An Analysis of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as a Picaresque Tale A picaresque novel is based on a story that is typically satirical and illustrates with realistic and witty detail the adventures of a roguish hero of lower social standing who lives by their common sense in a corrupt society. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, is an eminent example of picaresque literature. There are many aspects of the novel that portray picaresque through the history and personality of the main character, Huck Finn.
Although Huck has good intentions and is by nature innocent, he is the picaro in the story. A picaro or rogue is an unprincipled adolescent who is very mischievous in personality, also known as a rascal or scoundrel. Through the use of Huck as the rogue there are several qualities in this novel that make it a solid picaresque tale. First it is necessary to exam the character of Huckleberry Finn’s personality traits to illustrate how he could invoke the role of the rascally hero. From the beginning of the novel, Mark Twain makes it clear that Huck is a boy that comes from the lowest level of white society.
His father is a drunk, no good who disappears for long periods of time only to show back up to steal away his sons money. Huck is depicted as usually dirty, messy and often homeless even when he is provided shelter by the Widow Douglas. The Widow Douglas attempts to reform and “improve” Huck, but he refuses to give in to her attempts and maintains his self-regulating and ill-disciplined ways. His unruly ways are highlighted when casted next to his companion Tom Sawyer, who is educated and depicted more as a middle-class citizen.
Tom’s role emphasizes the picaro role played by Huck Finn, while they both are boyish and do naughty things Tom’s civilized nature intensifies the readers perception on how uncivilized Huck is. A more abstract trait that shows Huck as a picaro is his name. Twain’s choice of giving him a name derived from things of nature Huckleberry Finn, a huckleberry being an edible berry found in nature and a fin being the body part of various sea animals; the use of the wildness in his name adds to the uncivilized emphasis of who Huck is especially when put against names like Widow Douglas, Tom Sawyer, Ben Rogers and even Jim.
Another way that Twain accentuates Huck’s role as the rogue in this picaresque story is by speaking through him as the narrator and allowing his dialect to emphasize who Huck is, where he comes from and what his primary traits are. By speaking through Huck Twain uses the vernacular of the lower class citizens of the time. Also it gives the reader direct insight into the mind of Huck revealing his thoughts on being civilized, education, religion, and etcetera. For example when Huck says, “It was a close place. I took it up and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it.
I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: ‘All right then, I’ll go to hell’—and tore it up. It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. I shoved the whole thing out of my head ; and said I would take up wickedness again which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn’t. ” This excerpt from chapter XXXI (pg. 239 in the Norton Anthology of American Literature) is a good example of both how Twain uses Huck as a narrator to show through his language and thought that Huck is a picaro.
This selection from the novel strongly expresses that Huck will not conform to society and confirms his roots as a scoundrel, stating that that is all he will ever be, but in the same passage the mood is cast for you to feel good about Huck’s declaration of independence of being reformed. This is the basis of what a picaresque tale is. Huck is consistently shown as the mischievous hero through his dialect and the reader’s ability to have an omniscient view into the thoughts of Huckleberry Finn. Another very prominent aspect of a picaresque novel is that the picaro often wanders around with no true destination in mind.
Huckleberry Finn is the epitome of a wander. From the very beginning of the book when he has been taken in by the Widow Douglas he still sneaks out to wander around and sleep in the woods. In chapter IV (pg. 110 in the Norton Anthology of American Literature) the reader is first exposed to his wandering ways. “ Living in a house, and sleeping in a bed, pulled on me pretty tight, mostly, but before the cold weather I used to slide out and sleep in the woods, sometimes, and so that was a rest to me. Huck’s preference of sleeping in the woods instead of a bed represents not only Huck’s un-civility and refusal to conform, but also introduces us to him as a wander, a key element in picaresque. Huck remains a wander without a destination for a good majority of the book. The entire second half of the book Huckleberry is on the river, sailing away from conformity, but with no true destination in mind. Huck is the essence of a wander, which strengthens his role as the picaro in this story.
There are several specific events and examples that occur in this novel that support The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as a picaresque story. One of the first events that cast Huck as a picaro is the entrance of Huck’s father into the story. Twain could have just left Pap out, and just let the reader know that Huck was an orphan and his father was a drunk, but by bringing Pap back into Huck’s life it creates a stronger picture of what Huck is coming from. It illustrates that he is coming from an illegitimate family which is an important characteristic of a rogue in a story.
Also because Twain brings Pap back into the picture he is able to use Pap’s dialect to strengthen the scoundrel-esc image of Huck, and add to the satirical properties of a picaresque story. “Oh, yes, this is a wonderful government, wonderful. Why, looky, here. There was a free nigger there, from Ohio; a mulatter, most as white as a white man. He had the whitest shirt on you ever see, too, and the shiniest hat; and there ain’t a man in town that’s got as fine clothes as what he has…. And what do you think? They said he was a p’fesor in a college, and could talk all kinds of languages, and knowed everything.
And that ain’t the wust. They said he could vote, when he was at home. Well that let me out. Thinks I, what is the country a-coming to? It was ‘lection day, and I was just about to go and vote, myself, if I warn’t to drunk to get there; but when they told me there was a State in this country where they’d let that nigger vote, I drawed out. I Says I’ll never vote again. ” This quote from Chapter VI (pg. 117 in the Norton Anthology of American Literature) is a good example of Twain’s use of satire because Pap is upset that a black man can vote, but he himself was too drunk to even get to the polls.
His poor speech and ignorance backs up the Huck’s place as the picaro, and helps to create the crucial element of satire, irony, and humor that is necessary in a picaresque novel. An additional event that occurs in the book is when the boys form a band of robbers. This is significant in the development of Huck as a picaro in a couple of ways. First the fact that he is willing to join a band of robbers emphasizes his naughty nature. While Tom wants to have a band of robbers because that is what happens in all of his books, it is seemingly that Huck wants to join strictly for the adventure.
The need for adventure especially mischievous adventure like being a robber, is a very typical picaro trait. The second trait highlighted by the band of robbers scenario is how realistic Huck is, which is also an attribute of the picaresque hero. Once again this is shown through contrast of Huck and Tom’s characteristics. “I didn’t see no di’monds, and I told Tom Sawyer so. He said there were loads of them there, anyway; and he said there were A-rabs there, too and elephants and things. I said, why couldn’t we see them the?
He said if I weren’t so ignorant, but had read a book called ‘Don Quixote,’ I would know without asking. ” This passage from chapter III, (pg. 109 in the Norton Anthology of American Literature) depicts Huck only views things that are actually there and has no imagination when side by side with Tom. His connection with reality demonstrates his common sense and lack of exposure to fictional things, creating a rawer, more natural character. This is important to the development of Huck as the picaro of the story. A third notable event in the story is when Huck stages his own murder and ran away.
A picaro is often defined as someone who isn’t very honest, or straightforward, but instead is something more of a liar. However, Huck’s lies continue throughout his travels on the river, the lie about his death just being the beginning. This point is illustrated in the part of the book where Huck comes along the two men in a boat, and Huck wants to surrender Jim, but instead he lies. (pg. 162 Norton Anthology of American Literature), “‘I wish you would,’ says I, ‘because it’s pap that’s there, and maybe you’d help me tow the raft ashore where the light is. He’s sick-and so is mam and Mary Ann. ” Huck never has to thinks about what lie he will use because it just happens naturally because of the way he was raised and because of his scoundrel-esc personality. Huck is constantly changing his lies as he is traveling on the river, he changes them so much that it becomes difficult for him to keep track of the names he calls himself within his lies. His lies extend to the point of posing as a young girl to an old woman, but he mixes his names up and is caught in the lie in chapter XI (pg. 138 Norton Anthology of American Literature). “Well, try to remember it, George.
Don’t forget and tell me it’s Elexander before you go, and then get out by saying it’s George Elexander when I catch you. And don’t go about women in that old calico. You do a girl tolerable poor but you might fool men, maybe. ” Nevertheless, one of Huck’s major lies occurs with the Duke and the King. They trick people into paying them to watch them do a revival of a play, despite the fact they do not really know the play and are far from being actors. Consequently, they barely escape from the town on the third night with the money that they had cheated the townspeople of.
Thus, there were many occurrences throughout Huck’s travels where he lied and cheated his way through a variety of experiences, which tie him in perfectly with the typical picaro stereo-type. There are several aspects to this novel that show that Mark Twain was trying to cast Huckleberry Finn as the picaro in his picaresque story, and he was evidently successful at creating a timeless story with one of the world’s most favored scoundrels. Twain’s choice to make this novel picaresque illustrates that he believes that the lower social classes who choose not to conform to modern day society have the right idea.
Although Huck is mischievous, comes from an illegitimate family, is uneducated, and sometimes a liar; Twain creates a character that is still a hero and the reader feels good about Huck’s resistance to conformity and his realistic views about civilization. Huck’s role as the rogue and the hero reflect Twain’s views on the American society’s eagerness to conform and depend upon fiction and the past, and how all of those things are not necessarily what is best; that maybe an uneducated, lying, rascal has a better chance of truly getting out of this world what we are meant to.