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Victoria Olsen Posts

Knowing Huck

You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.  That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly.  There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth.  That is nothing.  I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary.  Aunt Polly–Tom’s Aunt Polly, she is–and Mary, and the Widow Douglas is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before. –chapter 1, first paragraph

You don’t know much, in other words, but what do you know right away about this boy?  He “ain’t” schooled, but he can and does read.  You don’t know his name,  but he “names” a book he’s in and its author, though you may know “Mark Twain” is a pseudonym for a Mississippian named Samuel Clemens.  He names other characters and assumes you know them.  He is obsessed with truth and “stretchers.”  He repeats himself, and he suggests already that this book will too: repeat characters, repeat locations, repeat phrasings, and repeat plots, moving in a circular journey back to what he “said before.”  In fact, the last sentence of the book is “I been there before.”  There it is: the whole of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in this first paragraph, all told without you “knowing” it.

What else do you see in this opening paragraph that forecasts what is to come?  Why does Twain name three women who barely figure in the plot?

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