Tuesday, March 3, 2009

14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Mark Twain

Published: 1884
Rating: Well....I'm glad I finally read it, but it's not on the top of my favorites list...
Read: With 8th grade class, Jan/Feb, 2009
Audio by Recorded Books
Reader: Norman Dietz
10 discs, 11.75 hours

This is not the cover of the book I read. Can't find it anywhere, but I did discover there are literally hundreds of different editions of this book.

Bildungstroman (coming of age), slavery, racism, prejudice, superstition, morality, honesty, voice, humor - all have a huge part in the story.

Set on the Mississippi River in 1840, twenty years before the Civil War, Huck Finn gets tired of being "civilized" by the kindly woman who has taken him in. He escapes from his drunken no-good father and sets off, with a runaway slave named Jim, down the river about 1200 miles. Together they have one adventure after another. That's the basic plot. But....

There are two things that a reader has to get past. First, the dialogue, especially Jim's, is really difficult to understand. I had the kids read it aloud to themselves. They finally got the hang of Huck's speech, but never fully got 'hold of Jim's. It was easier when I found an unabridged CD and we listened, although the speaker seemed to be an older man and that made it a bit disconcerting.

And secondly, the word nigger. Hundreds and hundreds of times. I really tried to put it out of my mind, but there it was, constantly. Eighth graders are still pretty impressionable. I hope they didn't get desensitized to the word. It makes me shudder. So I got past the first, but not the second. And I hope I never do.

We had some pretty decent conversations. I know a lot of the kids skimmed, some didn't read at all, some read the Cliff Notes from cover to cover...more than once. A couple actually read the entire book. But I feel I spent two months on a book that they - at least this particular group of kids - should have waited a couple more years before reading. Not my call. Not my call at all.

I purchased this Disney movie, sight unseen, hoping that it would help some of the kids that were having difficulty understand the story a little better. It's not a very good movie. There WAS a lot of conversation flying around the classroom about the many, many departures the movie made from the book - they picked up a lot that surprised me. They loved that Elijah Wood (aka the Lord of the Rings guy) played Huck and that Hagrid played either the Duke or the King. But we only watched bits and pieces and I won't use it if I have to teach this book again.

All in all, a very unrewarding personal and professional read.

1 comment:

A student said...

I am geuinely suprised that you didn't review Huckleberry Finn so highly. I agree with the review, but I thought that you enjoyed this book more.