Was Huck Black? Mark Twain and African-American Voices

By Shelley Fisher Fishkin | Go to book overview

Introduction

The Negro looks at the white man and finds it difficult
to believe that the "grays" -- a Negro term for white
people -- can be so absurdly self-deluded over the true
interrelatedness of blackness and whiteness.

RALPH ELLISON1

The range of models critics cite when they probe the sources of Mark Twain Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is wide. It includes the picaresque novel, the Southwestern humorists, the Northeastern literary comedians, the newspapers Twain contributed to and read, and the tradition of the "boy book" in American popular culture. 2 Twain himself weighed in with a clear statement about the roots of his main character, claiming that Huck Finn was based on Tom Blankenship, a poor-white outcast child Twain remembered from Hannibal, and on Tom's older brother Bence, who once helped a runaway slave. 3 These sources may seem quite different. On one level, however, they are the same: they all give Twain's book a genealogy that is unequivocally white.

Although commentators differ on the question of which models and sources proved most significant, they tend to concur on the question of how Huckleberry Finn transformed American literature. Twain's innovation of having a vernacular-speaking child tell his own story in his own words was the first stroke of brilliance; Twain's awareness of the power of satire in the service of social criticism was the second. Huck's voice combined with Twain's satiric genius changed the shape of fiction in America.

In this book I will suggest that Twain himself and the critics have ignored or obscured the African-American roots of his art. Critics, for the most part, have confined their studies of the relationship

-3-

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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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