Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Huck and Bill

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Huck and Bill

Article excerpt

Huckleberry Finn and Bill Clinton had imperfect fathers. In the literature on such circumstances, the offspring are often said to become overachievers.

"Children of alcoholics often are pleasers," says Betty Glad, presidential scholar at the University of South Carolina. "They try to harmonize tension in the family, to bring father and mother together. They procrastinate because they are trying to please so many sides. Bill Clinton is a wonderful politician and a terrible administrator, someone who has a hard time making up his mind."

Ronald Reagan also had a troubled father, Glad notes. "But it's not enough to have a failed father; you have to have a competent mother," says Glad. For Clinton and Reagan, the mother picked up the pieces and went forward. "At one point Clinton did stand up to his father and said, 'You're not going to do that any more,'" Glad says.

Michael Rogin, University of California at Berkeley political scientist, observes that while both Reagan and Clinton showed a need to get along with everyone, "Reagan became a transforming figure, Clinton the opposite." Invited to compare Clinton and the fictional character Huck Finn, who runs away from an abusive father for the great raft journey down the Mississippi with the black runaway slave Jim, Rogin says: "Huck Finn develops an independent conscience. Huck Finn finds a place to stand. Clinton hasn't a place to stand."

This past week Random House published a new edition of Mark Twain's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," which includes variations found in the recently discovered handwritten manuscript. Over the eight years of its writing, the book changed: "It grew to have more emphasis on Jim's strong yearning for liberation and on Huck's gradually evolving moral integrity and his loyalty to Jim, in the face of the prevailing, socially constructed prejudices," the new edition's editor says. …

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