Essay on From Huck Finn as Idol and Target, by Jonathan Arac

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I do not remember a time in my life when I was unaware of the existence of Huckleberry Finn. It feels as if he has always been, like a famous historical ancestor you are proudly reminded of at family gatherings. You can recite the major feats of their legendary tale but when you finally research the details of their history, you realize that it is in fact much different than what your relatives have told you over the years. American critics have applied this type of familial reverence to Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. They have christened it an All-American novel, despite the controversies it has sparked ever since the beginning of the 20th century, in that it wholly captivates the independence and bravado believed to be core values of this country. I feel that Jonathan Arac, in his essay “From Huck Finn as Idol and Target”, acknowledges a candid yet fundamental truth when answering the question as to why critics have continued to adamantly defend this controversial novel over the years.
Arac argues that Huck Finn is recurrently championed among critics because it has become a cultural idol. With this iconic reputation the novel is given an immense amount of literary power that allows its divisive content to still be debated almost 130 years after its publication. These debates are able to continue because there has been, as Arac writes, “A long tradition of using Huckleberry Finn as the basis for statements proclaiming what is truly American” (437). Consequently, those who reason that Huck Finn is not a suitable representation of American values are often deemed as un-American. This idolatry of Huck Finn is unique from other classic American novels because it has sanctioned the widespread use...

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...s the author’s, and in reading the sublime we are “uplifted,” “as if we had ourselves produced” what we hear or read” (454). I agree with Arac that this sublime feeling is partly responsible for Huck Finn’s idolatry. Most readers can relate to and respect Huck’s decision because they want Jim to become free and they want to believe that Huck is taking a conscience stand against a segregationist nation. However the reader fails to remember that, in the end, Huck’s revolt does not result in Jim’s freedom and that Jim has been free all along. It may seem then that the critics who staunchly defend the text are, in a sense, defending their own morality. This feeling of sublimity, coupled with an immense pride for America, is forever connected with the novel and this has inspired critics to defend it at all costs, like a devout worshipper does for their idol.

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