Narrative Voices in Huck Finn

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Narrative Voices in Huck Finn

Narrative Voices in Huck Finn
Huckleberry Finn provides the narrative voice of Mark Twain’s
novel, and his honest voice combined with his personal vulnerabilities
reveal the different levels of the Grangerfords’ world. Huck is
without a family: neither the drunken attention of Pap nor the pious
ministrations of Widow Douglas were desirable allegiance. He stumbles
upon the Grangerfords in darkness, lost from Jim and the raft. The
family, after some initial cross-examination, welcomes, feeds and
rooms Huck with an amiable boy his age. With the light of the next
morning, Huck estimates “it was a mighty nice family, and a mighty
nice house, too”(110). This is the first of many compliments Huck
bestows on the Grangerfords and their possessions. Huck is impressed
by all of the Grangerfords’ belongings and liberally offers
compliments. The books are piled on the table “perfectly exact”(111),
the table had a cover made from “beautiful oilcloth”(111), and a book
was filled with “beautiful stuff and poetry”(111). He even appraises
the chairs, noting they are “nice split-bottom chairs, and perfectly
sound, too–not bagged down in the middle and busted, like an old
basket”(111). It is apparent Huck is more familar with busted chairs
than sound ones, and he appreciates the distinction.
Huck is also more familar with flawed families than loving,
virtuous ones, and he is happy to sing the praises of the people who
took him in. Col. Grangerford “was a gentleman all over; and so was
his family”(116). The Colonel was kind, well-mannered, quiet and far
from frivolish. Everyone wanted to be around him, and he gave Huck
confidence. Unlike the drunken Pap, the Colonel dressed well, was
clean-shaven and his face had “not a sign of red in it anywheres”
(116). Huck admired how the Colonel gently ruled his family with
hints of a submerged temper. The same temper exists in one of his
daughters: “she had a look that would make you wilt in your tracks,
like her father. She was beautiful”(117). Huck does not think
negatively of the hints of iron in the people he is happy to care for
and let care for him. He does not ask how three of the Colonels’s
sons died, or why the family brings guns to family picnics. He sees
these as small facets of a family with “a handsome lot of quality”
(118). He thinks no more about Jim or the raft, but knows he has
found a new home, one where he doesn’t have to go to school, is
surrounded by interior and exterior beauty, and most importantly,
where he feels safe. Huck “liked that family, dead ones and all, and
warn’t going to let anything come between us”(118).

Huck is a very personable narrator. He tells his story in
plain language, whether describing the Grangerford’s clock or his
hunting expedition with Buck. It is through his precise, trusting
eyes that the reader sees the world of the novel. Because Huck is so
literal, and does not exaggerate experiences like Jim or see a grand,
false version of reality like Tom Sawyer, the reader gains an
understanding of the world Mark Twain created, the reader is able to
catch Twain’s jokes and hear his skepticism. The Grangerford’s
furniture, much admired by Huck, is actually comicly tacky. You can
almost hear Mark Twain laughing over the parrot-flanked clock and the
curtains with cows and castles painted on them even as Huck oohs and
ahhs. And Twain pokes fun at the young dead daughter Huck is so drawn
to. Twain mocks Emmeline as an amateur writer: “She warn’t
particular, she could write about anything you choose to give her to
write about, just so it was sadful”(114). Yet Twain allows the images
of Emmeline and the silly clock to deepen in meaning as the chapter
progresses. Emmeline is realized as an early portent of the
destruction of Huck’s adopted family. The mantel clock was admired by
Huck not only for its beauty, but because the Grangerfords properly
valued beauty and “wouldn’t took any money for her”(111). Huck
admired the Grangerfords’ principles, and the stake they placed in
good manners, delicious food, and attractive possessions. But Huck
realizes in Chapter 18 that whereas the Grangerfords may value a
hand-painted clock more than money, they put little value on human
life.

The third view of the Grangerford’s world is provided by Buck
Grangerford. He is the same age as Huck; he has grown up in a world
of feuding, family picnics, and Sunday sermon that are appreciated but
rarely followed. Buck, from when he meets Huck until he is brutally
murdered, never questions the ways of his family. For the rest of the
chapter, Buck provides a foil for Huck, showing the more mature Huck
questioning and judging the world around him. In fact it seems Buck
does not have the imagination to conceive of a different world. He is
amazed Huck has never heard of a feud, and surprised by Huck’s desire
to hear the history and the rationale behind it. In Buck
Grangerford’s rambling answers we hear Mark Twain’s view of a southern
feuding family, and after Buck finishes his answer, we watch Huck’s
reaction to the true nature of the Grangerfords. Buck details Twain’s
opinion that a feud is not started or continued by thought. The
reasons for the feud have been forgotten, and the Grangerfords do not
hate, but in fact respect, their sworn enemies. They live their lives
by tradition, and the fact that the feud is a tradition justifies its
needless, pointless violence. From the dignified Colonel with “a few
buck-shot in him”(121) to Buck, who is eager for the glory to be
gained from shooting a Shepherdson in the back, the Grangerfords
unquestioningly believe in de-valuing human life because it is a
civilized tradition.

It is interesting that the only compliment Huck gives to a
Grangerford after Buck shot at Harney Shepherdson was to Miss Sophia.
He admitts that the young women who denied part in any family feud is
“powerful pretty”(122). But the rosy sheen that had spurred Huck to
use the word ‘beautiful’ six times previously in description of the
Grangerfords has evaporated. He attends church with the family and
notices all the Grangerfords keep their guns close by. Huck thinks it
“was pretty ornery preaching”(121), but the feuding patriarchy praises
the good values listed by the Preacher. The hypocritical mixture of
guns and sermons, holy talk and bloodthirstiness make it “one of the
roughest Sundays Huck had run across yet”(121). He now questions
the motives of everyone in the household, including Miss Sophia as she
send him to the church on an errand. By this point the cynical,
sarcastic Twain and the disillusioned Huck are of one mind. Huck
walks among a group of hogs who have sought the coolness of the church
and notes “most folks don’t go to church only when they’ve got to; but
a hog is different”(122).

The narration of Huck’s final day with the Grangerfords is
prefaced by: “I don’t want to talk much about the next day”(124). For
Huck’s easy-going fluid dialogue to become stilted and censored, the
reader knows the young boy has been hurt. A senseless fatal feud is
not the only tragedy depicted through the events of that day, also
shown is the heartbreak of a young boy who loses every vestige of the
hopeful trust he put in a father, brothers and sisters. Huck is
shocked to hear the fatherless, brotherless Buck complain he hadn’t
managed to kill his sister’s lover on an earlier occaison. And then
from his perch in the tree, Huck hears Buck’s murderers “singing out,
‘Kill them, kill them!’ It made Huck so sick he most fell out of
the tree”(127). He wishes he “hadn’t come ashore that night, to see
such things”(127).

The end of chapter nineteen, when Huck returns to the raft and
Jim, almost exactly mirrors the end of chapter eighteen. Both chapter
conclude with Huck enjoying a good meal with good company in a cool,
comfortable place. First it is with the Grangerfords in the cool,
high-ceilinged area in the middle of their double house. “Nothing
could be better”(115), Huck thought. But only a few pages later the
raft and Jim provide the same comforts. Nothing had ever sounded so
good to him as Jim’s voice, and Huck felt “mighty free and easy and
comfortable on the raft”(128). . Huck happily slides away from the
bloody scene with the unorthodox father figure of a runaway slave.
Huck has realized he does not need a traditional family to make him
feel safe and happy. He must develop and live by his own integrity,
not the past decisions of a father or grandfather. This is clearly
Mark Twain’s opinion also, and the reader, full of relief at Huck’s
escape, is aware that the author sent us all into the Grangerfords’
world to prove just that point.