Critique of Southern Depiction used in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn A common question while reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is if the South was really as it was depicted in this novel. A topic that was quite common in criticisms was the portrayal of speech in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The appropriateness of the language in Huckleberry Finn was widely debated as well as the question of if people actually talked like that in the South.
While researching many criticisms, it seems that there were a variety of opinions on just how well Twain depicted the South in his most controversial novel. The Boston Daily Globe had questioned Twain’s use of language. Its brief comment on the book stated: Mark Twain makes the hero of his new book tell the story in what is supposed to be a boy’s dialect. On the very second page this “low-down”, uneducated urchin is made to say “commence”, where any boy, especially if he hadn’t been to school, would have said “begin”. The less education, the more Anglo-Saxon, and, generally, the better grammar.
Mark ought to know this. (4) When pointed out it seems obvious that a young boy in those times would not have a vocabulary such as Huck s. This is an example of how Mark Twain did not create the perfect picture of what life was really like. Ironically, the San Francisco Evening Bulletin, which attacked Huckleberry Finn considerably, praised the use of dialects in it, saying that “The author turns his knowledge of Western dialects to account (1). The Hartford Courant said, “And the dialects of the people, white and black – what a study are they; and yet nobody talks for he sake of exhibiting a dialect (2).
In my opinion, what this critic is trying to say is that Twain succeeded in showing the different dialects of the people, without making it obvious that was what he was doing. The San Francisco Chronicle commented that, “in regard to the dialect it surpasses any of the author’s previous stories in the command of half dozen species of patois which passed for the English language in old Missouri” (6). The argument that the book portrayed Southwestern life faithfully was used in many of the positive criticisms,whereas it rarely appeared in negative criticisms.
It seems as if most critics considered this a positive aspect of the book. The San Francisco Chronicle said, “It is a more minute and faithful picture of Southwestern manners and customs fifty years ago than was “Life on the Mississippi” (6). And the Century commented that, “every scene is given, not described; and the result is a vivid picture of Western life forty or fifty years ago… The book is a most valuable record of an important part of our motley American civilization” (Perry 171-72). The Hartford newspapers also praised this aspect of Huckleberry Finn.
The Daily Times said, “Mr. Clemens describes things as they really were, in Missouri – and as they still are, to a somewhat modified extent; and this book is as good as a trip through all the regions which it treats” (4). New York did not have much to say about this aspect of the book. Only the Sun said “we get no end of stirring incident, river lore, human nature, philology and fun (17). In conclusion you can clearly see that many critics had different ideas on how well Mark Twian depicted the South, while incorportating his Western ideas. Some claimed that he showed Missouri as it was and still is, and its seems the main problem in the realism is the language used.