Narrative and Compositional Techniques in Mark Twain´s Novel The Adventures Huckleberry Finn
Mark Twain’s masterpiece, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, describes a hero, an unconventional boy with a sense of human values, who is very often considered as one of the most memorable characters in American fiction. The story of a small boy and a runaway slave, who travel down the Mississippi River, enabled Twain to present a realistic portrait of life and relationships in the 19th century American south. The story itself takes place in America in the 1830’s or 1840’s. It begins in St. Petersburg, a fictional town, and continues on the Mississippi River, where the main actions of the story occur. As it is often suggested, this traveling in a boat symbolizes their brotherhood and freedom, which is in contrast with the violence and corruption of the American shores. The story of a small boy and a runaway black slave is not the only feature of the book, which makes it so popular among the readers all around the world even nowadays. One of other aspects of this novel is its composition and various narrative techniques that Mark Twain used to make it more interesting.
According to Grmela and Grmelova: “the composition of literary work is the arrangement of the individual elements in the over-all structure and can be divided into thematic and stylistic composition” (Grmela et al. 105). The novel consists of forty two chapters, not including one, called Chapter the last. The very first words that the reader of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn see are those included in a short notice saying: “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.By order of the Author.” (Twain 5)At the time of publishing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain was known as a humorous author of very popular The adventures of Tom Sawyer. Therefore, it was not expected that Twain would write a novel, which would teach its readers some moral lessons. But the fact is that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a humorous story, which includes some serious issues that a reader can learn from. Sacvan Bercovitch says: “What's funny about Huckleberry Finn is that it's a humorous story. The story is humorous because it's told by the quintessential American Boy, Huck Finn, and according to the American humorist, Mark Twain, the humorous story is quintessentially American.” (Bercovitch 8) As it has been already said, the novel consists of several chapters.
The structure of the book, which deals mainly with Huck’s journey, allows him to meet various kinds of people. It seems to me that it was Twain’s purpose to write a book that would consists of a particular number of chapters. Thus he can devote each chapter to a different situation or a particular event and the novel will still have logical links on which he can build the rest of the story. This structure allows main protagonists, Huck and Jim, to meet different people from villages as well as from the society of small American cities built along the Mississippi River. But what is great about this structural division of the book is that based on these so called “stories within a story” he was able to depict the American society as a whole, with all its variety.From the point of view of the stylistic composition of the novel we can assume that Twain’s use of dialects in this novel, particularly the Missouri Negro dialect, South-Western dialect and Pike-County dialect, enables him to draw a real picture of the American society of that time. Furthermore, Twain connects these dialects to particular characters, which only supports his intentions of writing a humorous story.But on the other hand there are some opinions that see The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as a totally different type of book. They appear to be trying to find something what is beyond the common understanding of this novel.
For example, Stacey Margolis examines Wieck’s book called Refiguring Huckleberry Finn on some hidden symbols and images referring to some untold truth. Margolis states: “Wieck describes the book as a collection of essays, and the chapters are brief and self-contained (the longest is twenty-five pages, the shortest a mere six pages). They cover a range of topics, from the influence of Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Frederick Douglass on the language of the novel to Twain's use of repeated numbers (two and forty), repeated images (death and rebirth), and homophones ("right" and "write"), and are united primarily by Wieck's own enthusiasm for Huckleberry Finn and Twain's "genius." There is, I think, a kind of nostalgic charm about the book, especially when Wieck makes claims for the novel's ability to speak in a "universally understood language" about American history (19)” (Margolis 60).Another fact about the novel that needs to be mentioned is the way how Twain narrates the story. The novel is interwoven with many repetitions and variations. Some argue that the way author uses these devices was mostly influenced by the way he wrote the book. The truth is that the novel includes several examples of back-stepping and retelling of the story.
For instance, in an article Starting over in Huckleberry Finn Douglas Anderson presents an idea that the author, Mark Twain, was not sure about writing the story. He says: “Twain himself does not always seem to share Huck's interpretive confidence. His recursive pattern of narration suggests at least some degree of authorial uncertainty, expressed as a succession of false starts and dead ends that, at times, appears to signal an essential bewilderment about how to proceed. The composition history of Huckleberry Finn is consistent with the working out of just such a struggle, but Twains apparent hesitation about completing the book may spring from tactical rather than creative dilemmas. The fundamental problem of what to write troubled him less than the question of how explicit he might be in writing it.” (Anderson 147-148)He continues in developing his ideas even further and comes to the conclusion that it is not clear what caused these disturbances in Twain’s writing. Anderson suggests that: “These patterns of telling and of retelling, of moving forward while doubling back, echo Twain's strangely episodic engagement with Huck's story. Over and over, he sat down at his desk to recommence this particular old thing. As a result, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn may well be the most famous of all "blocked" novels. It is never entirely clear, however, who or what was responsible for the blocking.
Twain completed the book in three, intense creative bursts, between July 1876 and September 1883.” (Anderson 149).The idea of unconscious repetition supports also Frank Baldanza, who comes to the conclusion that through use of such devices Twain “suggests the kind of rhythm that passes through the novel” (Baldanza 354). He goes further and tries to discover what effect can this style of writing have on a reader. He claim that “it remains to indicate that just as such repetitions were conceived unconsciously or accidentally on the author’s part, so their influence on the reader may be largely without his conscious attention…”(Baldanza 354).Huckleberry Finn possesses in this novel not only the status of the maim protagonist but he is also the narrator of the story. The whole plot is described through Finn’s mouth. The reader may even have an impression that it is an autobiography from Finn’s own pen. This impression has its root mainly from the beginning and the end of the novel. Huckleberry Finn introduces himself through the previous novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and mentions Mark Twain as the author of it. “You don’t know about me, without you haveread a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter.
That book was made by mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.” (Twain 11)A similar example can be found in the last paragraph of the novel where Finn, as the author of this book finishes the story: “Tom’s most well, now, and got his bullet around his neck on a watch-guard for a watch, and is always seeing what time it is, and so there ain’t nothing more to write about, and I am rotten glad of it, because if I’d a knowed what trouble it was to make a book I wouldn’t a tackled it and ain’t agoing to no more.” (Twain 281) Another point of view about this piece of writing is from the point of view of a literary genre. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is in American literature known under the term a tall tale. Based on Prochazka’s definition of the tall tale it is based on tall talk, which is: “the yarn form which tall tale is woven, a folk genre of the frontier anecdote characterized by hyperboles or violent understatement (which often takes the form of black humor). It blurs the distinction between the fictitious and the real: the realistic features only enhance the absurd and grotesque effect. (Procházka et al. 107-108).”
In this novel, there are dozens of examples that clearly prove that the character of tom Sawyer was created just in order to serve the author as an instrument, which he used for this purpose. Tom’s opinions and instructions to make even from a simple things one of the most difficult one, serve as an anecdotal aspect which the reader may meet throughout the whole story.Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn became the first modern American epic. Twain’ intentions of writing this novel were mainly to present a book that would lead the reader through the Mississippi valley where the Mississippi River plays a role itself. But all the features that this work posses reveal that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel that goes far beyond the Mississippi region and thus brings a portrait of a never-ending fight for freedom to readers all around the world.