How does the theme "Realism vs. Romanticism" play a part in the book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain?

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yaday eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Realism vs. Romanticism is a major theme that is satirized, it appears, continuously throughout the novel.  However, this analysis focuses on Twain's  use of Tom Sawyer's character.   In Chapter 2, Tom gets Huck to sneak out in the middle of the night.   At one point, Tom discusses the importance of having an "official" oath for the gang which includes various stipulations if it is broken.   The idea of kidnapping and ransom is brought up, and Tom responds by saying, "I don't know. But that's what they do. I've seen it in books; and so of course that's what we've got to do"(Chapter 2).  Here is a classic example of Twain satirizing Romantic writers of the past and present.   Tom Sawyer has read countless adventure stories involving robbers and pirates etc.   However, when it comes to basic knowledge and workings of crime, he knows very little.   Twain's input of Tom's ignorance further establishes how ridiculous the genre of fantasy and romanticism truly is.   Also, Tom's romantic notions continue in the last quarter of the book during the plan for Jim's escape from the Phelps' farm.   Tom Sawyer insists on the importance of having an authentic escape plan involving Jim which includes making the slave out to be a character imprisoned in a medieval dungeon rather than a small outhouse/hut.   Some of antics include:  making a rope ladder, creating a coat of arms, writing on a grindstone to leave messages.  Huck narrates,

"MAKING them pens was a distressid tough job,and so was the saw; and Jim allowed the inscription was going to be the toughest of all. That's the one which the prisoner has to scrabble on the wall.But he had to have it; Tom said he'd GOT to; there warn't no case of a state prisoner not scrabbling his inscription to leave behind, and his coat of arms"(Chapter 38).  

By including these silly and superfluous tactics, Twain, again, points out the ridiculousness of fantasy/Romanticism by painting Tom Sawyer to be a fool, or a Romantic, caught up in the moment rather than appreciating the true situation at hand:  allowing Jim to escape so he can be free from the bonds of slavery.  Overall, Tom is the Romantic while Huck is the Realist.   

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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