Was Huck Black? Mark Twain and African-American Voices

By Shelley Fisher Fishkin | Go to book overview

4

When Israel was in Egypt's land: Let my people go, Oppressed so hard they could not stand, Let my people go.

Twain was clearly cognizant of the double message that his art embodied. In an autobiographical dictation on 31 July 1906, Twain observed, "Humor must not professedly teach and it must not professedly preach, but it must do both if it would live forever. By forever, I mean thirty years. . . . I have always preached. That is the reason that I have lasted thirty years."* (For unknown reasons, either Albert Bigelow Paine or the printer deleted the underlining of the word "professedly" when the autobiography was published after Twain's death, thereby reducing the author's emphasis on "doubleness" that the original wording carried. 1)

We can read Twain's "Notice" -- no motive, no moral, no plot contained here -- as his effort to deny any "professed" or overt "preaching" in Huchleberry Finn. The novel's affinities with the genre of the "boy book," and the fact that it is set in long-ago antebellum times lend further support to Twain's surface denial that the book is anything more than an amusing, innocuous adventure story of a raft trip on the Mississippi. Twain retains the same kind of plausible "deniability" that the slave Jack did when he told Huck to come see the "water moccasins": nothing subversive going on here, Jack (and Twain) could have insisted, if pressed.

We find an analogous option of deniability that both the preacher and the poet himself affirm in Paul Laurence Dunbar's 1890s poem,

-68-

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Was Huck Black? Mark Twain and African-American Voices
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Contents xi
  • Illustrations xiii
  • Introduction 3
  • Part One - Jimmy 11
  • 1 13
  • 2 41
  • Part Two - Jerry 51
  • 3 53
  • 4 68
  • Part Three - Jim 77
  • 5 79
  • 6 93
  • Part Four - Break Dancing in the Drawing Room 109
  • 7 111
  • 8 121
  • 9 128
  • Coda 145
  • Notes 147
  • Works Cited 219
  • Sociable Jimmy 249
  • Index 253
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