LIGHTING OUT FOR THE TERRITORY by Shelley Fisher Fishkin

LIGHTING OUT FOR THE TERRITORY

Reflections on Mark Twain and American Culture
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KIRKUS REVIEW

 A grab bag collection of musings and meanderings on Mark Twain and his continuing cultural influences. But Fishkin (American Studies/Univ. of Texas, Austin) seems too often more preoccupied with herself than with her subject. By the end of the book, we know about her likes and dislikes, her career, travels (to Twain's native Hannibal, Mo., and elsewhere in search of Twain and his legacy), family, and, by the way, some of her interesting ideas on Twain. These non-Fishkin-focused sections are largely taken up with an original and vigorous defense of Twain against charges of racism. That such a defense is even necessary is a sad commentary on our age's unironic obtuseness (Huckleberry Finn has been banned in many school districts): If a book contains the word ``nigger,'' well then it must be a wicked book and the author a wicked man. Fishkin ably lays waste to these canards, turning up in the process irrefutable evidence of Twain's strong hatred of racism. Critics have often assailed Huckleberry Finn's long final section, in which Jim, not aware that he has been freed, is humiliated by Tom Sawyer, but Fishkin convincingly reads this as a satire of Reconstruction. Still, Fishkin's overwhelming emphasis on Twain as an ``antiracist writer'' is ultimately part of the same flawed zeitgeist that wrongly condemns him for racism. One of the 19th century's most original minds, Twain had a talent and breadth of his concerns that ranged far beyond such easy delineations. Fishkin gives some sense of this, but she is too concerned with boxing Twain into the narrow categories our age seems to demand. Despite Fishkin's scholarship and intelligence, Twain's own words on his work are perhaps the best: ``Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.'' (24 illustrations, not seen)

Pub Date: Jan. 1st, 1997
ISBN: 0-19-510531-1
Page count: 265pp
Publisher: Oxford Univ.
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 1st, 1996




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