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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

by Mark Twain

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What are examples of romanticism satire in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

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One of the more humorous satirical elements of Romanticism in the novel is the sinking of the Walter Scott, a Mississippi River steamboat. Sir Walter Scott was a famed Scottish Romantic writer, and by sending his namesake to the bottom of the Mississippi, Twain sends a clear message about where Scott's work belongs.

Another way that Twain satirizes Romanticism in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is through the poetry of Emmeline Grangerford. Her poem, "Ode to Stephen Dowling Bots, Dec'd" laments a boy who dies from falling down a well. It is written in a comically overwrought style that could arguably be considered a burlesque, or parody, of the work of noted Romantic Edgar Allan Poe. Emmeline Grangerford's poem is not unlike "Annabel Lee" and "The Raven"

And finally, the convoluted and unnecessary torture that Tom Sawyer forces Jim to endure at the Phelps farm calls to mind the work of Alexandre Dumas. Tom Sawyer's ideas about how Jim needs to be imprisoned call to mind The Man in the Iron Mask.

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A great example of Twain's satire of Romanticism comes in the shape of Tom Sawyer's "fancy" plan to free Jim the slave from the Phelps' place. Tom knows full well that Jim's already been freed under the provisions of Miss Watson's will. Yet he still goes ahead with his daring plan as it's a great opportunity for him to give expression to his vividly romantic imagination.

Like the arch-Romantic he is, Tom values feeling over reason, emotion over logic. If he stopped to think rationally, he wouldn't dream of carrying out such a dangerous, crazy scheme. But then, if Tom Sawyer ever stopped to think, he wouldn't be Tom Sawyer. And so Tom puts his cunning plan into effect, only to end up coming dangerously close to being killed. Twain appears to be suggesting, ever so slyly, that such reckless acts of romantic chivalry belong in storybooks, not in real life.

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Romanticism in literature assumed many forms.

Twain sets the stage for the entire novel with the "Notice" at the very beginning of the book. In announcing that readers "attempting to find a motive...moral...plot" in the book will be dealt with severely, Twain is mocking those who worked very hard to find or create such personally based factors in every piece of literature.

Romanticism featured the impressions of the world gained through a particular character's perceptions and experiences, frequently with the help of magic, visions, or dreams. Twain offers a satirical view of this type of approach when Huck asks Jim to use his hairball to learn of Pap's plans. "Jim had a hair-ball as big as your fist...and he used to do magic with it. He said there was a spirit inside of it, and it knowed everything."

Writings influenced by romanticism often reflected "growing suspicion of the established church." Jim's response to Huck's attempts to explain Old Testament stories such as the story of King Solomon and his wisdom were shaped by Twain's desire to satirize the church's teachings.

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 or 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. But you take a man dat's got 'bout five million chillen runnin' roun' de house, en it's diffunt. He as soon chop a chile in two as a cat. Dey's plenty mo'.

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What are some examples of satire in Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?  

A particularly dark example of satire comes when Huck comes to at the Grangerfords's place. The Grangerfords are a fantastically wealthy family who live in an enormous house. They're the very epitome of social respectability in Huck's part of the world. And yet, in addition to owning a large number of slaves, they're also engaged in a bloody, long-standing feud with a neighboring family called the Shepherdsons.

What Twain is satirizing here is the huge gap between how so-called civilized people see themselves and how they actually are. Not too many people today would find feuding and slave-owning to be particularly civilized, and nor does Twain. The scene in which the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons turn up for church one morning, fully-armed, is an especially brutal dissection of the hypocrisies of the world in which these families live, with its warped code of honor.

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What are some examples of satire in Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?  

Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a brilliant satirical piece, and there are many ways in which Twain lampoons his targets. One of the best examples of satire in the novel occurs toward the end, when Tom Sawyer hatches a ridiculously elaborate plan to free Jim. 

While Huck wants to free Jim from his prison on the Phelps' property using the easiest and most efficient method, Tom concocts a needlessly elaborate scheme. Rather than simply freeing Jim by means of a poorly blocked window in his prison, Tom proposes that he and Huck dig Jim out (229), saying that this scheme is better because it's more complicated. Additionally, Tom refuses to use picks and shovels to dig out Jim, but rather insists on using much less effective case knives (237). Finally, after doing many more foolish things, Tom insists on actually writing letters to the Phelps advising them that an escape is imminent, as he believes that doing so will heighten the excitement of the escape (261-2).

Tom follows this absurd plan in order to emulate the romantic adventure novels he is infatuated with. For instance, when Huck asks him why he wants to use case knives, Tom insists "it's the regular way. And there ain't no other way, that ever I heard of, and I've read all the books that gives any information about these things" (237). Here, and later on in the passage, Tom alludes to reading and drawing inspiration from historical romances and adventure novels, and so he bases his plan on an absurd, irrational, and fictional portrayal of chivalric adventures. By presenting the themes in historical romances as the games of mere boys, Twain brilliantly satirizes them.  

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What are examples of Twain satirizing the government in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

The humorist Mark Twain's "great American novel" stands as a prototype for many other American works in its use of dialect, powerful point of view, and exposure of American issues. And, in the use of these literary tools, Twain's satire is profuse. Here are examples of Twain's satire of the workings of government:

  • Custody of children and the judicial system

When Pap hears of the six thousand dollars that Huck has from his and Tom Sawyer's discovery of money in a cave, he insists that Judge Tatcher relinquish it, even though Huck has "sold" it to the judge.  And, while Judge Thatcher and the Widow Douglas try to have Huck remain in the widow's custody, another judge is over the hearing, a judge who does not know Pap, "said he'd druther not take a child away from its father." After this faulty and devastating decision, Huck suffers at the hands of his bacward and insolent and cruel father, who invokes the courts to extract the money from Judge Tatcher. Twain also satirizes the dilatory nature of the civil courts in the U.S.:

That law trial was a slow business; appeared like they warn't ever going to get started on it; so every now and then I'd borrow two orthree dollars off of the judge for him, to keep from getting a cowhiding.

  • The Government's policies on Slavery

Twain satirizes a society which holds that God's law mandates slavery as the religious Widow Douglas and her sister Miss Watson profess Christian love and charity, yet Miss Watson has no qualms about selling her slave Jim down the river where slaves are treated very badly. Further, Twain satirizes laws such as the 1847 law which made it illegal to teach slaves to read in the hopes that their ignorance would prevent them from wishing to escape their slavery. For, even though Jim is ignorant, he is superior to all the other characters in moral uprightness and affection.

  • He also satirizes the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law

The Fugitive Slave Law forced even those against slavery to report escaped slaves and assist in their recapture. It is this law which causes Huck much angst as he reaches his decision to "go to hell" for helping Jim escape from his captors and since he believes that his quandary must be God's punishment for the sin of helping Jim.

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