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The Anti-Climactic Ending of Huckleberry Finn

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The Anti-climactic Ending of Huckleberry Finn

Many critics and readers discredit Huckleberry Finn on account of its final chapters, believing that the ending needs to be diminished, accounted for, or forgiven. The most heavily censured critique came from Leo Marx who articulated that the conclusion “jeopardizes the significance of the entire novel.”

Marx’s first target is Miss Watson, whom he refers as “the Enemy” whose action of freeing Jim is seen as Twain’s defeat to provide a more realistic escape for him. However, it needs to be noted that although Miss Watson was strict, she was not a brutal overseer. He was loosely supervised and was provided with enough liberty to earn his own money. Another thing to be highlighted is that Jim runs away even before Miss Watson has made up her mind. He tells Huck, "she gwyne to sell me down to Orleans, but she didn’t want to, but she could git wight hund’d dollars for me…I never waited to hear the res. I lit out mighty quick.” We don’t know whether she decided to sell Jim or not, but she definitely had an attack of conscience.

Marx's another complaint was that Huck and Jim are reduced to “comic characters” in the ending. He felt that once Tom reappears, Huck becomes his “helpless accomplice, submissive and gullible.”  Although Huck was in awe of Tom, he countered Tom’s ideas at practically every turn. Tom never attained Huck’s agreement until he has changed his arguments that accommodate Huck’s concept of practicality and reason.

Marx also scorns at the notion of Jim’s character degenerating into a “submissive stage-Negro.” This argument is challenged by David Smith who suggests that Jim possesses a “subtlety and intelligence which the stage- Negro allegedly lacks.” Jim’s first act upon capture was to expose the Duke and the King as fraudsters which requires an inclination towards revenge and not passivity. Furthermore, Jim too questions Tom’s machinations. For instance, he firmly resisted the idea of rattlesnakes: “ef you en Huck fetches a rattlesnake in heah for me to tame, I’s gwyne to leave, dat’s shore.” That being said, the timing at which Jim reveals the death of Huck’s father should also be examined. It was Pap alone keeping Huck from collecting his money and acquiring the desired free life. Jim unveiled this grim news only when there was no more danger of him being abandoned until then as a runaway slave he needed that white boy.

Marx also claimed that Tom’s elaborate preparation for Jim’s escape is “too fanciful, too extravagant; it is tedious.” However, T. A. Gullason holds a different view regarding this notion. He maintains that Twain’s main purpose was “to ridicule, in the manner of Don Quixote, as exemplified by Tom Sawyer, who lacks character, who is full of purposeless fun.” It could be argued that the absurdity of Tom’s plot is in itself a devastating comment on the society from which Huck is escaping. Tom’s cruel prank to free an already free man could be read as a bitter joke of the book which satirizes the Civil War.

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