The Effects of Huck's Narrative Voice
Huck Finn appears in two novels by Mark Twain: "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn." While he has a strong character voice in "Tom Sawyer," it is in "Huckleberry Finn" that his voice has the most influence. He tells the story in the second novel, and his strong narrative voice helps to set the tone as well as provide greater insights into the characters and events.
The most immediate effect of Huck's narrative voice is that it strengthens his characterization. Huck becomes a vivid, fully rendered character through his strong voice, his unique diction and his dialect. His voice tells a lot about his character, such as his education level, his maturity and his beliefs: "... when I couldn’t stand it no longer I lit out. I got into my old rags and my sugar-hogshead again, and was free and satisfied." With the strength of Huck's character, the narrative itself also becomes more vivid and believable. Instead of reading a story, the reader becomes immersed in the world of the story.
Insights into Setting
Huck's voice is not just his own; it is also the voice of the poor, uneducated South. Through Huck's narrative, Twain provides insights into the society of the time, including its prejudices, customs and moral code. Huck says things like “If you tell the truth you do not need a good memory!” and “You can't pray a lie -- I found that out.” Through his voice, he symbolizes the society of which he is a part.
One of the most notable things about Huck's voice is how it reveals the racial tension of the society. Huck makes liberal use of the N-word, but in most cases, he doesn't say it out of malice. He uses it because it is so common and because he is not educated enough to know why it is problematic. Huck's real feelings toward African-Americans are seen in his treatment of them. He helps Jim and believes himself to be "damned" because of it. All at once, he shows the deep racism present in the society, as well as his own superior moral character for rejecting it in his behavior.
Huck is not just a representative of his society, he is also a critic of it. It is through Huck's narrative voice that Twain makes moral judgments about society in the South during the slavery era. He says things like “Just because you’re taught that something’s right and everyone believes it’s right, it don’t make it right” and “Human beings can be awful cruel to one another.” These statements aren't meant to be just Huck's personal opinions. As the narrator, Huck is given authority and stands in as a kind of judge of the society.
- Louisiana State University: Narrative Immediacy and First-Person Voice in Contemporary American Novels
- Mizzou: The Flawed Greatness of Huckleberry Finn
- Salem Press: "Pluck Enough to Lynch a Man": Mark Twain and Manhood
- Penguin Group: A Teacher's Guide to the Signet Classics Edition of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
- Topical Press Agency/Hulton Archive/Getty Images