A Painting of Words

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In Mark Twain’s novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain’s skillful use of language and structure characterizes this piece of literature with artistic elements and traits. One could notice that the use of language and the structure of Huck Finn play an important role in making it a “work of art.” Twain cleverly uses various characters to symbolize people and society. All of these elements are what makes Mark Twain’s Huck Finn a work of art.

One of the elements that would make Mark Twain’s Huck Finn a piece of literary art would be word choice. One could take note of his extensive descriptions of Huck’s adventures, thus creating vivid pictures and images in the reader’s mind. “The stores and houses was most all old shackly dried-up frame concerns that hadn’t ever been painted; they was set up three or four foot above ground stilts, so as to be out of reach of the water when the river was overflowed. The houses had little gardens around them, but they didn’t seem to raise hardly anything in them…some of the fences had been white-washed, some time or another…” (110) This scene is when Huck, the king, and duke arrive at a town where the king and duke have planned to scam the townsfolk of their money. When Huck wanders around town, he describes the settlement in such a way that the reader is drawn into his world and could see exactly what Huck sees. Art is also like this. It portrays to people a certain idea, image, or emotion, whether visually or phonetically. Huck Finn is the same way. Mark Twain also incorporates accents and dialects in his book. This was uncommon in the literature of his day, and the public had rejected his use of such technique. However, in today’s world, it adds more “color” to Twain’s picture of Huck Finn. “…Well, you see, it ‘uz dis way. Ole missus –dat’s Miss Watson –she pecks on me all de time, en treats me pooty rough, but she awluz said she wouldn’ sell me down to Orleans. But I noticed dey wuz a nigger trader roun’ de place considable, lately, en I begin to oneasy…” (35) As the runaway slave Jim explains to Huck his reason for departure from the plantation, the reader could take note of the dialect that Twain includes in Jim’s speech. This is not uncommon of Mark Twain –he purposely chooses specific words and slang to incorporate into a character’s dialect. Thus, he depicts a more vivid, clear picture of the characters. “He has done something which many popular novelists have signally failed to accomplish –he has created real characters.” (Phelps 353)

Word choice isn’t the only component that made Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn a work of art. His structure and use of symbolism in his characters gives more artistic elements to it. Art could often be interpreted differently and it has many layers that are open to such interpretation. An example is music. Music has layers, the most obvious ones, musical coherence and emotional interpretation. It is the same for Huck Finn: there is the adventure of a boy and his runaway slave down the Mississippi river, but at the same time, Twain reveals to us the nature of southern society and America at that time as well as insights of human nature. Also, there are different stages through out the book, just as a piece of music has various movements to it. For example, in the beginning, Huck describes his daily adventures with Tom Sawyer, either pretending to be robbers who held people for ransom or chasing “A-rabs” at the Sunday school. As the story progressed, it takes on a more serious tone, such as the nights when Huck stays at his abusive father’s shack. Later, when Huck and the runaway slave Jim sail down the Mississippi, and the storyline becomes even more complex, presenting the reader with examples of the good and evil of human nature and a satirical view towards society. Twain would often use his characters to symbolize something, whether it may be a theme or a particular side of human psychology. For example, the King, a scam artist, was a symbol of cheat and hypocrisy. “…The King was created out of refuse from the whole human family –“all tears and flapdoodle,” the very ultimate of disrepute and hypocrisy –so perfect a specimen that one must admire, almost love, him.” (Paine 354) However, Huck seems to be the most insightful character of all. He is the medium, the key color or musical note, which helped make the story a work of art. Art has a message and the main character helped carry out the message of Huck Finn. Huck opened the reader’s eyes to the nature of society as a whole. As well as acting as the narrator to the story (as most main characters of books are) providing the reader with his account and observations of the voyage, Huck also gives the reader his insights on the situation at hand. For example, in Sherburn’s speech, Huck, acting as the observing bystander, plainly recalls the old Colonel’s victory over a mob. However, Huck also acts as a commentator, putting in his “two-cents” as he did when he sees the duke and king carried off tarred and feathered, concluding that, “Human beings can be awful cruel to one another.” (183) This simple, sad, but true statement still holds true today and, like art, is forever timeless.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn could easily stand alone as a work of art. The novel has so many qualities and elements that would “qualify” something as art. Mark Twain’s usage of particular words to invoke images, structure, and symbolism through characters gives it the artistic qualities that one would find in other works of art, such as a painting or song. With a painting’s imagery, a song’s structure and symbolism, and the emotional qualities of both, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is truly a work of art.


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