Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Kerouac’s On the Road – The River and the Road

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Twain’s Huckleberry Finn and Kerouac’s On the Road – The River and the Road

One element that separates a good novel from a great novel is its enduring effects on society. A great novel transcends time; it changes and mirrors the consciousness of a civilization. One such novel is Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. For the past one hundred and fifteen years, it has remained in print and has been one of the most widely studied texts in high schools and colleges. According to Lionel Trilling, its success is due to Twain’s “voice of unpretentious truth” (92) embodied in the young narrator Huck Finn who reveals the hypocrisy and moral deprivation of society through his innocent observations. It is a picaresque novel, or novel of
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Mark Twain’s influence upon Kerouac is evident in On the Road as is suggested in biographical details. Warren French states in his biography of Kerouac that Kerouac’s first attempt to write a novel at age 11 was “an apparently quite slavish imitation of [Twain’s] Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” (4), and Gerald Nicosia notes that Twain was one of the writers that Kerouac followed in his use of “idiomatic American diction” (344). In addition, Kerouac himself warns his editor Helen Taylor in a letter, “no more irresponsible copy editing of my Mark Twain Huckleberry prose” (131). He imitated the naïve prose of Twain that only observes life and does not judge it, thereby creating an honest reflection of life that ultimately affects the moral sensibilities of its audience.

One human aspect of life that is mirrored in the two narratives is the familial relationship between each novel’s two main characters. Huck would be as incomplete without Jim, as Sal would be without Dean. Every place that Huck lives with Jim is his home. When they return to the island after finding a corpse housebound and drifting, Huck explains, “We got home all safe” (Twain 72), and after the fog separates them, he conveys, “We said there warn’t no home like a raft, after all” (124). Their relationship, symbolized in their emphasis of “home,” reveals the need for strong familial ties that enable them to overcome the harsh social realities they encounter.

In a similar manner, Sal Paradise and
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