I've read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn many times. First as a teenager, then as a young man in college and until last week, as a thirty-something adult. Each reading brought new insights about Twain's take on the American experience. He created unforgettable and timeless characters, the likes of whom still exist from sea to shining sea. Drifting down the Mississippi River with Huck and Jim is a sublime experience. Twain captures the natural beauty and serenity of the river and uses it as a powerful metaphor for their troubled lives. Both are fleeing civilization because it represents an intolerable set of rules; Huck's life has been shaped by poverty, cruelty and neglect and Jim is an escaped slave. Huck, though still a boy, is an astute observer and social critic and Jim becomes the first and only adult who warrants his respect and loves him unconditionally.
Twain published this at the close of Reconstruction and the birth of Jim Crow. For all his minstrel show characteristics, Jim is morally superior to all the scoundrels they encounter, particularly the King and duke, two grifters who hijack the raft to save their own necks. In Huck's increasingly radical voice, Twain skewers all kinds of injustice; not just the inhumanity of slavery, but also, false piety, judicial failure and vigilantism. Masquerading as an adventure story, it is a celebration of the glories of the Mississippi, a comic tour de force and a ringing indictment of American malfeasance and hypocrisy. This is arguably the Great American Novel. Just imagine what Twain would have to say about our current state of affairs.