The Dumas Legacy

Most of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is classic for its literary and real world references and allegories; and so it is no surprise the most suspenseful section of the novel imitate works from French author Alexandre Dumas–the master of the adventure novel, whose works range from the renowned The Three Musketeers to The Count of Monte Cristo.

A string of Structuralism and Semiotics follows through Chapters 34 to 40; constantly are Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer comparing the prison escape attempts of fictional characters to their methods of springing Jim from the Phelps’ shed. Tom proposes one tactic: “…when…[Jim]wants to send any little…message to let the world know…he can write it on the bottom of a tin plate…and throw it out of the window. The Iron Mask always done that…” (Twain. 243); this of course referencing The Man in the Iron Mask (1848-50) by Alexandre Dumas; and a later reference to the Chateau d’If in The Count Of Monte Cristo (1845), “…look at one of them prisoners in…the Castle Deef, in the harbor of Marseilles, that dug himself out…” (Twain. 246).

The boys are using their fantastical minds to seek out ways to free Jim; however, the ideas they produce are generally more time consuming than a simpler form of action, pointed out by Huck as they are digging a hole with case-knives, “[t]his ain’t no thirty-seven year job, this is a thirty-year job…”(Twain. 247).  As with other children they are concerned with the undying glory and the shocked reactions gained from the captors–a classic trait of a couple of imaginative young boys hunting for recognition.

Adventures of the Dumas novels are paralleled nicely with the numerous imitating scenes–the flinging of the plate and the digging out of a hole with case-knives among others–and so contribute to the theme of young playfulness and naivety which pairs the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn next to such a book as The Three Musketeers, in which  young protagonist D’Artagnan is a naive musketeer fighting alongside his experienced partners who drag him out of constant trouble.

Think daily,

A Southpaw

Eating–A Study Of Vampirism

I like vampires.

I also like food; combine those two in such chapters as Nice to Eat with You: Acts Of Communion and Nice to Eat You: Acts Of Vampirism, and magic occurs…

In the 1980s Anne Rice was the undisputed master of the vampire genre; under her literary belt are such titles as Interview with the Vampire; The Vampire Lestat; and The Queen of the Damned; and those all are included in the Vampire Chronicles…an excellent trilogy, by the way; and not strictly about bloodsuckers.

In the opening to The Vampire Lestat, the titular vampire Lestat details his beauteous narcissism: “I’d step into the solar lights before the cameras…reach out and touch with my icy fingers a thousand warm and grasping hands…[and]…I’d lead them to the truth of it…” Lestat hungers for glory and recognition; but neither of those keep him living–it is the blood of his fans which he needs, and the attention of his fans which he desires.

The point: vampires are not base predators–rather they are sophisticated socialites  who classily pursue the cultural trends of a generation before draining them dry in the dead evening; of course it is easy to lure their victims–all they must do is dress currently and speak currently and live currently; the social tycoon offering more than money or a car ride…simply in the times.

All memorable monsters are reflections of ourselves.

Step once more into the dining room…this one is reserved for humans.

Communion, or perhaps the opposite, in dining is expressed brilliantly in The Dead by James Joyce, as cited by Foster; but for me there is the tense scene in the science fiction novel Dune by Frank Herbert–a quiet dinner between the Atreides Family and the Harkonnen Family on Arrakis.

I admire this scene because of its suspenseful air, the type that grabs you by the throat and squeezes tighter and tighter until the expulsion of pressure; however it is also key to uncovering the relationship between the families and the deceitful nature of each. At dinner are accusations and whispers and spies and tension and arrogance and secrets–so dearly this scene is remembered in my heart as complex; and complex for purposes of union, especially the lack thereof.

The families are biased towards each other and so eat dinner slowly, exchanging accusing statements in between chews. Neither family wishes to be near the other, hence their separated seating–one family member for every other chair. The eyes are watchful, yet their mouths are motionless; and their hands remain on the utensils until a disturbance summons the host away from that minefield and all are relieved their selfish hearts have not imploded.

Eating together can be discordant or unifying; but either way people are communing upon a solitary meal entirely void of the emotions, of benefitting or malevolent intent, sinking into its bare atmosphere.

Think daily,

A Southpaw




The Apple Falls Far From The Tree?

Pap Finn–the abusive father of Huckleberry Finn; not abusive in the sense of beatings, but rather a mentally insulting abuse: he was dealt a bad hand in life; his son was dealt a hand of triple aces; he wants to steal those triple aces out of his son’s hands and pass him a rotten deck. The same cards for each man. The same troubles for each man.

Huck’s cards, in this case, education and reading and writing, are to Pap a bunch of “…hifalut’n foolishness…” (Twain. 21). and all his son is accomplishing is “…puttin’ on frills…” (Twain. 22). He cannot stand to see his son best him–a universal reaction of fathers to their sons as their child grows beyond their mold to experience life personally.

Sons model themselves after their fathers. They are expected to see a role model in their parent, and when these expectations fall short what else does the father do than try to change himself in the eyes of his son; so the son can in turn turn over his own leaf and go out into society a responsible man, so says Pap Finn, “I’ll learn people to bring up a boy to put on airs…and let on to be better’n…his own father…” (Twain. 21).

This situation flips in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

To the casual reader it is clear Pap Finn loathes his son’s good fortune and his carelessness towards all things homely–the uneducated backwoods lifestyle of Pap Finn. He does so because of one reason: the widow, a woman who “…put[s] in her shovel about…things[s]…ain’t none of her business.” (Twain. 21). She has taught Huck how to read and write; how to be civilized; and how to speak grammatically correct; and since these qualities were not easily afforded to Pap Finn he is bitter about his turn of the cards and so pursues a nasty path of guilting his son into giving him liquor money.

Apply the symbiotic father-eat-son relationship to the current world and the first and most prominent example is immigrant families: a son is granted an education of higher standing than his father; the father is outraged at his spread of knowledge and good fortune; and both men argue over their expanded stances on life–a moment forever repeating in history.

Such is the same between Huckleberry Finn and Pap Finn. Once the son receives education and traces the shape of his corner of the world he wants to do all he can to escape; even if that includes leaving his father a duller man, which is how it appears to the latter.

All is indicative of Structuralism and Semiotics.

Think daily,

A Southpaw 




BEAUTIFUL IRONY! And Some White Whales…

What is one of the most popular symbols in classic literature?

Incidentally it is not a storm or a ray of sun; rather it is a large white whale, specifically Moby Dick, the titular star of Moby-Dick. Notice the emphasis on white? That’s because Herman Melville refers to the color almost thirty times in one chapter of his novel, meaning it to be the emptiness of all things–without color things lack substance…gravitas.

Let’s grab another symbol here–oh, by the way, this is courtesy of the chapter It’s My Symbol and I’ll Cry If I Want To. Here’s a good one: the vases in The Hunchback of Notre Dame. They are brought by Quasimodo to the towers of Notre Dame, one cracked and the other in unscathed; symbolic, of course, of the perception of beauty between Esmeralda and Quasimodo.

Many stories feature symbolism. Their presence better personifies a work and gives off a smoking literary attractiveness. Take To Kill A Mockingbird, the first book ever written by Harper Lee, and yet forty or so years later the story is still kicking because it has such purposeful symbols and themes in so tiny a novel. Then there is The Outsiders, with memorable bits of innocence gained and lost keeping it afloat from generation to generation.

Harry Potter has a symbol on his forehead!

Achilles has a symbol in his ankle!

Captain Ahab is wearing a symbol!

Symbols–here to stay forever long!

Now, let’s traipse over to irony…

Irony is the leftover crumble of crust on a sandwich, says Foster in Is He Serious? And Other Ironies, “…when what should happen doesn’t…”He cites examples from Hemingway and Burgess; and defines irony as simply…the unexpected. 

Such cases are at work in the stories of Douglas Adams, author of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, one of our best modern satires. From the Earth blowing up to the meaning of all life answered–it is 42–this is a comedic barnyard of irony; although in a first reading it is difficult to notice all uses of irony but to the trained reader.

Also read The Princess Bride for an irony stuffed plot…or watch the movie; either way an enjoyable experience and one you’ll be laughing equally hard at no matter the medium.

Think daily,

A Southpaw


Familiarity In A Woman’s World

Intertwining the backwoods war of the Grangerfords and the Sheperdsons is the  tale of a young woman poet and painter taken abruptly from her craft forever; she was Emmeline Grangerford and painted and sketched morose images of laboring women surrounded wholly by death–this is indicative of Gender Studies and Queer Theory.

This is how one of Emmeline’s paintings is described, “…a woman in a small dress…[and]…a large black scoop-shovel bonnet with a black veil…[and]…leaning pensive on a tombstone…under a weeping willow…” (Twain. 104). The present darkness parallels that of any painting by Goya–the grim atmosphere and the use of darker shades to convey hopelessness–and in paralleling Goya her painting is received with familiarity in technique by the reader.

In the early 1900s there was hardly familiarity in a woman’s world.

If a woman wished to be an artist she must then have published under a pseudonym, that, or found a company willing to cross a boundary in accepting her work. Notable exceptions are Mary Shelley and Virginia Woolf, among others; and of the two Shelley is renowned for the novel Frankenstein (1818) and its Gothic themes of death and rebirth, which were ideas still in foundation when she wrote the novel, and which many believed a woman to hardly be credited for.

Much neither changed nor improved up into the age of Emmeline Grangerford; and it is in this section that the reader must imagine the future of her works had she lived to publish them. Though they are connected aesthetically to works of Goya there is little in the book to suggest she had had much success in establishing her own artistic identity: “…[she] made poetry…when she was alive, and it didn’t seem right…there warn’t nobody to make some about her…” (Twain. 106).

Poor luck was unfortunately a taboo on women of the time. The closest they came to actual benefiting labor was in the household and, specifically, the kitchen; not until the beginnings of World War I in 1917 did they acquire a societal role.

Emmeline Grangerford is described as a prodigy, one that may have seen success later in her lifetime: “If [she] could make poetry like that before she was fourteen…ain’t no telling what she could a done by-and-by.” (Twain. 106). She is also symbolizes the struggling woman in the predominately male century of the 1900s.

Think  daily, 

A Southpaw  

Close Your Eyes To Read…

Shut your eyes a moment–not your actual eyes, your eyes–the glasses with which you look upon our modern world and say this is this and that is that. Shut those eyes and open the ones in the past, or the future–surprisingly you have multiple sets of eyes, but you don’t know how to use them.

A hint: reading.

An example: H.P Lovecraft, renowned horror story scribe but also a racist.

In his stories there are causal remarks to the vileness of black people; most of the time they are the bearers of bad news or the villains themselves in the stories. Also when Lovecraft was alive civil rights would not be a pressing issue for another hundred years; so white people were extremely opinionated on black people.

While Lovecraft may have been prejudiced most of his readers are not; and when they read a Lovecraft story they drown out the racist overtones in favoring the world in which we currently live, which is good practice, but not helpful to reading with your eyes closed; or as Foster calls it, “don’t read with your eyes…”

Take a second look at the racist overtones. There is evidence for their presence.

As said before the idea of civil rights was in its youth, the area of America where Lovecraft lived was a restrictive area; and as a socially awkward individual Lovecraft scarcely had connections with actual humans…

There is something now–that is evidence. Feels like taking a trip into his world a little. Are your eyes closed? You may open them now…yes, shut your copy of The Dunwich Horror…does Lovecraft’s racism seem more realistic?

Keep those eyes open for this next bit, a chapter called It’s Never Just Heart Disease…And Rarely Just Illness…certainly that produces some pondering; it has a tad philosophical turn to it.

Take The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka–an illness if not an inhibition. Everyone knows the story: the tirelessly laboring Gregor Samsa wakes up in his bedroom turned into a giant beetle overnight; this is a satirical commentary on the labor force and a stressful life.

Through the story Gregor is abandoned and ostracized by his parents and his boss and  his sister. He is beaten with brooms. His pincer is broken by a thrown apple. And at last he is kicked out of his house, where he dies in a garbage heap.

Sounds a depressing illness; but it is not an illness.

That’s contradictory, but bear with me and remember the social commentary, which, when expanded upon allows the reader to find an underlying message: the deterioration of an average working individual as he is continually stressed and literally beaten to the point of mortal exhaustion. It is death by overworking.

Think daily, 

A Southpaw





A Modernized Romeo and Juliet

In the sections prior to the meeting with the Duke and the Dauphin, specifically the conflict of Chapters 18 and 19, the story is taken to a backwoods war zone–the first family being the Grangerfords, and the second the Shepardsons; and who is stuck in the middle but poor Huckleberry Finn, who of course lands with the Grangerfords.

To start off there is a hint of the critical theory Structuralism and Semiotics in these chapters; it should be an obvious one–simply put, the American Civil War, which occurred several years before Mark Twain published his novel, but is nonetheless referenced covertly; as well a certain romantic tragedy penned by William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet.

The Grangerfords and the Sheperdsons are two feudal families killing off each member of the opposite clan, described by the Grangerford boy, Buck, as a feud, describing it to Huck–“…a feud is this way …man has a quarrel with another man, and kills him;…[the] other man’s brother kills him…and by-and-by everybody’s killed off…there ain’t no more feud…”(Twain. 110).  In the case of allegorical references this feud in the backwoods reflects the durational nature of the Civil War between the North and the South; then there is also the secretive romance to consider.

Love springs between two members of either family–Sophia Grangerford and Harney Sheperdson–in a manner that is kept under wraps until Huck delivers a secret note to Miss Sophia; one can notice a similar approach to the taboo romance in Romeo and Juliet, as either family comes from separate lifestyles and are judgmental of outsiders to their customs. Countering the ending of the play, however, in the novel the lovers live through their escape; and a bewildered Huck is informed by a black servant of their travels: “…run off to git married to dat young Harney Sheperdson…so dey spec’.”( Twain. 116).

As far the reader is concerned the lovers break free of their authoritarian families, which is as well the summation of Romeo and Juliet, seeing as how those lovers escape from the strictness of the living world into the realm of the peaceful dead.

To touch lastly on the feudal relationship between the families, much can be said about its parallel patterning to the Civil War–the warring families are silhouettes of the armies of the North and the South, and Colonel Grangerford is an imitation of President Lincoln, seen by his description: “[He]…was very tall and slim…and…had the thinnest kind of lips[;]…his forehead was high…” (Twain. 108). Obviously the Grangerfords represent the North; the Sheperdsons the South.

Think daily, 

A Southpaw

Blindness and Scars–Confessions of A Teenage Wizard

Okay, pop quiz, think of a deformed character in literature; most usually they are misunderstood and pitiful to read about–oh, their hurt makes you want to go up and hug them…from a distance, of course.

Your answers–ah, Quasimodo; exactly who Foster mentions in the opening lines of his chapter Marked For Greatness. Among such others as Oedipus and Richard III–wait, is that true? It says here Harry Potter is a deformed character. But, deformed characters are deformed because it speaks covertly about their personalities; let’s see…he has a scar given him by a dark wizard, and he is the Chosen One.


Let me steer this in a different direction now.

Ah, blind people, finally a topic that makes sense to this post. When I think of blind people I recall the blind judge in The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but surely he is only blind because of his character; unless his character is a symbol for justice, specifically Lady Justice, and as Quasimodo is not the most attractive of humans, is blind to illustrate the perceptions of beauty and ugliness.

This and more described in the chapter He’s Blind For A Reason, You Know. 

All right, I’m ready to tackle scars again…and other wounds.

Speaking of wounds, how about Frankenstein’s Monster? He is one big corpse, all stitched together with the limbs and skin patches of the deceased…ew, creepy.   Although, contrary to the Universal movies, the Monster is capable of speech and thought and profound emotion; if so, then, isn’t his stitched body symbolic of the world into which he has been zapped to life? A monster, or man, of, quite literally, the people?

Oops, I did it again.

Blindness–yes, of course, the horrid disorder which restricts sight; but can it also release a deeper vision within a character; for example, Neo, protagonist of The Matrix trilogy? Even though he is only blind for the last scenes of the third movie it is because he needs to see further, specifically further into the machine world to overcome it.

Now, for my last attempt: the wooden peg leg of Captain Ahab. It is a serious injury, and constantly he is blaming that darn white whale for the loss of his leg, more so for the loss of his sense of reality. Ahab is already a Biblical reference–he is a madman in the Bible, as well; and losing a piece of connection to his ever floating world reveals him as a complete lunatic unbounded by the restrictions of society.

There, a near perfect explanation–that didn’t take too long, did it?

Think daily, 

A Southpaw


Sex and Baptism–An Unusual Pair


It is a word expressing a multitude of things–mostly, well…sex.

But did you know eating greasy food is a form of sex? What about “fighting a dragon?”

Okay, so sex is a versatile subject…but also versatile is its use in literature. In the chapters It’s All About Sex… and …Except Sex examples are pulled from books like D.H Lawrence’s Lady Chatterly’s Lover and Anthony Burgess’s controversial A Clockwork Orange–granted, those are entirely separate instances of sex; in fact, most of the time, they aren’t even truly sex.

The books that are sex…we call those by their proper names–erotica.

Scenes coming to mind–ah, Dracula, for example, a Gothic novel with sexual and aggressive overtones; but being in the age before Freud there were no double meanings or lewd imagery in commonplace objects. The world simply had sex.  See, then Bram Stoker penned a scene in which Count Dracula fluttered into innocent Mina Harker’s bedroom, slit open his pale chest, and made her drink the blood–again, before Freud; but read this:

“…his right hand gripped the back of her neck, forcing her face down on his bosom.”

That, and the other vivid descriptions are implicating an action similar to sex, but this is far from it; in fact, you might see Dracula tarnishing Miss Harker’s vulnerability as a woman, and as well beginning her conversion into a vampire. Not only sex, see?

Taking a trip on to the opposite side of the spectrum, we find baptism, which, as it turns out, is symbolic of surviving a drowning, or when caught in a rainstorm emerging soaking in a new life…specifically, as a new person.

Here, some of my own examples,

The Shawshank Redemption: The movie or book I have not had the pleasure of seeing, but on the original movie poster there is a kneeling prisoner cheering amid pouring rain–now, guessing here, but I feel the prisoner has escaped Shawshank Penitentiary and chosen to do so on the night of a thunder storm; and freed from his chains he is splattered with water, maybe he is slightly submerged in it.

Moby-Dick: In the incredible last thirty pages of this novel as Captain Ahab and his crew are battling the Great White Whale, there appears a tropical storm which forms a    violent whirlpool. Once Ahab stabs Moby, completing his lifelong mission, his ship, the Pequod, is swallowed wholly by the whirlpool; and Ishmael, the lone survivor having emerged with newfound wisdom, writes his novel and spends the rest of his life warning passerby on the streets of “Manhattoes” about the dreaded white whales.

I thought it an especially interesting point, by far the most thought-provoking of his ideas. Rain as a form of rebirth…it has a nice touch.

By the way, pairing these two ideas together–not a coincidence.

Think daily,

A Southpaw






The Duke and the Dauphin, Or, the Liars

It has been close to a week since I wrote last of my dear friend Huckleberry Finn; and, while the story is finished, there remain some details to go over in these posts–for example, the duke and the dauphin, the two false royalties who stow away on to the raft halfway through Chapter 19, and who Huck refers to as “rapscallions.”

They are the worst rapscallions, and during their stay the reader cannot help but hope they are pushed from the raft, never to be seen again.  Drifting from town to town the two knuckleheads devise these grand schemes–a memorable trip into the “State of Arkansaw” features the spectacularly dreadful Royal Nonesuch, the largest attempt to swindle townspeople out of their money, but which also, later, has the largest comeuppance on the duo, in terms of feathers and tar.

A quote by Huck–“All kings is mostly rapscallions, as fur as I can make out,” describes the nastiness of those acting liars; and is simultaneously a generalization of the nature of royalty interpreted by Huck.

He has yet to see genuine royalty, and so his inexperience leads to generalizing, based perhaps on perceptions and inferences gathered from books he has read, either the kings of the Bible, or literary rulers, such as Tschezrezade in Arabian Nights. 

Of course, generalizing– in this case, globally generalizing–is a component of Structuralism and Semiotics. This theory plays a role here because generalization and stereotyping are the cooperating components of this novel; they work majorly behind the scenes, especially in the racial prejudice against Jim and the otherwise unnecessary black servant; it is  also to be heavily noted in the later sections in which Huck and Tom argue over the details of jail breaks learned from fiction and life.

Equally significant in these adventures is the scene in Chapter 29 when the duke and the dauphin, accused of identity theft–what a phrase to hear in those times–are told to sign their false names on a slip of paper, so the jurors can compare the signatures of the real brothers and the fakers. At the time a judicial measure like so was only beginning to appear in courts around the country; evidence related to individual markings, like fingerprints, was a new presence in the field of law.

Talk about ahead of its time.

These, and separate segments with the duke and the dauphin, ranging from fraud to aggression, are defining points in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, more so perhaps than lesser sections of the book, being a veritable gold mine of hidden information.

Think daily,

A Southpaw