Monday, April 21, 2008

Light out

When Huck Finn reckoned he had to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, he was tired of having gone through the effort of making a book, beginning to have second thoughts about his association with Tom Sawyer, concerned about the potential consequences of being adopted by Aunt Sally, who was going to sivilize him, a thought he "can`t stand ," because "I been there before."

Having been acquainted with Huck since I was younger than he before his eponymous adventures, and having revisited him at least once during every subsequent decade of my life, I continue to find things in the arc of his activities that speaks to me as an individual, to me as a writer, and to me as someone who has fallen into teaching in much the same way Huck fell into his adventure with Jim, the runaway slave. This last time I approached his hegira not as someone who was drawn to think this was finally the book that would show me how to write fiction--although in many ways it already had--but as someone who was increasingly able to see the split in characters, the things that drive them often beyond their ability to contain within themselves the components that have forged them, made them what they are at the given moment of our investigation of them in action.

The Territory Huck is bent on lighting out for could very well be, ironically enough, the same California into which I was born and which is, among other things, home base for a funky clothing seller called The Territory Ahead, more of less associated with comfortable clothing that can be worn as one relaxes, drinks the sharp coldness of Mexican pilsner-style beer, thinks things over, takes long weekends, and more often than not does not wear socks. Indeed persons who wear socks here are often assumed to come from Cleveland, Ohio, and to have in their closets a pair of while loafers and a white belt with which to keep up a pair of polyester trousers that will, at a moment's notice, drip dry should they need to be shed before you go out to dinner.

One of the major issues in Huck Finn's eponymous adventure is the reappearance of Tom Sawyer toward the end, a confounding set of events in which both Huck and Tom are less than kind or considerate to Jim, the individual who had been the engine for Huck's coming of age, just as the novel itself represented the significant and symbolic coming of age of its author, a man who had himself lit out for the Territory, seeking something beyond what he himself had recognized to be one of the most glorious jobs a man of his times could have had, a riverboat pilot on the majestic Mississippi River.

Had Huck not taken off for the Territory, he in all likelihood would have become Tom, which is not an altogether bad thing, nor is it an altogether good thing. Huck needed to grow into the thing resident in the emerging acorn within him dictated, someone who saw beyond the boundaries of Sir Walter Scott and his gaudy romanticism, and certainly beyond the faux sentimentality of James Fenimore Cooper. Huck needed the Territory to grow into the echt Huck Finn he finally connected with inside the confines of his study in Hartford, where to some degree, he had begun to morph into Tom Sawyer.

A person who chooses to present visions of things, be it a visual illustration or a written one, needs to light out for that particular Territory ahead of the others; it is not on any map, it is however a place the person must record and document in some way, making it a place of reality and certainty. The biggest changes in my life came when I realized that much as I'd admired Tom, I'd grown beyond him and needed the Huck who was willing, perfectly willing, to go to hell for Jim rather than betray him.

Twain carried this vision of territory, the territory between slavery and freedom, with him for a long while, wrestled with it and was wrestled by it. Having made his fame and fortune of the sort a creator of Tom and Huck could fantasize, he saw for some hours a place where his artistic self needed to revisit, a place he could get to ahead of those who would sivilize him.


R.L. Bourges said...

Yes indeed. Thoughts that my four year-old friend Luc, still in the process of being sivilized, might translate into Arlo Guthrie's immortal words: "I don't want a pickle, I just want to ride my motorsicle."
best to you, sir.

Anonymous said...

Those territories are the most terrifying and at the same time the most inviting to adventurous spirits, whether they be young men coming of age, or fledgling authors looking to blaze their name across the sky. Huck was a lifelong favorite, as was Tom in all of his fiendish mischief. Being sivilized is highly over rated.

Lori Witzel said...

"...Cleveland, Ohio, and to have in their closets a pair of while loafers and a white belt..."

At long last...someone who cites what I used to call The Full Cleveland, before that phrase dropped out of handy access. The Half-Cleveland, with its unexpected white shine, was always a stunning sighting -- but The Full Cleveland, now there was an event.

Interesting post -- caught me in the dance between wanting to light out, and staying very still and lighting in.