Saturday, November 24, 2018

Literary Criticism: Going By Feel: Huck Finn, The Merchant Of Venice

So we’re good then. 

You agree with me?

Glad to have helped.

Seriously, how does a difference like this end? How does one person get the other to change their mind? is it a matter of making specific arguments that then get assessed, accepted or refuted? Or is the whole thing mission impossible? When I reread the longer thing I may have sent you, then I became even more convinced that I have a unique insight that unlocks the whole meaning of the novel in light of its ending. And I got it writing an essay on Huck Finn for my class in American Lit taught by Ross LaBrie. He thought it was an original and stimulating insight.

But I can see the other way of looking at it. It reminds me of my dissatisfaction with The Merchant of Venice. The portrayal of Shylock is so strong, his plea for his dignity is so potent, his righteousness so apparent, his daughter such a bauble, those around him so flat and uninspiring, that the end’s prosecutorial skewering of him, the reduction of him to and the dispatching of him as, a low, wounded cur and the ending of blissful coming together—the hallmark of romantic comedy in Shakespeare—seems dramatically off and emotionally discordant, in sum a huge let down. My theory is that Shylock got away on Shakespeare and became a greater dramatic presence and force than Shakespeare intended. Ultimately the play doesn’t work.

Is that comparable to Huck Finn, them on the river reaching such transcendent heights, Huck condemning himself to Hell in helping Jim, such that the ending is a sad unsatisfying burlesque?

What can I tell you: I don’t think so for among the reasons I’ve said. 

But this is where I came in: no one gets convinced. We go by feel, hopefully informed feel, and agree or disagree. It’s an art not a science, is literary criticism. And done nicely, that’s a richness.

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