March 25, 2020

Huck Finn chapters 4-7

There’s spring flooding on the Mississippi River in Huck Finn–this occurs frequently–and if you want to see some footage of what a massive flood looks like, here’s some coverage from the big 2011 floods.

We see just how clever Huck can be: he realizes his father is looking for him–or rather, for his money–and Huck sets up a way so that it’s no longer in his possession.

We see more examples of superstition–“education” for the uneducated (and it makes me wonder what kinds of superstitions may rise up from this quarantine situation; I’m already seeing a few about “miracle cures”). Frankly, I’m not sure what kind of learning will come from a hairball, and I hope to never find out. I hope to never encounter a hairball like Jim’s! But, well, hairballs.

(I mean, how big was the cat that coughed that up? Oh wait, it’s from an ox. Somehow it just got worse.)

You first encounter Jim’s dialect, which may cause a few of you to stumble.

  • gwyne=going to
  • doan=don’t
  • spec=expect
  • ag’in=again
  • by en by=by and by, eventually
  • fust=first
  • kin=can
  • fum=from
  • resk=risk

It really does help to read it out loud to yourself, because hearing the words suddenly makes sense what he’s saying. You’ll get the hang of his dialect pretty soon, though.

Huck’s father, Pap. Ooh, a lovely man. Yuck. Here’s an illustration from a book. Pretty much sums him up.

Image result for huck finn father

How does he treat his son? Horribly! “Drop out of school. Don’t wear nice clothes. You’re showing us all up, reading and knowing numbers. Sleeping in a bed . . . Sheesh, trying to make your family look bad?” Umm, Pap? You make yourself look bad all on your own. Taking your son’s last dollar so you can go drinking? Nice Dad, really nice.

Why do you think his father is so opposed to all of this “sivilization”? To me, he sounds afraid. He may also be jealous, or feel like his son is proving that he could have been something more, something better, but he was too lazy and selfish to become such.

I read a quote once, “All good parents want their children to become better than they are.” If this is true, then clearly Pap is not a good parent.

What do you think of the incident with the new judge, who’s sure he can reform Pap and turn him good? I think all of us know of at least one similar case, where someone is “playing” at being good just to get what they want, then immediately fall off the wagon. They never intended to improve, to give up their addiction, or stick with a job, or become better. I guess the main lesson to take away from this is, We’ve been dealing with the same problems for many years now. Nothing’s new.

I like this insight from Spark Notes:

Twain makes a number of comments on the society of his time and its attempts at reform. We see a number of well-meaning individuals who engage in foolish, even cruel behavior. The new judge in town refuses to give custody of Huck to Judge Thatcher and the Widow, despite Pap’s history of neglect and abuse. This poorly informed decision not only makes us question the wisdom and morality of these public figures but also resonates with the plight of slaves in Southern society at the time. The new judge in town returns Huck to Pap because he privileges Pap’s “rights” over Huck’s welfare—just as slaves, because they were considered property, were regularly returned to their legal owners, no matter how badly these owners abused them. Twain also takes the opportunity to mock the bleeding-heart do-gooders of the temperance, or anti-alcohol, movement: the judge is clearly naïve, misguided, and blind to the larger evils around him, and the weeping and moralizing that goes on in his home is grating, to say the least.

Huck is at the center of countless failures and breakdowns in the society around him, yet he maintains his characteristic resilience. Indeed, Huck’s family, the legal system, and the community all fail to protect him or to provide a set of beliefs and values that are consistent and satisfying to him. Huck’s wrongful imprisonment elicits sympathy and concern on our part, even though this imprisonment does not seem to distress Huck in the least. Sadly, Huck is so used to social abuses by this point in his life that he has no reason to prefer one set of abuses over the other.

Finally Huck’s Pap kidnaps him, takes him to a secluded cabin, and locks him up. (No, none of you are locked up, but you can feel a little bit for him right now, can’t you?) He enjoys it for a while, his clothes get all ratty, he picks up swearing again, and everything’s great . . . except that his dad is beating him, with wood planks. Then he gets locked up in the cabin for three days straight. Not so fun anymore.

Pap has lovely views about people as well, especially freed slaves being allowed to vote. We read Pap’s ranting and wince at how awful he sounds, but at Twain’s time there were still a LOT of people who felt the same way, 20 years after slaves had been freed. “I’ll never vote again!” Oh, good. We all feel better about that, Pap.

Here’s more insight, again from Spark Notes:

Pap, the embodiment of pure evil, is one of Twain’s most memorable characters. Because we have no background information to explain his present state, his role is primarily symbolic. The deathly pallor of his skin, which is nauseating to Huck, makes Pap emblematic of whiteness. Unfortunately, Pap represents the worst of white society: he is illiterate, ignorant, violent, and profoundly racist.

The mixed-race man who visits the town contrasts Pap in every way: he is a clean-cut, knowledgeable, and seemingly politically conscious professor. In establishing the contrast between Pap and the mixed-race man, Twain overturns traditional symbolism of his time and implies that whiteness, not blackness, is associated with evil.

Clearly Pap drinks waaaay too much, goes crazy one night, tries to kill Huck mistaking him for the Angel of Death, and Huck realizes he MUST get away from him.

Here’s where we see the flooding river, and all kinds of stuff floating down it. Huck finds a canoe worth $10 which would be about $260 now, and Pap collects some logs that he’s going to sell.

They’re catching stuff floating down the river, and Huck says that any other man would have waited out the day to see what else comes in, but not Pap. He heads to town to sell the logs without seeing what else he could get. What does that tell us about Pap’s character?

Now, Huck hatches his plan to escape, and it’s a pretty good one. (This is where you can “hear” Mark Twain writing, instead of Huck Finn planning, because I don’t know of another 13-year-old who could come up with such a plan.) He fakes his own death, with blood and his own hair on the hatchet, creates cover stories and false leads to throw people off, and has even cut out part of the wall so he can go in and out. He’s got a canoe, so he’s free to head down the mighty Mississippi, down to Jackson’s Island.

Here’s a great image I stole from some teacher named Mrs. Cockrell. We all thank her.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with Mrs. Cockrell

So Huck’s free! From Pap AND from sivilization.

I love some of the language Twain uses:

“Everything was dead quiet, and it look late, and smelt late. You know what I mean–I don’t know the words to put it in.”

Anyone else experience that? “Smelling” the time of day or night? I can always smell spring coming. I’ve been “smelling” it for the past week or so, despite the snow on Tuesday.

Little tidbits like that are so fun in this book.

Now, let’s talk a little about Emily Dickinson and the poem you read for today: “Hope is a thing with feathers” And guess what? After only about seven hours of trying to figure out tech and recording and uploads and what have you, I have created a VIDEO ANNOTATING THIS POEM! (Seriously–7 hours of labor for 12 minutes. Guys, you better love this. Or don’t, because seriously, it’s sad. Anyway my first ever YouTube video. Oh, how much I’m learning . . .)

I hope you marked it up. Now you’re going to have a little writing assignment.

Writing Assignment: “Hope is a thing with feathers”

On a Google Doc, explain to me in a paragraph or two what this poem is about. In your own words, explain what Dickinson wants us to understand from this poem. What is it about, why this metaphor, etc. Tell me anything and everything you got from this. And why do you think she wrote it the way that she did? (Does she use any literary devices, language devices, etc.–why?)

Huck Finn Reading and Questions Assignment: Read chapters 8-11 and complete these questions on your log:

  • Chapters 8-11
  • 1.  What purpose(s) does Huck’s death serve?
  • 2.  How does Huck meet Jim on Jackson’s Island?  Why is Jim there?
  • 3.  What is in the two-story house that floats by?
  • 4.  How are the townspeople superstitious? Jim? Huck?  Give examples.
  • 5.  Compare/contrast Huck & Jim.
  • 6.  Why does Huck dress as a girl to go ashore? Why does he go? What does he find out?
  • 7.  How do you know Huck and Jim are friends by the end of Chapter 11?

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