When I read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, I thought it was a kind of fun boy’s adventure, but noting really amazing. I didn’t quite understand why it had come to be regarded so highly, and when I stared reading the sequel, I was expecting it to be something very similar. As it happens, I was very wrong. While there is some of the same sense of humour as the first book, it’s a much darker and edgier read overall.
Right at the start, you know it’s going to have a very different tone, because it’s about Huck’s plans to get away from his abusive father. Along the way, he’s joined by a man named Jim, an escaped slave, and the two of them try to avoid the authorities while on the run, getting into all sorts of scrapes along the way. Some of these are slightly more light-hearted encounters, similar to the first book, but amidst it all you’ve got a lot of really intense drama. I felt sorry for Huck, because it’s going to take him a long time to get over all that childhood trauma.
I don’t want to spoil anything, but besides Huck being abused by his father, this book features quite a lot of violence. A few people are killed quite brutally, and in front of Huck too. One part of the story sees Huck caught up in a family feud, which has come to the point of bloodshed. He also watches someone else get gunned down in cold blood too at another point too. It really rattled me at times, and it’s funny to me that this is a book for children. Perhaps I’m just more sensitive as an adult, and if I’d read it when I was younger, I’d have been more nonchalant about the violence.
Despite Mark Twain saying at the start of the novel, that there’s no meaning behind what he writes, it seems pretty obvious that it’s anti-slavery, at very least. Jim is shown to be a sympathetic character and Huck ends up working hard to keep him from being enslaved again. For this, I admire it, but at the same time, Jim feels like he’s a bit of a stereotype, and is often the butt of the joke. My feelings towards it are quite mixed, because it was obviously fairly progressive for its time, but it also hasn’t aged well. There are also a lot of slurs tossed around casually (even by Huck) which might be uncomfortable for some readers, but I think it serves well as an accurate reflection of the attitudes when it was written.
Overall, I really enjoyed this novel. I never knew what was going to happen next, and because Huck and Jim were always on the move, it means that you get to meet lots of different characters as it goes along. While I do think it’s better than The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, I do partially think that my enjoyment of this book stems from standing on the shoulders of what preceded it. Huck’s harrowing experiences are more pronounced following the romp of the last book and it works well in the sense that it’s showing life getting harder as he grows older.