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The Spiritualisation of Natural Landscapes in Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Spiritualisation of Natural Landscapes in Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Ann-Margaret Tomocik. Originally submitted for EN4419: American Fiction: Self and Nation, 1865-1939 at University of St. Andrews, with lecturer Dr Emma Sutton in the category of English Literature
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Ann-Margaret Tomocik. Originally submitted for EN4419: American Fiction: Self and Nation, 1865-1939 at University of St. Andrews, with lecturer Dr Emma Sutton in the category of English Literature

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
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12/31/2013

 
The Spiritualisation of Natural Landscapes in Mark Twain’s
 Adventures of  Huckleberry Finn
AbstractThe character of Huckleberry Finn is often typecast as the Emersonianembodiment of a being in total communion with nature. This transcendentalistcategorisation may have arisen from a tendency to view Mark Twain’s
 Adventures of  Huckleberry Finn
(1884) as romanticised pastoral fiction suffused with nostalgia for the antebellum past. Such a generalisation overlooks the uncanny preoccupation withdeath and isolation that largely characterises Huck’s experience of the natural world.Three notable passages from
 Huckleberry Finn
are examined: Huck’s morbidanthropomorphism of natural sounds after being reprimanded by Miss Watson inChapter One; Huck’s unusual, highly stylised expression of his surreal experienceaboard the raft with Jim in Chapter Nineteen; and the death ideation that definesHuck’s initial impression of the Phelpses’ farm in Chapter Thirty-Two. Whenconsidered in relation to the greater context of the novel and other writings by Mark Twain, it becomes increasingly clear that Huckleberry’s personal impressions of rurallandscapes reflect a complex interplay between his personal desire for companionshipand a sense of ‘lonesomeness’ intrinsic to spiritualised natural environments.1
 
This essay is a close reading of the following passages from Mark Twain’s
 Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
:Passage 1 — Chapter 1, parag. 8, p. 16Then I set down in a chair by the window and tried to think of somethingcheerful but it warn’t no use. I felt so lonesome I most wished I was dead. Thestars was shining, and the leaves rustled in the woods ever so mournful; and Iheard an owl, away off, who-whooing about somebody that was dead, and awhippowill and a dog crying about somebody that was going to die; and thewind was trying to whisper something to me and I couldn’t make out what itwas, and so it made the cold shivers run over me. Then away out in the woodsI heard that kind of a sound that a ghost makes when it wants to tell aboutsomething that’s on its mind and can’t make itself understood, and so can’trest easy in its grave and has to go about that way every night grieving. I gotso down-hearted and scared, I did wish I had some company. Pretty soon aspider went crawling up my shoulder, and I flipped it off and it lit in thecandle; and before I could budge it was all shriveled up. I didn’t need anybodyto tell me that that was an awful bad sign and would fetch me some bad luck,so I was scared and most shook the clothes off of me.Passage 2 — Chapter 19, parag. 2, p. 136And afterwards we would watch the lonesomeness of the river, and kind of lazy along, and by and by lazy off to sleep. Wake up, by and by, and look tosee what done it, and maybe see a steamboat, coughing along up stream, so far off towards the other side you couldn’t tell nothing about her only whether shewas stern-wheel or side-wheel; then for about an hour there wouldn’t benothing to hear nor nothing to see—just solid lonesomeness. Next you’d see araft sliding by, away off yonder, and maybe a galoot on it chopping, becausethey’re most always doing it on a raft; you’d see the axe flash, and come down —you don’t hear nothing; you see that axe go up again, and by the time it’sabove the man’s head, then you hear the
k’chunk!
 —it had took all that time to2
 
come over the water. So we would put in the day, lazying around, listening tothe stillness. Once there was a thick fog, and the rafts and things that went bywas beating tin pans so the steamboats wouldn’t run over them. A scow or araft went by so close we could hear them talking and cussing and laughing— heard them plain; but we couldn’t see no sign of them; it made you feelcrawly, it was like spirits carrying on that way in the air.Passage 3 — Chapter 32, parag. 1, p. 228When I got there it was all still and Sunday-like, and hot and sunshiny—thehands was gone to the fields; and there was them kind of faint dronings of  bugs and flies in the air that makes it seem so lonesome and like everybody’sdead and gone; and if a breeze fans along and quivers the leaves, it makes youfeel mournful, because you feel like it’s spirits whispering—spirits that’s beendead ever so many years—and you always think they’re talking about
 you
. Asa general thing, it makes a body wish
he
was dead, too, and done with it all.The following edition was used in this close reading:
 Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
 by Mark Twain (New York: Norton and Company, Inc., 1999). All quotations from
 Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
are also taken from this edition.Huckleberry Finn has been described as an inevitable hero ‘since he incarnates3

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