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Devotion, Dedication, Emancipation and Election:
The Clash of a Sound Heart and a
Deformed Conscience

VINCENT G VALENTINE, MD
Links Editor

vgvalent@utmb.edu

november links image


From the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by none other than Mark Twain, we have precisely the same elements of what can define November. There is devotion, Huck's devotion to the Slave Jim as they travel together on a raft "down the river" which is the fate Jim was running away from in his quest for freedom from slavery. But the story may be more about Jim's devotion to help Huck's quest for freedom from the values a morally corrupt society has taught him. Huck prefers to be independent and carefree rather than accept the opportunity of living with a middle-class family, he chooses, votes or elects: "But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before." Another dimension to the story is that Jim and Huck live on the river, on a raft together where they are outside the structure of society. Think outside the box or in this case outside the structured society. The ISHLT has its devotion to all that we stand for and our patients.

There is dedication. This evokes the ISHLT 2011 November Links Newsletter from last year, volume 3, issue 6 on Dedication and Thanksgiving. The dedicatory address at Gettysburg delivered in November, 1863 where Lincoln brings meaning to the American Civil War, a war about emancipation from just some brief remarks. The Honorable Edward Everett delivered his speech by the book. This is no different than Tom Sawyer's dedication to everything that must be followed by the book. There is Huck's dedication to Tom's convictions it must be so because society expects it, it is defined by the books. Surely, Mark Twain was quite familiar with slavery, the Civil War, the Gettysburg Address, and Abraham Lincoln. Of course there is devotion and dedication of Thanksgiving. Should we care for our patients according to only what's published?

Huck, like other children growing up in the early to mid 1800s in America, has been conditioned by society's prejudices about African-Americans. Even his self-image is the one given to him by society. He sees himself as bad, low-down and ornery a homeless son of the town's drunk. This is the deformed moral conscience, shaped no differently than any child of today by their family, culture, education and society. For children there is the struggle of right from wrong. There is the struggle of choosing, electing and voting. Huck has to struggle to see Jim as a person rather than a piece a property. Huck is conflicted, his heart is conflicted. Their journey on the raft together allows him to see Jim as a human being, but he learned this outside the structure of society. Twain uses the vernacular of Huck and Jim giving the reader their viewpoints on friendship, equality and human dignity. It is Twain's innovative strategy of turning the narrative of this novel to Huck's unmistakable colloquial voice which makes this The Great American Novel. Through Huck's conscience we find him challenging authority, challenging convention and challenging the books. Huck tests the many claims, because of his devotion and dedication to Tom, against his own experience seen through his own eyes about whether prayer and/or rubbing a lamp will work alluding to the Bible and the 1001 Arabian Nights and yet he learns from trial and error without offending Tom. Our experience will challenge our biases in our quest to do what's best for our patients.

The ultimate collision of Huck's heart and conscience comes when he chooses, elects or votes to tear up the letter to Miss Watson about the whereabouts of the runaway slave Jim,"...I took it up and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: 'All right, then, I'll go to hell' - and tore it up." Here we have again Twain's aphorism from Innocents Abroad that "travel is fatal to prejudice." As Huck and Jim travel together on the raft, Huck unlearns his prejudices about African-Americans.

There is the conflicted nature of the novel's reputation. From the ambiguities of Twain's name and Samuel Clemens himself to Abraham Lincoln's struggle keeping the Union intact and allow slavery or go to war and abolish slavery, and to America's decision for the next President. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was Twain's best-selling novel during his lifetime. Like the pendulum alluded to last year in the November and December Issues of the Links, its sweep from right to left, from right and wrong is alive today as it remains with the reputation of Twain's great novel from the most popular to most frequently attacked novel. Although as Hemingway says, "...it's the best book we've had. All American writing comes from that. There was nothing more. There has been nothing as good since..." Twain struggled with this most conflicted achievement. It took him eight years to write it, "if I'd a knowed what a trouble it was to make a book I wouldn't a tackled it." Shortly after its publication in 1885, the Concord Library Committee objected to the novel based on Huck's bad character and language. It wasn't until the 1950's when it was temporarily banned from the New York City's public schools for its language and representation of African-Americans. Since then, this novel has oscillated from "the most grotesque example of racist trash ever written..." according to its most outspoken opponent, John Wallace, a former administrator (ironically) at the Mark Twain Intermediate School in Fairfax County, Virginia to "an attack on racism..." according to its most ardent advocate, Shelley Fisher Fishkin of Stanford University. Another fact to note comes from within Samuel Clemens. He was born into a slave-holding society then grew up and married into a family with prominent abolitionist convictions. He believed white America owed blacks reparations for slavery and actually elected to cover the tuition for African-American student to attend Yale University.

Finally and remember, an election outcome can more accurately reflect what happens to be the choice of election rule or method rather than the voters' preference.1

1. Saari DG. Mathematics and Voting. Notices of the American Mathematical Society 2008;55(4):448-455.


Disclosure Statement: The author has no conflicts of interest to disclose.