I’ve been reading Huck Finn for English 202, and it’s a wonderful story, at least until Tom Sawyer gets involved. He’s aggravating and really drug the thing on longer than necessary. But since I’ve been reading a story through Huck’s voice and thought processes, I notice that I seem to think to myself sometimes with words he would use. It was the same way after watching a lot of Better Call Saul, I found I thought in the voice and likeness of ole Jimmy. Perhaps a dangerous activity. Twain anyway is sheerly a genius. He makes conversations like:
“I sha’n’t ever forget you, and I’ll think of you a many and a many a time, and I’ll pray for you too!” – and she was gone.
Pray for me! I reckoned if she knowed me she’d take a job that was more nearer her size. But I bet she done it, just the same – she was just that kind. She had the grit to pray for Judas if she took the notion – there warn’t no backdown to her I judge. You may say what you want to, but in my opinion she has more sand in her than any girl I ever see; in my opinion she was just full of sand. It sounds like flattery, but it ain’t no flattery. And when it comes to beauty – and goodness too – she lays over them all.
Anyway, the best scene in the whole book comes a little while later when Huck decides to do the “honorable thing” and write a letter back home to turn in his friend Jim, a runaway slave. He tries to pray away his guilt for harboring a slave.
Well, I tried the best I could to kinder soften it up somehow for myself, by saying I was brung up wicked, and so I warn’t so much to blame; but something inside of me kept saying, “There was Sunday school, you could a gone to it; and if you’d a done it they’d a learnt you that people that acts as I’d been acting about the nigger goes to everlasting fire.”
It made me shiver. And I about made up my mind to pray; and see if I couldn’t try to quit being the kind of boy I was, and be better. So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn’t come. Why wouldn’t they? It warn’t no use to try and hide it from Him. Nor from me, neither. I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come . . . It was because I was playing double. . . . I was trying to make my mouth say I would do the right thing and the clean thing, and go and write to that nigger’s owner and tell where he was; but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie – and He knowed it. You can’t pray a lie – I found that out.
So Huck writes the letter, and then his conscious is light as a feather. But then he gets to thinking about how Jim hasn’t ever done him any wrong, and how happy he’s always been for Huck’s help and company. So that it goes:
I happened to look around, and see that paper. It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, a sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: “Alright then, I’ll go to hell” – and tore it up.
Socrates thought that justice was really worth something if the just man developed a reputation for injustice – and kept on being just. When he did right, was viewed as wicked, and did right anyway. But I reckon even Socrates didn’t think to make a man consider himself unjust and still choose the right thing out of the justice in him. He’d of needed Huckleberry Finn for that.