall, 1993". 208-20.
Sewell, David. Mark Twain's Languages. Berkeley: U of California P, 1987.
Shafer, Aileen Chris. "Jim's Discourses in Huck Finn." Southern Studies 1 (1990): 149-63.
Smith, Henry Nash. "A Sound Heart and a Deformed Conscience." Mark Twain: A Collection of Critical Essays. Ed. Henry Nash Smith. New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1963. 83-100.
Steinbrink, Jeffrey. "Who Shot Tom Sawyer?" American Literary Realism 35 (2002): 29-38.
Tracy, Robert. "Myth and Reality in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer." Critical Essays on The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Ed. Gary Scharnhorst. G. K Hall: New York, 1993. 208-20.
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. 1876. Berkeley: U of California P, 1980.
--. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 1885. Berkeley: U of California P, 1985.
Twain, Mark and William Dean Howells. Twain-Howells Letters. Ed. William H. Gibson and Henry Nash Smith. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1960.
(1) For one of the best studies of dialects in Huck Finn, see Carkeet, who essentially validates Twain's own claim about the dialects in the novel and argues that there are more than the six Twain mentions in the prefatory note.
(2) Murphy's argument, in Bakhtinian terms, is that once Huck learns to read, the authoritative words wins out. This victory for literacy and the "sivilizing" influences it represents also explain the evasion ending, which--given Huck's capitulation to literacy--should not be surprising. This is a compelling reading, and I am indebted to it throughout my own.
(3) For a discussion of Tom's need, as a self-conscious literary character, for an audience, see Peck, who also echoes Fetterley's thoughts on Tom's "literariness" (213).
(4) There are other places in Tom Sawyer where we hear whispers both of the voice that will narrate Huck Finn and the foundations of the sequel. In Chapter XXV, Huck says that he does not want "to be a king and have only just a given name, like a nigger" (151). Huck also says that he would spend any treasure freely because "Pap would come back to thish yer town someday and get his claws on it if I didn't hurry up, and I tell you he'd clean it out pretty quick" (152). In these passages we see not only the "deformed conscience" but also the roots of the dialect style that would characterize Huck in the sequel. Burde's point, however, remains: though there are whispers of Huck prior to this moment, Huck does leap from the page here in a way that indicates that he, and not Tom Sawyer, must become the hero of the next novel.
(5) Smith anticipates Bakhtin in his observation that language is always populated with others' intentions and meanings (91 et passim). Conversely, Huck populates language with his own intentions and accents, thus creating heteroglossia.
(6) Certainly, there is more to this Jim than to the Jim who appears in Tom Sawyer. Interestingly, the Jim of Tom Sawyer, who is a boy and belongs to Aunt Polly, is the only character whose speech distinguishes him from the others: "Can't, Marse Tom. Ole missis, she tole me I got to go an' git dis water an' not stop foolin' round' wid anybody" (11). This Jim's voice sounds different from everybody's and thus provides the first hint of the heteroglossia that will emerge in Huck Finn. It does not, however, provide Jim the possibility of an internally-persuasive word. Though the boy Jim talks differently than the other characters, he remains--at least as far as the narrator allows us to see--a gross stereotype.
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|Publication:||Studies in the Novel|
|Date:||Jun 22, 2006|
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