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In Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, what is Twain's purpose writing the...

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snow1981 | (Level 2) Honors

Posted May 11, 2012 at 6:39 AM via web

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In Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, what is Twain's purpose writing the "notice" at the beginning of the story?

The note reads: Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

Posted May 11, 2012 at 7:44 AM (Answer #1)

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Mark Twain was known to be a "character." He had strong opinions and had little patience with "fools." At the beginning of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain included a note of warning:

The note reads: Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.

We might assume that Twain was trying to downplay what would become a highly controversial novel that set staunch supporters of slavery "on their ears" in allowing a black man to occupy a major role in his book; to present him as a good man—often better than Huck Finn, his [white] best friend; and, that he is freed at the end of the book. 

There is strong sarcasm in the note; it sounds as if Twain did not want people to read anything into the story that was not there—though it was! (Whatever Twain wrote in the note, this book had a strong message for the reader!) And perhaps Twain even wanted people to read it—like it or not—and leave him alone rather than asking for explanations or apologies.

This question has puzzled readers and literary critics for a long time.  However, Robert H. Hirst, Editor of the Mark Twain Project notes that it was most probably a joke. Hirst has good reason to believe this. Knowing who G.G. is (who allegedly wrote this warning) helps to better appreciate Twain's humor...

...the identity of "G.G." remained stubbornly mysterious, until editor Lin Salamo suggested that the initials were a private joke, and that they stood not for the very public figure of General Grant, but for George Griffin, the Clemenses' butler and chief factotum from 1875 to 1891—an idea that could be strongly corroborated, if not actually proven.

Looking further into the story of "G.G.," we find that though he was an ex-slave, G.G. was like a member of the Twain's family:

Griffin came one day in 1875 to wash windows at the Hartford house and stayed for nearly twenty years, becoming virtually a member of the family.

G.G. is—as alleged by the note—to be one who keeps things in order, peaceably—named as the "Chief of Ordnance." However, this was a joke also...

...if Griffin was the "peace-keeper," in what sense could he also be "Chief of Ordnance" (or Artillery)? Therein lies the essence of the private joke, for Griffin sometimes showed a more combative side...

The nature of G.G.'s history and his relationship with Twain's family and the author himself may indicate that Twain was not about to discuss this book written in opposition to slavery in the South, or explain Huck and Jim's relationship. G.G., it seems, was to take care of that...

...in short, Griffin was an ideal Chief of Ordnance to sign the ironic warning about taking Huckleberry Finn seriously, especially in matters of race. Here was a freed slave, who had served the Union army in the Civil War, threatening to prosecute, banish, or simply shoot whoever dared to find a Motive, Moral, or Plot in a book that was in fact profoundly critical of slavery and nineteenth-century American racism. 

This was Twain's way of having a laugh—he was half serious and half tongue-in-cheek. It would seem that he was making a statement about the relationships of whites and blacks (racism is a theme in the story) from his personal life, which would also be a central focus in examining social expectations of that era, and how Huck and Jim stood united as equals against them.

 

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