6 thoughts on “irony

  1. Carol Hay

    One of my professors described Huck’s predicament as “A sound heart and a deformed conscience.” He didn’t make this up as it is searchable on the Internet. It describes someone whose heart is sound and morally correct vs. a society that has inculcated him in the belief that what they teach — however immoral — is the correct thing to follow. If society says slavery is right and proper and someone goes against this they think they are doing the wrong thing and can feel guilty about it.

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  2. Carol Hay

    This is such a touching section from chapter 23 of “Huck Finn.”

    This really shows Jim’s humanity and when I read this section aloud to my classes they would be so moved and touched and I swear some even had tears in their eyes!

    I went to sleep, and Jim didn’t call me when it was my turn. He often done that. When I waked up, just at daybreak, he was setting there with his head down betwixt his knees, moaning and mourning to himself. I didn’t take notice, nor let on. I knowed what it was about. He was thinking about his wife and his children, away up yonder, and he was low and homesick; because he hadn’t ever been away from home before in his life; and I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks does for their’n. It don’t seem natural, but I reckon it’s so. He was often moaning and mourning that way, nights, when he judged I was asleep, and saying, “Po’ little ‘Lizabeth! po’ little Johnny! its mighty hard; I spec’ I ain’t ever gwyne to see you no mo’, no mo’!” He was a mighty good nigger, Jim was.

    But this time I somehow got to talking to him about his wife and young ones; and by-and-by he says:

    “What makes me feel so bad dis time, ‘uz bekase I hear sumpn over yonder on de bank like a whack, er a slam, while ago, en it mine me er de time I treat my little ‘Lizabeth so ornery. She warn’t on’y ’bout fo’ year ole, en she tuck de sk’yarlet-fever, en had a powful rough spell; but she got well, en one day she was a-stannin’ aroun’, en I says to her, I says:

    “‘Shet de do’.’

    “She never done it; jis’stood dah, kiner smilin’ up at me. It make me mad; en I says agin, mighty loud, I says:

    “‘Doan’ you hear me?- shet de do’!’

    “She jis’ stood de same way, kiner smilin’up. I was a-bilin’! I says:

    “‘I lay I make you mine!’

    “En wid dat I fetch’ her a slap side de head dat sont her a-sprawlin’. Den I went into de yuther room, en ‘uz gone ’bout ten minutes; en when I come back, dah was dat do’ a-stannin’ open yit, en dat chile stannin’ mos’ right in it, a-lookin’ down and mournin’, en de tears runnin’ down. My, but I wuz mad, I was agwyne for de chile, but jis’ den- it was a do’ dat open innerds- jis’ den ‘long come de wind en slam it to, behine de chile, ker-blam!- en my lan’, de chile never move’! My breff mos’ hop outer me; en I feel so- so- I doan’ know how I feel. I crope out, all a-tremblin’, en crope aroun’ en open de do’ easy en slow, en poke my head in behine de chile, sof’ en still, en all uv a sudden, I says pow! jis’ as loud as I could yell. She never budge! Oh, Huck, I bust out a-cryin’ en grab her up in my arms, en say, ‘Oh, de po’ little thing! de Lord God Amighty fogive po’ ole Jim, kaze he never gwyne to fogive hisself as long’s he live!’ Oh, she was plumb deef en dumb, Huck, plumb deef en dumb- en I’d ben a-treat’n her so!”

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  3. Pete Smith

    I always thought Huck Finn was by far the best American novel ever written; I haven’t read this passage for many years so thanks for sharing. And keep in mind that this book has been banned many times, most recently for the use of the term “nigger”, which with Twain’s masterful prose becomes a kind of compliment to Jim (in my view).

  4. Roger W. Smith Post author

    I would say that “Moby-Dick” is the best American novel, but certainly “Huck Finn” ranks up there (perhaps number two?) and you are not necessarily wrong.

    “Huck Finn” is written in the first person in the vernacular and it is a boy’s talking. Twain had a genius this. Huck speaks with earnestness, like a boy of his age and temperament might (would, probably), making all kinds of trangressions when it comes to refined or polite English. That’s the way all Southerners (white people) talked then. To back have them saying “colored folks,” “Negroes” or “blacks” would have diminished the book’s truthfulness in reflecting the common speech, epithets, etc. of a past time. The good for nothing members of the crew in “Treasure Island” don’t talk like choir boys either.

  5. Roger W. Smith Post author

    Thanks for sharing. Carol Such a moving passage. We exrperience Jim’s capacity for empathy. And, we see Twayne’s perfect ear and gift for dialogue.

  6. Roger W. Smith Post author

    “A sound heart and a deformed conscience.” I don’t agree, Carol, but it may be simply a question of semantics that I am quibbling about. But I guess what is meant is that …

    Well, anyway, the brilliant irony in the passage is this. On the surface, Huck thinks it it his duty to turn Jim in because that is the law and what his elders and respectable whites would tell him to do. He resolves to follow this “moral imperative.” But like a sinner who can’t forsake a bad habit or bad ways, he can’t quite bring himself to do what he “ought” to do. He thinks of Jim’s kindnesses to him. He has “allowed himself” to see Jim as — and to care for Jim as — a person and fellow human being. So, he says to himself, i will be condemned and socially ostracized if anyone finds out that I knew where Jim, a runaway slave, was and did not turn him in. But, damnit. if that’s the case (which he knows it is), he will sin and go to hell, take the consequences.

    Of course, what Twain knows and thinks, as we do, is that Jim’s “sin” amounts to acting with the highest degree of humanity, as Christ or Albert Schweitzer would ordain. “Huck Finn” is anything but a racist book. (And, I am not saying that you were saying or implying that.)

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