Thursday, April 14, 2016

Mark Twain piles up stuff - The statements was interesting, but tough

Let’s move the interior decorating and furniture theme to the United States.  Huckleberry Finn has been locked in a forest cabin by his abusive, drunken Pap.  He has sawed his way out, though, and is furnishing a canoe, unfurnishing the cabin:

I took the sack of corn meal and took it to where the canoe was hid, and shoved the vines and branches apart and put it in; then I done the same with the side of bacon; then the whisky-jug.  I took all the coffee and sugar there was, and all the ammunition; I took the wadding; I took the bucket and gourd; I took a dipper and a tin cup, and my old saw and two blankets, and the skillet and the coffee-pot.  I took fish-lines and matches and other things – everything that was worth a cent.  I cleaned out the place.  I wanted an axe, but there wasn't any, only the one out at the woodpile, and I knowed why I was going to leave that.  I fetched out the gun, and now I was done.  (Ch. 7)

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885) is a material novel, more purely concerned with things than almost any American novel of the time, up there with Moby-Dick.  I read this passage, and the entire surrounding episode, with fascination as a child.  I could not guess how many times I read this chapter, which is only about thirty pages into the novel, and a natural place to stop, apparently.

Did I read other similar passages with similar interest, say where Robinson Crusoe scavenges the wrecked ship, a scene that Mark Twain is inverting?  I most surely did.  Or how about the end of Huckleberry Finn, where Huck and Tom Sawyer dig into Jim’s cabin and fill it with garbage, parodying his own earlier scene?  “I did wish Tom Sawyer was there,” Huck says back in Chapter 7.  He eventually gets his wish.

Here we find the hidden key to the aesthetics of Wuthering Expectations.  Piles of stuff, please.

The other great household goods scene is in Chapter 17, when Huck describes the luxurious house of the feud-ridden Grangerfords.  “Nothing couldn’t be better,” he says.  The door has a doorknob.  There is a clock with “a big outlandish parrot on each side of the clock, made out of something like chalk, and painted up gaudy.”  A patriotic table cloth from Philadelphia.  A “little old piano… that had tin pans in it, I reckon.”  Books, of course, including a Bible and

“Pilgrim’s Progress,” about a man that left his family it didn’t say why.  The statements was interesting, but tough.  [Accurate!]

Best known are the pictures by a deceased daughter, the proto-Goth Emmeline Grangerford, which ranged from melancholy absurdism to Lovecraftian nightmare.  “These was all nice picture, I reckon, but I didn’t somehow seem to take to them, because if ever I was down a little, they always gave me the fan-tods.”  How many times have I read this chapter?  “It was very good poetry…  If Emmeline Grangerford could make poetry like that before she was fourteen, there ain’t no telling what she could a done by-and-by.”

This perfect home, with its fancy doorknob and clock and so on is maintained by slave labor and is inhabited by a family of bloodthirsty sociopaths.  There’s an argument, an ideology, in that furniture.

2 comments:

  1. my gramma used to use that word, "fantods"; still don't know exactly what it means, or rather is supposed to signify. the secret Mark Twain: hidden under the humor is often found bitter social comment. or so i've observed...

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  2. The creeps, the jitters, the nervous nellies.

    As to the bitter social comment under the humor: hoo boy, yes. Huckleberry Finn is, as we say now, dark.

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