Percival Everett’s Philosophical Twist on “Huckleberry Finn”

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Lauren Michele Jackson on Percival Everett’s novel “James,” written from the perspective of Jim, who escapes enslavement in “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

What novel has borne the racial freight of American letters like “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” a book credited with gifting us a national literature ? Norman Mailer, rereading the book on the occasion of its centennial, wrote of realizing “all over again that the near-burned-out, throttled, hate-filled dying affair between whites and blacks is still our great national love affair.

But, as in other Everett novels, speech only gets a person so far; to get any proper thinking done, Jim must work out his ideas on the page. In a scene reminiscent of one in Twain, Jim suggests that Huck slip away for a while, in a feminine disguise, to scope the happenings onshore. In Everett’s version, the reprieve enables Jim to write, with a stick and some stolen ink, his first words: “My interest is in how these marks that I am scratching on this page can mean anything at all.


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