Been There, Done That An essay about Mark Twain’s criticism of Romantic ideas in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain warns that Mimi can’t depend on your Judgment when your imagination is out of focus. “(Mark Twain) Twain believes that a lack of creativity and imagination limits one’s ability to reason. He argues that this is especially true of nineteenth century Romantics, who are plagued by their dependence on tradition and a lack of original subject matter. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain criticizes the Romantic ideas and values of Southern society.
He accuses romantics of overvaluing tradition and criticizes romantic obsession with morbidity. Twain believes that Romantics place too much emphasis on the way things have been done in the past. He demonstrates this through the character Tom Sawyer, who embodies the ideas and beliefs of Romanticism. When Tom forms his gang, he refuses to listen to any criticism of his plans. When people do question his ideas, he justifies them by saying, “Don’t I tell you it’s in the books? Do you want to go to doing different from what’s in the books, and get things all muddled up? “(9) Tom refuses to tray from what other people have done.
He never actually gives any good reasons for why his plan will work, he simply Justifies it through saying that it’s been done before. Twain criticizes Romantics of letting their reliance on tradition limit their ability to come up with a practical plan. This is evident when he refutes Husks grievances with his plans to free Jim. Tom is attempting to come up with a way to give Jim a rope ladder. When Houck explains that Jim has no use for a rope ladder, Tom rolls his eyes, saying,”He’s got to have a rope ladder, they all do Houck, you don’t ever seem to want to do anything that’s regular, you want to be starting something fresh all the time. (240) Tom’s reasoning for needing a rope ladder is simply that “[the authorities] all do”. Twain makes it clear that this does not change the fact that Jim doesn’t need a rope ladder, especially since the initial plan was to dig Jim out. Through this exchange, Twain emphasizes that sticking to conventional approaches does not guarantee success. Also, Tom criticizes Houck for wanting to “start something fresh”, rather than following the normal way of doing things. Twain utilizes irony to emphasize that Romantics frown upon innovation and ingenuity.
Husks ideas, while not conventional, work much better than Tom’s; however, Tom criticizes Houck for straying from the traditional approach. Twain also criticizes Romantic dependence on tradition through the Exaggerators, a wealthy aristocratic family Houck spends time with after he is separated from Jim. The Exaggerators’ lives revolve around a feud with the Shepherdess that has been going on for years. When Buck Grandfather tries to kill a Shepherdess, however, Houck is confused as to why Buck would want him dead. Buck explains that “[the
Shepherdess] never done nothing to [him]” and that he only wanted to kill him “on account of the feud. “(107) Buck does not really understand why the feud continues, but he doesn’t care. He doesn’t even have a good understanding of how it started, he only knows that “there was trouble about something’, and then a lawsuit to settle it; and the suit went against one of the men, and so he up and shot the man that won the suit. “(108) The Exaggerators only continue the feud because they’ve never known anything different.
They are unwilling to cast off the tradition despite the fact that it has been wholly illogical. Twain argues that Romantics are so bound to tradition that they cannot come up with a reasonable plan. The logical thing for the Exaggerators to do would be to attempt to end the fighting; however, this never crosses their minds because they are so caught up in the age old feud. Like Tom Sawyer, the Exaggerators do not allow themselves to think beyond tradition; Tom never strays from the books, and the Exaggerators never stop to think that their feud is impractical.
Twain shows that dependence on tradition Just limits one’s ability to reason. Twain also criticizes Romantic obsession with morbidity. He shows this through Melamine Grandfather, the deceased daughter of Colonel Grandfather. Melamine was a terrific artist, but she only depicted dark subject matter in her paintings. Houck notes that while her art is good, it is “blacker, mostly than is common,” and that it “[gives] him the fan-toss. “(101) Twain uses Husks naive point of view to make this section humorous.
Houck doesn’t really understand the paintings, and he mostly Just echoes his hosts’ reverence for the artwork; however, he privately admits that they make him feel uneasy. Twain uses this humor to mock the source of Romantic obsession with morbidity: sentimentalism. Sentimentalists of the nineteenth century depicted scenes of distress and grief, and their works were intended to provoke emotions rather than rational thought. The titles of Melamine’s paintings all have ridiculous names such as “Shall I Never See Thee More Alas”, and “And Art Thou Gone Yes Thou Art Gone Alas. (101) Twain repeats the word alas in all of the titles to indicate a lack of ingenuity. Twain argues that sentimental writers and artists of the nineteenth century are so preoccupied with death and sadness that they cannot come up with anything original. The second title is especially humorous; it is essentially a question that is answered with the exact same wording as the question, all within the title of a painting. Twain despises sentimental works and obsession with morbidity because they discourage innovation.
Twain also believes that Romantic obsession with morbidity has gone so far that Romantics have become desensitizing to tragic events. He demonstrates this when Colonel Sherbets shoots Bogs. After Bogs’ death, the townspeople are extremely eager to see what happened; Houck notes that people were “squirming and scrounging and pushing and shoving to get at the window and have a look. “(144) The unspoiled don’t even seem shocked by Bogy’s death. They are actually extremely excited that something happened out of the ordinary.
Twain criticizes that people could find someone’s death amusing. He argues that Romantics have become so engrossed by fantastical novels and stories that they are unfazed by real tragedy. The townspeople actually embrace the tragedy as a source of entertainment. When one man reenacts the shooting, the people “said he done it perfect” and then “got out their bottles and treated him”. (145) The townspeople encourage and compliment the actor, they don’t realize how insensitive he is being to Bogs, the victim.
Twain feels Romantics’ obsession with morbid subject matter has done nothing but harm to the American people. Romantic works have become hackneyed and unoriginal, while leaving people unfazed by death and sadness. Twain demonstrates that Romantics have an imagination that is “out of focus”; that is, Romantic ideas are old-fashioned and worn out. Romantics never stray from traditional approaches, and they have developed an unhealthy obsession with morbidity. Twain shows that Romantic ideology has grown outdated and obsolete, and that it has become impractical with time.