Sunday, October 26, 2008

Updike on Huck Finn

As [Jane] Smiley could have foreseen, a host of professors and critics, mostly male, rose to defend Huck, already under heavy siege from black parents and school authorities offended by the book’s anarchic spirit and liberal employment of the word “nigger.” Yet it is impossible, at least for this reader, to dip into the first half of the book without being seduced by the informal beauty of the boy narrator’s voice and the natural, easy density of the realism. Religion, in Huck’s mouth, melts to a joke, and nature, heedless and carefree, takes over the canvas. America has never looked as broad, fresh, and majestic as the Mississippi does from Huck and Jim’s raft. No wonder Hemingway, who was always looking for the secret of keeping prose honest, went overboard.

Huck Finn is a marvellous book. Short-sighted and foolish people see it as racist because they cannot see beyond its use of language or attempt to understand its message. Those who seek to ban it on grounds of racism do a great disservice to the important humanist struggle for decency and equality.

And, on religion, Updike - an essentially religious man - captures precisely the pomposity-pricking nature of Huck's take on matters religious.

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