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Mark Twain and His Humor

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” ‘Humor,’ Mark Twain once wrote while in a different mode, ‘is only a fragrance, a decoration. If it is really to succeed in survival, it must surreptitiously teach and preach.’ “(qtd. Howells 211). Mark Twain exposes the evil in society by satirizing the institutions of religion, education and slavery. One of Twains many techniques in writing involve his way of making a point without one knowing whether or not he is kidding. He satirizes religion throughout the novel using Huck who does not see the point of the whole thing. The same goes for education, showing that the most learned of characters aren’t always necessarily the smartest ones. Then, there is the constant relevance of slavery, with Twain placing Jim as Huck’s companion.

In this novel, the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson, whom Huck lives with, are always trying to teach Huck the importance of religion. Huck wasn’t raised with religion so he doesn’t understand its relevance or why it is so important to them; he does however humor the women and would attempt praying. “She told me to pray every day, and whatever I asked for I would get. But it warn’t so. I tried it. Once I got a fish line, but no hooks. It warn’t no good to me without hooks. I tried for the hooks three or four times. But somehow I couldn’t make it work….” (Twain 19) As far as Huck can see, not everyone’s prayers get answered so he sees no reason for it. Then, there’s the Grangerfords and Sheperdsons. This pair of feuding families cant even recall why they started killing each other in the first place, nor do they know who started it, still go peacefully to church.

Next Sunday we all went to church…. The men took their guns, so did Buck and kept them between their knees or stood them handy against the wall. The Shepherdson’s done the same. It was pretty ornery preaching—all about brotherly love, an such-like tiresomeness…. (Twain 93).

After that, Huck has to deal with his conscience and whether or not he should turn Jim in as a runaway slave or not. Huck decides he would rather “go to hell” than to turn in his friend Jim. Through Huck, Twains humor and logic are brought to life. As it was once said about him, “in fact what finally appeals to you in Mark twain, and what may here after be his peril with his readers is his common sense….”(Howells 3717)

It can be seen that that Huck is against any kind of education from the very beginning of the novel, for example, he had dropped out of school; and although Huck is uneducated and speaks with such dialect, Twain uses him as the narrator, to criticize societies corruption, including education. Now Tom Sawyer is educated and reads many books, but his plans and schemes always seem to fail because of his lack of logic in planning them, he failed to see how impractical they were. People in that day did not see Blacks as being equals, but Twain established Jim to be a father figure to show the human side of him thus separating him from being an object. While Jim cannot read, he is not ignorant to the world and possesses street smarts.

There are also intimations that Jim is wiser than he lets on to be, that he is able to con Huck into helping him. When the two meet on Jackson’s Island, Jim explains that he was forced to abscond from Miss Watson because he had learned of her plans to ‘sell’ him South. But he then adds, `she picks on me all de time, en treats me pooty rough’ (Twain 38). This statement is tailor-made to appeal to Huck’s sensibility, for he too feels constantly “pecked” by Miss Watson.(Moor 6)

If Mark Twain condoned slavery, the elements of freedom from slavery would not have been seen.

Huck himself appears to take Jim as an exception to the rule that black people are inherently inferior to whites. He recognizes that Jim “cared just as much for his people as white folks does for their’n” (Twain 131), but he still considers it a shame that the “respectable” Tom Sawyer “stooped” to the business of helping to rescue Jim.(Howells 2)

He even has the Widow Douglas bringing the slaves in for prayer at night. Huck and Jim have a very close relationship as shown in their conflicts on the river. For example Huck played a prank on Jims memory. When Jim found out what huck did ,Huck felt remorse “all you wuz thinkin ’bout wuz how you could make a fool uv ole Jim wid a lie” (Twain p.73). Huck, with much apathy, humbled himself to Jim. Here, on the raft away from society, Huck and Jim are almost equals.

There has been so much controversy over this book; critics’ “nit pick”at every little thing not accepted by society, however, many don’t stop to realize that Mark Twain is making fun of the very idea of everything that was wrong with society of his day. The satire in this novel is a critical commentary on the hypocrisy in the institutions of all the above, religion, education and slavery. “That Twains oeuvre continues to provoke such interest and debate is testament to the enduring power of its satire and of its ideas.” (Howells 3713)

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