The concept of what truth is, is a prevailing theme in both The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and the essay excerpt by Andrew Lang. Lang writes about truth as being found in lack of distortion from the actual world. Lang's idea of truth is certainly found in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. For Twain, morality is a larger part of his concept of truth than likeness to nature. Truth, for Andrew Lang is factual, precise, and objective. He admires The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as an accurate picture of the time, as if Twain were simply mirroring back an image of his world as told through Huck Finn.
Lang admires Twain for crafting a believable, natural character in Huck Finn. He thinks that in Twain's accuracy, there is truth, just like there is truth in a historical document. For Mark Twain, the "pursuit of truth" is a pursuit of moral truth. Huck journeys down the river with a runaway slave.
The river is symbolic for Huck's moral journey; Huck is moving down the river while everyone else is standing still. The reader can see that Huck's unintentional journey towards truth culminates in chapter 31. "Alright, then, I'll go I to hell." (p. 210) Ironically, it is at this moment when Huck believes he is succumbing to his own wickedness that we see he has reached the moral truth the river had been leading him to. But Huck doesn't see his inability to accept what he has been taught and act accordingly as a new way of thinking; Huck is a reluctant rebel. Twain's presentation of truth here is masterful; he communicates his idea by saying the exact opposite of what he means.
Twain tackles with other aspects of "truth," throughout the book. Huck lies, wears disguises and schemes. On his journey towards the truth, Huck has proven to be a talented liar. This shows that for Twain, the idea of truth, is more complicated than simply telling the truth. The Adventures of Huckleberry Fin is a masterpiece. I can agree with Andrew Lang on this, but his reasoning behind it, I cannot.
Lang sees Huckleberry Finn as, "a vivid and original picture of life... naturally displayed... possible and plausible." All of these are true, but I believe it is Twain's strong use of irony in his presentation of truth, and the tension between What Huck has been taught and his instinctively good nature that make The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and extremely well crafted novel. Lang acknowledges this at one point, but fails to say that this is the crux of the novel. "Nothing can be more true and more humorous then the narrative of this outcast boy, with a heart naturally good, with a conscience torn between the teachings of his world about slavery and the promptings of his own nature." Lang also fails to mention that what Huck's dilemma is not unique to Huck, but is universal. A, "conscience torn between the teachings of his world...
and the promptings of his nature," could be the story of any adolescent on the path (or river) to adulthood. Lang has written about a very small part of what makes The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn a classic. The difference between the way Andrew Lang and Mark Twain see truth is the same as the difference between a photograph and a painting. A photograph is a clear and objective picture of the world; it is what it is.
A painter can look at the same thing a photographer sees, and paint something dramatically different. So much of what a painting is depends on the artist, how the artist interprets the shadows and the colors of the subject. The same goes for writing. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain has done more than show us a snapshot of his time. He has given us his interpretation of his world. Twain's ability to craft natural, believable character is secondary to his genius in using irony to convey an idea..