A Twainese Digression


Revisiting a classic is strange.

Currently, I’m rereading ‘Huck Finn’ with my students. The redolent images captured from high school clearly don’t fill out this book. The hodge-podgy, pinball like story—one emulated far too often with unknowing protagonists shuffling into random, almost unconnected encounters—might be at fault here. But with ‘Huck,’ it seems more like a ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’ rife with allegory—although Twain’s yarn is a thousand times funnier than Bunyan’s religious trial. Hey! Some guys are religious.


Nonetheless, the overall moment that capitulated me into this digression began with the reuniting of Huck and Tom at the novel’s end. With Jim’s capture, both decide to help him escape from slavery, and Huck’s has a plan, clear cut and easy. But smart, well-read Tom sees it another way.

“Why certainly it [Huck’s plan] would work, like rats a-fighting. But it’s too blame’ simple; there ain’t nothing to it. What’s the good of a plan that ain’t no more trouble than that?”

Though this reminded me an awful much of every single young man I’ve ever known—myself included—Huck’s reaction is the STOP sign that hit me.

“He told me what it [Tom’s plan] was, and I see in a minute it was worth fifteen fo mine, FOR STYLE [my emphasis], and would make Jim just as free a man as mine would, and maybe get us all killed besides.”

Following this, Twain continued to roundhouse me in the head with the details. Despite being able to steal the key to free Jim, they had to dig him out. Never mind using shovels. Spoons were the order of the day. Style, clearly, takes time. And while they’re at it—toss in a moat. The more difficulty, the better. I could not believe how accurate all of this was.


Writers, artists, most everyone feels the pressure of it at some time or another. We use it to identify ourselves or, at the most, separate us from others, to be unique. But, when it comes to the practical things in life, maybe style isn’t so important.

After all, most of the time, style just seems like a euphemism for bureaucracy.


Then again, maybe I’m thinking too hard. Maybe Twain was just trying to make me laugh.


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