The Pequod Review:
Published in 1884, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn picks up where The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876) left off, with Huck Finn rich from the treasure that he and Tom discovered. The plot of this second book focuses on more mature concerns, as Huck’s adventures lead to a reunion with his alcoholic father and then a journey along the Mississippi River — first to Illinois where he joins with a fugitive slave (Jim), and later to Tennessee and Arkansas. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has a depth and richness that was lacking in Twain’s earlier novel, as his narrative explores the complexities of America — the greed and racism, but also the kindness and moral optimism. The moments when Huck and Jim look out to the country from the Mississippi are some of the most authentically beautiful in all of modern literature:
We catched fish, and talked, and we took a swim now and then to keep off sleepiness. It was kind of solemn, drifting down the big still river, laying on our backs looking up at the stars, and we didn’t ever feel like talking loud, and it warn’t often that we laughed, only a kind of low chuckle. We had mighty good weather, as a general thing, and nothing ever happened to us at all, that night, nor the next, nor the next.
Sometimes we’d have that whole river all to ourselves for the longest time. Yonder was the banks and the islands, across the water; and maybe a spark—which was a candle in a cabin window; and sometimes on the water you could see a spark or two—on a raft or a scow, you know; and maybe you could hear a fiddle or a song coming over from one of them crafts. It’s lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made or only just happened. Jim he allowed they was made, but I allowed they happened; I judged it would have took too long to make so many. Jim said the moon could a laid them; well, that looked kind of reasonable, so I didn’t say nothing against it, because I’ve seen a frog lay most as many, so of course it could be done. We used to watch the stars that fell, too, and see them streak down. Jim allowed they’d got spoiled and was hove out of the nest.
Meanwhile, Twain’s dialogue captures so well the American vernacular (and its regional variants):
Well, it being away in the night and stormy, and all so mysterious-like, I felt just the way any other boy would a felt when I see that wreck laying there so mournful and lonesome in the middle of the river. I wanted to get aboard of her and slink around a little, and see what there was there. So I says:
“Le’s land on her, Jim.”
But Jim was dead against it at first. He says:
“I doan’ want to go fool’n ’long er no wrack. We’s doin’ blame’ well, en we better let blame’ well alone, as de good book says. Like as not dey’s a watchman on dat wrack.”
“Watchman your grandmother,” I says; “there ain’t nothing to watch but the texas and the pilot-house; and do you reckon anybody’s going to resk his life for a texas and a pilot-house such a night as this, when it’s likely to break up and wash off down the river any minute?” Jim couldn’t say nothing to that, so he didn’t try.
It must be said that the story's resolution is a massive let down, a tidy and implausible ending that is of a tone wholly different from what came before it. But enough of the book is thrilling and multi-layered that it is rightly regarded as Twain's masterpiece.