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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
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CHAPTER 22

NOTES:

If you haven't read much of Mark Twain's work, there's a good chance you have a misconception about him. To many people, he's a kind of lovable-old-uncle character who wrote great stories about a time when America was a lovely place to live in.

This image of Twain often comes from having seen movies about Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn, movies made for a family audience and therefore heavy on virtue and traditional values. Movies like these aren't necessarily distortions of what Twain wrote; but they do show only part of the truth.

The aspect of Twain that most people know nothing about is the sharp, often bitter critic of human nature. At his best, he packages the strongest criticism in humor, and makes us laugh even though we are the butt of the joke. But the humor would sometimes elude him, especially as he got older and as his life became more and more tragic. The result is often ugly, bitter comments about the human race that make you squirm as you read them.

And that's what you have at the beginning of Chapter 22. The mob goes to Sherburn's house, all full of noise and bravery. But the second he steps outside to face them, they inch back a bit. Then he makes a speech intended to shame not only the mob, but all of us, if Twain has his way.


This speech will show you what Twain could be like when he wasn't trying to be charming or funny. It may also give you a clue to why his wife disliked The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn so much that she tried to talk him out of publishing it.

There's one other thing the speech may do. If this side of Twain sounds interesting to you, the speech may whet your appetite for more of his thoughts on the subject. You'll find a lot of material in such works as The Mysterious Stranger, The Diaries of Adam and Eve, and The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg.

When the mob disbands, Huck sneaks into a circus that's in town. We've been saying a lot about how smart Huck is, and how much wiser he is than most of the people he knows. This circus scene is a good reminder that he is also a kid with a good share of naivete.

For someone who can see right through the two con men who have moved in with him, Huck is pretty easily fooled by the prearranged act he watches at the circus. Even when he finds out it was prearranged, he still believes that the ringmaster was fooled. In spite of everything he knows, Huck is still a simple kid.

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