It's interesting to compare my youthful and adult impressions of this book. When I read it as a child I was enthusiastic about the concept of a preadolescent running away from home, floating down the river and making it on his own. It was also my impression when reading it then that Jim was as young as Huck. I must have glossed over those clues in the book that clearly indicated that Jim was an adult. It's also a reflection of the attitude of the Antebellum South to refer to adult Negro men as "boy."
As an adult the most interesting feature of the book was its portrait of attitudes toward slavery in the Antebellum South. There was no apparent hint of doubt about their acceptance of the institution of slavery. This is supported by Mark Twain's own observation that nobody ever questioned the correctness of slavery in his presence when he was a young boy. I presume that if people from that time were able to comment on the book today they would say that the book exaggerates the strange activities of people from their era by crowding so many wild incidences into one story. On the other hand I think it could be argued that all stories told in the book (except for Tom Sawyer's stage directing near the end) are loosely based upon similar historical happenings.
It's clear to me that Mark Twain's goal in this book was to spin an entertaining yarn, and he had no intent of teaching a morals lesson about slavery. In the context of the late 19th Century readers he was successful. There is no record of criticism during the 19th Century finding anything racist about the book Huckleberry Finn. However, there were a number of critics that complained about the bad grammar and creative spellings used by Twain. The book was even banned from some libraries during the 19th Century because Huck Finn was a bad role model for young people. The objections to the book have changed in the 20th and 21st Century to focus on the issue of racism. Today the book is now sometimes banned because of its racist language. And indeed, the language is racist because the time being depicted was racist.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an example of a book that is better heard than read, provided a skilled narrator is doing the out loud reading. An Explanatory note written by Mark Twain at the beginning of the book states the following:"In this book a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri negro dialect, the extremest form of the backwoods South-Western dialect; the ordinary "Pike-County" dialect; and four modified varieties of this last. The shading have not been done in a hap-hazard fashion, or by guess-work; but pains-takingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech."
The audio book edition I listened to was published by The Audio Partners and is narrated by Patrick Fraley. The differences in speech dialect are well done by Mr Fraley. I may have laughed more at Fraley's various versious of the rural dialects than I did at Twain's humor.
Some of my favorite quotes from the book are as follows:
Description of sounds in the night for a little boy alone:"Then away out in the woods I heard that kind of a sound that a ghost makes when it wants to tell about something that's on its mind and can't make itself understood, and so can't rest easy in its grave, and has to go about that way every night grieving."
Description of life on a raft:"It's lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made or only just happened." ......... "We said there warn't no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don't. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft."
Description of being in a thunderstorm at night:"... and next, when it was just about the bluest and blackest - fst! it was a bright as glory and you'd have a little glimpse of tree-tops a-plunging about, away off yonder in the storm, hundreds of yards further than you could see before; dark as sin again in a second, and now you'd hear the thunder let go with an awful crash and then go rumbling, grumbling, tumbling down the sky towards the underside of the world, like rolling empty barrels downstairs, where it's long stairs and they bounce a good deal, you know.
Description of the effect of music during a religious revival camp meeting:"Music is a good thing; and after all that soul-butter and hogwash I never see it freshen up things so, and sound so honest and bully."
Explanation for the unethical behavior of a con artist who claims royal lineage: "All I say is, kings is kings, and you got to make allowances. Take them all around, they're a mighty ornery lot. It's the way they're raised."
The thoughts of Huck on being told by a young girl that she will pray for him: "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 Judus if she took the notion--there warn't no back-down to her, I judge." ..... "I hain't ever seen her since that time that I see her go out of that door; no, I hain't ever seen her since, but I reckon I've thought of her a many and a many a million times, and of her saying she would pray for me; and if ever I'd a thought it would do any good for me to pray for HER, blamed if I wouldn't a done it or bust."
Huck's anguish with his conscience for committing the sin of helping a runaway slave:"... a person's conscience ain't got no sense, and just goes for him anyway ..." "....All right, then, I'll go to hell."
The explanation for Jim's willingness to go along with Tom's crazy ideas:"Jim he couldn't see no sense in the most of it, but he allowed we was white folks and knowed better than him;"