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Mississippi River As A Character

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NPS photo, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
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Like individuals, the Mississippi River has many defining characteristics

Hi. I’m Valerie a radio reader from Topeka and I wanted to share my thoughts about our second book which is part of this fall’s Radio Readers theme of “Rivers: Meandering Meanings”, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.

I’ve read Twain’s novels Tom Sawyer and the Prince and the Pauper in middle school and his short story the “Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” when I lived in California several years ago. I remember liking Twain quite a bit, but I’d never read Huckleberry Finn.

Hi. I’m Valerie a radio reader from Topeka and I wanted to share my thoughts about our second book which is part of this fall’s Radio Readers theme of “Rivers: Meandering Meanings”, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain.

I’ve read Twain’s novels Tom Sawyer and the Prince and the Pauper in middle school and his short story the “Jumping Frog of Calaveras County” when I lived in California several years ago. I remember liking Twain quite a bit, but I’d never read Huckleberry Finn.

I knew Twain was a Missouri native so having slaves in the story fit into what I knew. One of the main characters is a slave named Jim who travels down the Mississippi with Huck in a raft. The liberal use of the N-word and exaggerated dialect surprised me though which made me curious to learn more about the publication of the work.

What I learned was that the story was first published in the US in 1885. I also learned that I’m not the only person disturbed by what others have termed Twain’s “vulgarness”—the dialect and use of the N word. “Vulgarness” not withstanding, after I finished the book I was perplexed as to why this is considered a great American novel.

I could see where it would be entertaining when first published as the story of a very rambunctious boy who runs away and falls into many scrapes such as getting involved with a couple of (forgive the pun) hucksters. But to my modern tastes, I’ll admit it was difficult to finish the book and the only reason I did was because of this book club.

I will say that I did appreciate the Mississippi river as a character. Twain does an excellent job describing it in all of its nuances. Here’s a scene from early in the book, “I cleared out, the river bank. I noticed some pieces of limbs and such things floating down and a sprinkling of bark; so I knowed the river had begun to rise. . .The June rise used to be always luck for me; because as soon as that rise begins, here comes cord-wood floating down, and pieces of log rafts” (35-36).Here he’s showing how the river is functional for him—he would sell the wood at the local mill, but also exciting as he’d wait to see what new things would float down it.

Twain’s love for the river is visible through the eyes of Huck and I liked hearing how it was functional as well as scenic. I always finding the Mississippi majestic whenever I see it such as crossing at St. Louis or near its end in New Orleans. Here he describes sunrise on the river:

It was a monstrous big river down there-sometimes a mile and a half wide; we run nights, and laid up and hid day-times. . . Not a sound anywhere-perfectly still- just like the whole world was asleep, only sometimes the bull-frogs a-cluttering, maybe. The first thing to see, looking away over the water, was a kind of dull line-that was the woods on t-other side-you couldn’t make nothing else out; then a pale place in the sky; then more paleness, spreading around; then the river soften up, away off, and warn’t black any more, but gray. . .and you could see the mist curl up off of the water, and the east reddens up, and the river, and you make out a log cabin in the edge of the woods, away on the bank on t-other side of the river (137-138).

I’ll leave you with that imagery. Let me know what you think about the book, especially why it’s still so highly regarded. I’m Valerie, an HPPR radio reader from Topeka.

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Fall 2021: RIVERS meandering meaning2021 Fall ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
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