Column - Twain’s damned human race

OVER the long New Year weekend I was having an overload of information from online sources. These days the good, the bad and the ugly are all camouflaged and the truths and untruths come as ambushes hard to differentiate.

As I was reminiscing the year that had been, in the political scene we had been inundated with incoherent statements from people in power making it difficult for us to distinguish falsities from facts. The social media had not made it any easier, for with the repeated onslaughts, even lies are not distinguishable.

In this context, something about Mark Twain (pix) came to my mind. He said, "If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything," and that is so true. Only with fabrication one needs the over-use of the memory power.

If we remember, an adventurer and wily intellectual, Mark Twain wrote the classic American novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

It is he who said he would not allow schooling to interfere with his education and in this context we have multiple degree holders holding high positions who have grown too big for humanity and hence all we have is sheer wastefulness.

If you read Twain's Huckleberry, you will understand that the novel is an ambitious and blunt examination of the society condemned with institutionalised acts of slavery, violence, bigotry and ignorance.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is the story of a young boy, Huck, and a runaway slave, Jim. The story picks up after the end of Twain's previous novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, at the end of which Huck found a large sum of money.

The novel is an intense examination of the society that nurtured the writer and the two types of Southerners who largely populated the novel: the ones who were grossly and adversely influenced by the environment and the better ones who only partly digressed from the path.

The protagonist and narrator of the novel, Huck is a 13-year-old son of the local drunk of St Petersburg, Missouri, a town on the Mississippi River. The boy is often seen as an outcast because of his wayward ways and that he did not have a polished education added to his denial of a decent rating from his country folk. Notwithstanding that Huck is thoughtful and intelligent as we know, while he journeys through the novel.

This reminds me of the incident in Bangalore, India on New Year's Eve where young women gathering to usher in the New Year were physically and verbally abused by men. The sad part of this is not the incident itself but the post-incident statement from a minister who unabashedly blamed the women for the turn of events.

He said donning of western clothing and adopting western culture were the cause and reason behind the attack. This lifted off a series of criticisms from women's groups as well as from wise men, not necessarily educated.

Hence in a cult system created by power-hungry men, education is a shameful incongruity, rather, power alone speaks.

Coming back to the topic at hand, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, published in America in January 1885, had always been in trouble.

According to Ernest Hemingway, it was the "one book" from which "all modern American literature" came, and contemporary critics and scholars have treated it as one of the greatest American works of art. Of all Twain's novels, it was also the one that sold best at its initial appearance.

On the other hand, it was condemned by many reviewers in Twain's time as grainy and by many commentators in our time as racist. In 1885, it was banished from the shelves of the Concord Public Library, an act that attracted a lot of publicity and discussion in newspapers.

One of the finest lessons Huck learns is that adults are not always right in their thinking and decisions and education does not necessarily buy men the power to act wisely. Instead, reasoning between right and wrong is one that comes with experience and exposure in life and this is a theme which we see repeatedly in Twain's The Huckleberry Finn.

Happy New Year and try humanity if you haven't yet got a resolution.

The writer believes that the Malaysian education system will reach greater heights with a strong antidote to revolutionise just about everything, a complete overhaul, if you like. Comments: letters@thesundaily.com