Huckleberry Finn’s ending? Psychology and artistic interpretation from Sci Am Blogs

This article, offering a psychological take on the problematic ending of Huck Finn, rolled up in google reader and made for an interesting distraction this afternoon. I have long agreed with the critical viewpoint that the ending of the novel is a complete mess, and that as a result the work as a whole lacks coherence. This article asserts that as an accounting of actual behavior, Twain is remarkably in keeping with our understanding of humans.

Is Huckleberry Finn’s ending really lacking? Not if you’re talking psychology. | Literally Psyched, Scientific American Blog Network.

But that highlights an interesting tension. If we take the psychological reading here as literarily relevant, then the central message of the novel becomes something like “people can overcome culturally problematic issues, such as racism, but only temporarily, and when confronted with old contexts or cues (Huck is reunited with Tom Sawyer) will probably revert to being jerks.” As a statement of human behavior I can’t disagree, and from what I know of Twain he might not either.

Of course, what we often want from art (especially the art we hold up to young people as iconic or emblematic of the ‘best’ we can be) is something different. We want the hopeful message. We want to know that Huck could change. So we have discounted the ending of the novel because it didn’t fit that interpretation.

At the risk of engaging the intentional fallacy, we want to believe that an artist like Twain was trying to give us the more hopeful view, and then we’re thrown off when the ending doesn’t support that view. What if he wasn’t being hopeful at all? Or, what if I just read the end of the book as it is, and make sense of that?

There are a raft of arguments about how we should or should not be teaching this particular novel, and I’m not going into them here. But if I end up engaging it in a class again (it has been a while since I taught this book), this article adds something interesting to my consideration of the work.

I haven’t posted much recently because frankly I have been in a pretty dark mood (and the electioneering hasn’t helped). Twain was pretty dark too, and that never stopped him, but he was good at dark and funny- I’m not really feeling the funny right now. So I’m throwing this up in lieu of all the other junk rattling in my head because all that feels like a dark and moody rant about the end of civilization as we know it.

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One Response to Huckleberry Finn’s ending? Psychology and artistic interpretation from Sci Am Blogs

  1. andrewjoyce says:

    The last time you heard of me and Tom was in that book Sam Clemens wrote telling of when Jim and me flowed down the Mississippi and met up with the King and the Duke. Then Jim got captured and Tom and I had to set him free. Of course, Jim was already a freed man; Tom just neglected to mention that fact during the planning stage.

    Well, we were twelve years of age when Sam wrote about that. Now Tom and I are a mite older and a lot of water has gone under the bridge since then. One thing is that we’re a little bit smarter than we were. We’ve been reading a lot of books and our English has improved a little. But it wasn’t just books. Both Tom and I have traveled many miles, not always together, and travel broadens one’s outlook on life.

    We went from being children to men before we knew it. Tom and Becky Thatcher never got married like everyone expected. In the summer of ’54, Becky ran off with a drummer. I think he sold women’s corsets, but of that, I am not certain. We haven’t heard from her since. Judge Thatcher and Tom’s Aunt Polly both took sick and died the next year when the Cholera epidemic passed through town. Two years after that, the widow Douglas died; the doctor said it was heart failure.

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