English / Does Huckleberry Have A Prayer?

Does Huckleberry Have A Prayer?

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Autor:  anton  18 December 2010
Tags:  Huckleberry,  Prayer
Words: 1647   |   Pages: 7
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Does Huckleberry Have A Prayer?

In Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, the concepts of prayer, religion, and spirituality are introduced early on in the novel, and their influence on Huck’s character and their role in the overall story is evident regardless of the theory of criticism that is employed for interpretation. A New Critic scours the text for conflicts, symbols, and resolutions while examining word choice in an effort to determine the literal meaning (Bressler 45-48). A Reader-Response Critic, particularly a subjective critic who advocates the reader’s worldview over the text, reads the text and then relies on her own past experiences to give it meaning (Bressler 67). When these practices are employed, the Reader-Response Critic and the New Critic find that prayer and religion are essential components in the development of Huck’s character as well as the perception of it.

Huck first mentions prayer when describing dinner at the Widow Douglas’s home. He explains that “you couldn’t go right to eating” because you had to wait until a prayer was “grumbled” (Twain 33). From the beginning, there is conflict involving prayer because it impedes on Huck’s desire to eat his dinner right away, and this gives Huck a reason to dislike the practice of praying. Huck never details exactly what the prayer states; he only refers to its “grumbling” sound, implying that he regards it as nothing more than discontented muttering. As a Sunday School teacher at a church, I have spent a lot of time with children who were just becoming familiar with praying. In the beginning, they often view it as a chore that is simply something that has to be done before a meal. However, unlike most chores, I have rarely seen a child dislike it, probably because they are in a clerical setting and have been told prayer pleases God. Huck, however, seems to be indifferent to praying and God, and I believe this is because he has not accepted them to be superior concepts like the children at my church have.

Huck’s disinterest in religion is again evident when the Widow Douglas tries to teach him about Moses and the Bulrushers. Though he was “in a sweat to find out all about him” (Twain 33), Huck loses interest as soon as he realizes Moses has been dead for a long time. Huck is concerned with the here and now, something that he can relate to, and because Moses lived eons before he did, Huck feels there is nothing to learn from him, as “he takes no stock in dead people” (Twain 33). A few children in my Sunday School class have the same attitude, but most of them appreciate the Bible and wish to learn its stories, even if they are thousands of years old. Their interest is again accounted for by their acceptance of God and their desire to know more about Him. Huck, however, has not accepted God and thus has no reason to mull over Him.

When Miss Watson tells Huck about heaven and hell, Huck’s reaction indicates that he does not comprehend God or the significance of His presence, which is what Miss Watson is so desperately trying to stress. Upon hearing about “the bad place” (Twain 33), Huck declares that he would like to go there, justifying his claim by expressing his desire to go somewhere else. This shows that while Huck may be oblivious to God and His legacy, he is not oblivious to the world around him or his own desires. He wants adventure, specifically adventure away from Miss Watson. When she tells him that she is going to heaven, Huck sees “no advantage in going where she is going” (Twain 33), and Huck resolves that “he wouldn’t try for it” (Twain 33). His aspiration for adventure is again evident when Miss Watson offers a bland description of heaven by telling that life there is simple and consists of nothing more than singing and playing a harp “all day long forever and ever” (Twain 33). Huck is not impressed at all by this, a strong indicator that he wishes his life to be multifaceted and spontaneous rather than simple and predictable. The prospect of heaven presents two conflicts, the first is being with Miss Watson and the second is facing an eternal unadventurous existence. Huck resolves these conflicts by deciding he will go to “the bad place” and enjoying the fact that Tom Sawyer will be there with him. As a Sunday School teacher, I have never had a child tell me that he or she wanted to go to hell, and I believe Huck’s decision is based solely on Miss Watson’s inability to put across the notions of heaven and God. She condescendingly tells Huck about heaven, pompously bragging that she will be going there, while failing to realize that Huck is simply not grasping the true significance of either the good place or the bad place. She is overlooking Huck’s desires and his belief in his own purpose, which is essential in fostering a relationship with God.

In the third chapter, Huck assumes an active role in prayer. For the first time, Huck tells of his own experiences praying, a practice Miss Watson encourages. “She told me to pray everyday, and whatever I asked for I would get” (Twain 39), Huck relays, but he finds that when he asks for material items, he does not always get them. When he asks Miss Watson to pray for the things he is praying for, she tells him he is a fool but refuses to offer an explanation why, and Huck is unable to figure it out on his own. Prayer again presents Huck with conflict, as it fails to help him obtain the things he wants, something he believes it is guaranteed to do. He also again finds conflict with Miss Watson, who condemns Huck for believing she should pray for materialistic things without offering any reason for her disapproval. This time, however, he gives prayer a second thought, as he takes time to think about it. He ponders why people are unable to improve their situations through prayer, a sign that he has accepted a concept of prayer, albeit a distorted one. Though a resolution is not fully reached at this point, it is evident that progress is being made, as Huck is becoming more open to the prospect of prayer. When I talk to children about praying, I assure them that they can pray for whatever they want while stressing that God will answer as He sees appropriate. Miss Watson fails to explain the relationship between God and prayer, something that Huck is unable to comprehend on his own. I feel Miss Watson segregates Huck and God, as she continues to fall short of truly explaining the concepts of religion.

The Widow Douglas is able to convey the principles of prayer and God more effectively than Miss Watson. When Huck cannot make sense of why people cannot obtain material things from prayer, he asks the widow who explains that praying results in “spiritual gifts” (Twain 40). When he does not understand, the widow elaborates, and eventually Huck comes to realize that he has to put other people first. Even though he decides there is no advantage in doing so, Huck is still open to the Widow’s ideas, mainly because she explains them. Listening as the widow describes God and comparing that depiction to the one Miss Watson relays, Huck concludes there are two different Gods. Conflict arises when Miss Watson demolishes the beautiful idea of God that the widow has relayed. This conflict is resolved when Huck chooses the widow’s God, and even though he doubts that God would want him because he is “ignorant” and “ornery,” Huck seems to be content with leaving whether or not he is accepted up to God. I believe the barrier between God and Huck increases because of Miss Watson. She continues to describe a God that is not just or loving, which is simply not how God is. Though I sometimes teach children who are mischievous, I always keep in mind that they are God’s children first and foremost, and my responsibility is to convince them of that to the best of my ability. By not teaching Huck that he is an important to God, Miss Watson continues to keep God and His legacy away from Huck.

Huck views prayer and religion as impediments because he has not been fully educated in their true significance. Two people, Miss Watson and the Widow Douglas, try to teach him about God and prayer, but they do so in different ways, which confuses Huck. He wants adventure but never recognizes that a life with God is an adventure. He wants to pray for things that are important, but he fails to understand that the important things in life are not materialistic. He wants to understand the things that Miss Watson is telling him, but she refuses to explain them to him. Huck struggles to ascertain a relationship with God because he is unable to acquire a sufficient understanding of Him. Because he does not immediately accept the concept of God, Huck is viewed as a burdensome troublemaker instead of a child of God, an inference that is evident to both a New Critic and a reader who has worked with young children like Huck.

Work Cited

Bressler, Charles E. Literary Criticism: An Introduction to Theory and Practice. Third

ed. Upper Saddle River, New Jersey: Pearson Education, Inc., 2003.

Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Ed. Gerald Graff and James Phelan.

Second ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2004.



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