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The Relation Of Form To Content In Mark Twain's The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn

1304 words - 6 pages

In discussing the structure and substance of a novel, one would be remiss not to explore the narrative strategies through which its story is told. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) is autobiographic, ensuring a valuable narrative unity; each scene is delivered as-is rather than being described into fruition. It is a tale of boyish adventure floating along the Mississippi told as it would have appeared to the boy himself. Thus, the novel ascribes to one of several contrasting aesthetics found throughout American literature: Twain’s creation and manipulation of aesthetic through an emphasis of the ‘Vernacular’ rather than the ‘Literary’. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is therefore a novel that speaks for, and is demotic of, the people of the American South.
The form of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, manifest in this vernacular aesthetic, is achieved through an attempt to approximate and reproduce idiomatic speech. Looking to Twain’s ‘Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences’, one is readily able to explicate the formal principles of this novel. Consider the following excerpt:

5. [The nineteen rules governing literary art in the domain of romantic fiction] require that when the personages of a tale deal in conversation, the talk shall sound like human talk, and be talk such as human beings would be likely to talk in the given circumstances, and have discoverable meaning, also a discoverable purpose, and a show of relevancy, and remain in the neighbourhood of the subject at hand, and be interesting to the reader, and help out the tale, and stop when the people cannot think of anything more to say.

With this in mind, the reader is prepared to open the book without fear of unpalatable verbiage or extrinsic conversation. However, before the tale begins, Twain provides a self-aware semantic distinction of sorts. This “Explanatory” section immediately captures the reader’s attention and alerts him to the significance of diction and linguistic expression within this novel:

EXPLANATORY
In this book a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods South-Western dialect; the ordinary “Pike County” dialect; and four modified varieties of this last. The shadings have not been done in a haphazard fashion, or by guess-work; but painstakingly, 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.

This aesthetic serves as a medium of illustration for a number of themes central to the novel’s development and progression. For the argumentative purposes of this paper, I have chosen to concentrate my analysis on that of the continual desire for freedom.
First, a proper investigation of the relation between form and content necessitates a grasp of the novels plot contextualized in...

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