(December 4, 2015)
One cannot help but exaggerate a bit when recalling an experience in their life. Something that may have taken an hour, will be remembered as six. A person’s slightly longer than usual beard, will sweep the floor. It’s part of our nature to romanticize things; to make things grander than life. Most of us, whether we realize it or not, desire a fantastic version of the world around us. This is perhaps why the romantic and fantasy genres have been so embedded in the history of literature. But while the romantic style of writing is exciting and wonderful, it is essentially describing a false world. In contrast to this traditional method, is the realist style. While the characters in these stories may be fictional and they may go on incredible adventures, it doesn’t hold back from showing humankind and life itself as it truly is. Mark Twain, one of the most acclaimed American authors of all time, was a firm realist, going so far as to question the entire point of romanticism. A clear example of his disdain for this fantastic style of writing can be found in his satire The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, where he critiques the practicality, or lack thereof, of building up this romantic world in one’s head, as well as showing the ridiculousness of romanticism. While ‘Huckleberry Finn’ satirizes many topics and aspects of human nature, it does this in a realistic light, showing how romanticism lies to us about much of the world. This comes to a climax in the final chapters, when romanticism is openly shot down as the unfeasible ideology that it is.
The protagonist of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is unsurprisingly a boy named Huckleberry Finn, a backwoods, barely educated, but realistic pre teen boy, who escapes his abusive father by sailing down the Mississippi River with a runaway slave named Jim. Huck, as he is called, is not known for his intelligence, and is called ignorant throughout much of the story, but unlike many of the other characters, he sees the world realistically and does whatever he needs to do, rather than adding any sort of style to it. While he has superstitions like most of his companions and acquaintances and is rather ignorant, he’s able to get things done because of his shrewd, pragmatic nature. In the romantic-loving world of the antebellum south, he is viewed as stupid and ridiculous, but he doesn’t really care, as shown in a monologue before he helps Jim escape a slave owner’s cabin towards the end of the book. “When I start in to steal a nigger, or a watermelon, or a Sunday-school book, I ain’t no ways particular how it’s done so it’s done. What I want is my nigger; or what I want is my watermelon; or what I want is my Sunday school book; and if a pick’s the handiest thing, that’s the thing I’m going to dig that nigger or that watermelon or that Sunday-school book out with; and I don’t give a dead rat what the authorities thinks about it nuther.” (Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, page 158) Determination and being down-to-earth help Huck time and time again throughout the novel, but this becomes particularly difficult to stick to when his friend Tom Sawyer shows up to help him free Jim.
Tom Sawyer is the charismatic, clever, educated, but hopelessly romantic, best friend of Huck. The two conveniently reunite a few chapters from the end, and are forced to pretend to be brothers in order to trick Tom’s Aunt and Uncle, who are keeping Jim captive, and plan on selling him back into slavery. While Huck has a simple plan that will free Jim and get them safely down the river within one night, Tom dismisses it as too simple and easy, as fantastic stories of prison escapes and thievery swim around in his mind. Tom seems to believe that there is a certain way to do things and that’s how it must be done, as that’s how it’s always been done. Instead of using a saw or shovels or picking the locks in order to free Jim, he makes things deliberately intricate and strenuous as to make a more interesting story. When Huck points out the preposterousness of Tom’s plans, he responds with a passionate speech. “It don’t make no difference how foolish it is, it’s the right way- and it’s the regular way. And there ain’t no other way, that ever I heard of, and I’ve read all the books that gives any information about these sort of things. They always dig out with a case-knife- and not through dirt, mind you, generly it’s over solid rock. And it takes them weeks and weeks and weeks, and for ever and ever. Why, look at one of them prisoners in the bottom dungeon of the Castle Deef, in the harbor of Marseilles, that dug himself out that way; how long was he at it, you reckon?” (Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, 156) Huck reluctantly follows along with his friend’s wild schemes, but the most efficient way becomes apparent quickly.
As the two do everything the ‘way it’s supposed to be done’, things become very difficult. From digging tunnels under houses with knives, to eating the sawdust of a sawed off bed leg, Tom’s idealistic way of doing things makes freeing Jim a nightmare. At one point, Tom wishes to put rattlesnakes and other creatures of the sort in the room with Jim, so that he can become friends with them, that he may have feral company, like all prisoners do apparently. Jim flips out, as one might expect, at this idea, and after a long argument, Tom finally surrenders and puts garter snakes in instead. His way also almost gets them caught several times, as Tom tries to play things way too risky. Huck begins to doubt the intelligence of his friend, as he seems to be making it almost impossible to free Jim, especially when Tom begins to realize his follies. A good example is when Tom gives up digging with knives, and the two start using picks, but Tom makes Huck promise, that if he tells anyone this story, that Huck would say they used knives and that it lasted a lot longer.
In his great satire, Mark Twain satirizes the foolishness of romanticism, especially toward the climax of the book. Huck represents the realist who is looked down upon as unimaginative, while Tom symbolizes the romantic whose style is unpractical and he eventually has to lie in order to create the grand adventure he imagines. Twain is clearly telling the audience to not trust the idealistic way of thinking, as it is a dishonest, foolish path, and that we should look at things the way they are.