For its themes, satire, and writing style, Mark Twain’s novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, first published in 1884, is one of my favorite works of American literature.
First, the themes that Mark Twain wrote into Huckleberry Finn are true and relevant without being overly didactic. Huckleberry Finn‘s main theme is the contrast between freedom and civilization, meaning freedom from society and freedom within society. The truth enters into this theme in the fact that although Huck and Jim try to gain freedom from society, they eventually find that they cannot fully do so and must try for freedom within society instead. Another important theme is the hypocrisy of religion. Although Twain may or may not have meant to show all Christianity as being hypocritical, Christians can take an important lesson from Twain in that any Christianity that throws out any of God’s Word—as the Christians in Huckleberry Finn did through their racism, bigotry, celebrity idolatry, abandonment of the poor, and more—will inevitably become hypocritical.
Second, the satire Twain liberally injects into Huckleberry Finn is not only frequent and hilarious, but also it is accurate. Some of the things satirized are hypocritical religion (as mentioned above), the ways and traditions (both faux and real) of the “Old” South, civilization, and romanticism. The funniest satire, for me, enters at the satire of romanticism, which is illustrated in the contrast between Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn. In one side-splitting scene, Huck and Tom are trying to free the slave Jim by digging him out of the shed where he is locked in and being held hostage. Huck wants to use shovels and picks, which are readily available to them. Tom wants to do it the romantic way with case-knives, like may happen in something like an Alexandre Dumas novel. Eventually, Tom gives in to Huck’s idea, but in doing so imagines he is using a case-knife, although he is using a pick.
Third, Twain’s writing style in Huckleberry Finn is masterful. It is both comical and serious, smooth-flowing and full of dialect, employing local color and using realism. Many authors at the time used local color, dialect, etc. in their writing, and many authors at the time explored serious, American themes (though perhaps not as head-on in most cases as Twain did). Most of these authors are forgotten. Twain is remembered at least in part because of the way he investigated America’s democratic heart through prose that is both universal and local and both serious and comical.
So Huckleberry Finn‘s true themes, accurate satire, and masterful writing style combine to make The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn a hilarious and important read.