Cleo McNelly KearnsMay 20, 2023
Cleo McNelly Kearns on Mark Twain’s "Huckleberry Finn"
Book Talk 60
New Books Network 2023
Celebrated, censored, canceled: Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn cannot be avoided. William Faulkner called Twain “the father of American literature.” Toni Morrison explained that “the brilliance of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is that it is the argument it raises…. The cyclical attempts to remove the novel from classrooms extend Jim’s captivity on into each generation of readers.” Ernest Hemingway claimed “all modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn… There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since.” Ralph Waldo Ellison added that “Hemingway missed completely the structural, symbolic and moral necessity for that part of the plot in which the boys rescue Jim. Yet it is precisely this part which gives the novel its significance.”
I spoke with Cleo McNelly Kearns, author of a seminal essay on Jim’s role in the book, about Huckleberry Finn as a challenge and an opportunity for 21st-century readers to understand ourselves, our country, and our moral obligations more accurately.
Uli Baer teaches literature and photography as University Professor at New York University. A recipient of Guggenheim, Getty and Humboldt awards, in addition to hosting "Think About It” he hosts (with Caroline Weber) the podcast "The Proust Questionnaire” and is Editorial Director at Warbler Press. Email firstname.lastname@example.org; Twitter @UliBaer.