"Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the only one of Mark Twain's various books which can be called a masterpiece. I do not suggest that it is his only book of permanent interest; but it is the only one in which his genius is completely realized, and the only one which creates its own category." T. S. Eliot
Huckleberry Finn, rebel against school and church, casual inheritor of gold treasure, rafter of the Mississippi, and savior of Jim the runaway slave, is the archetypical American maverick.
Fleeing the respectable society that wants to "sivilize" him, Huck Finn shoves off with Jim on a rhapsodic raft journey down the Mississippi River. The two bind themselves to one another, becoming intimate friends and agreeing "there warn't no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don't. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft."
As Huck learns about love,responsibility, and morality, the trip becomes a metaphoric voyage through his own soul, culminating in the glorious moment when he decides to "go to hell" rather than return Jim to slavery.
Mark Twain defined classic as "a book which people praise and don't read"; Huckleberry Finn is a happy exception to his own rule. Twain's mastery of dialect, coupled with his famous wit, has made Adventures of Huckleberry Finn one of the most loved and distinctly American classics ever written.
Nominated for a Grammy for his work as co-producer of the five-CD box set The Jazz Singers (1998), Robert O'Meally is Zora Neale Hurston Professor of Literature at Columbia University and Director of Columbia University's Center for Jazz Studies. He is the principal writer of Seeing Jazz (1997), the catalogue for the Smithsonian's exhibit on jazz and literature, and the co-editor of The Norton Anthology of African American Literature (1996).