Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Rolled In Dough, Then Fried

Long about minute 40 of the president's address last night, several catcalls could be heard from the seats of the lost. These shouts of dismay were very likely from those Republicans awake enough to realize how completely they had just been rolled and how fucked their future truly is. Only minutes earlier they had leapt to their feet to cheer the reduction of the deficit only to be whipsawed the next rhetorical moment with a reminder that they were the ones responsible for the disaster in the first place--to lusty huzzahs from the other side--and that one of the remedies in budget balancing is the expiration of their beloved tax cut for the superrich.

Frankly I thought the prez went from strength to strength last night, and it seems pretty clear that his legislative strategy is to hit the opposition with so many programs with a popular stamp of approval, that their only hope of relevance is for a smart, principled and cautious acceptance of the necessary and inevitable. We know by now, of course, that the GOP does not do smart, principled, or cautious. As I first said on this page almost four years ago, in the wake of Katrina, they are doomed.

Oh, and speaking of, someone should have mentioned to Gov. Jindal to go easy on the helium before his response last night. His squeaky southern accent (TV-less, I listened on the radio), his witless, aw-shucks delivery, and a brain-dead message reminded me of no one so much as the immortal Barney Fife. If this highly-entertaining character, this GOP pre-existing condition, is the hope of the Republican future, the registration rolls of the Libertarians should be filling exponentially for the next year-and-a-half.

UPDATE: Mr. Benen gives greater detail on the rolling, as well as the Jindal disaster.

UPDATE II: More on the rolling from Al Giordano:

I didn't hear a single TV pundit last night or today pick up on what Obama is really up to here. It's in the bold type: "This budget builds on these reforms." He was talking about the budget he is about to propose. The next steps in creating national universal health care will come not in separate legislation which requires 60 out of 99 US Senate votes, but, rather, as part of the budget bill that, according to Congressional rules, needs simply a majority - 50 votes - to be passed and which cannot be subject to opposition filibuster.

That was exactly the point in the speech when Senate Republicans got those long unhappy looks on their faces. He had just ripped from them their only obstructionist power. They shifted nervously in their seats and scrunched their "holy crap" scowls. Skilled politicians all, they knew their goose had just been cooked.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Hang On Sloppy

Well, Mr. and Mrs. North America, things proceed apace. Is it just my ears or has opposition to the president's agenda gotten tinny and thin these last couple weeks? Ever since passage of the stimulus, in a trice and under the noses of a disbelieving Commentariot, the voices rallying against the way forward offered by our on-point chief exec. seem either delusional or merely confused. What's more the ol' beltway press mojo just can't seem to deliver the goods like it used to, what with experts going on TV to cut down false talking points, bloggers calling-out columnists for patent dishonesty, even the press secretary taking the time to knock down a cable blowhard, and by extension his whole cohort of idle yakkers.

Nope, a command of the facts and a recognition how fucked things truly are have center stage now, and I see no reason for them to relinquish it for the foreseeable.

Why? Because the unwinding financial disaster is dragging down all the rich nitwits who once felt happy to bankroll a lot of policy nonsense and the blowhards who spouted it. Their losses are either philosophical or via bad financial advice, or both. But so long as the boobs who run the GOP believe that the only thing that's truly changed is the party in the White House, that the old rules regarding riling up the electorate to vote against their own interest still apply (and by all indications, they indeedy do), they are not unlike that very odd woman who raised a chimp for a companion until the day the poor creature snapped, hard. I'd say the only thing the anti-stimulus Republican governors are standing up for at present is their own mauling at the hands of a once docile pet.

Speaking of, the brutally stupid cartoon run in the NY Pest last week was about as racist as one can get in mass market journals, and not have a mob outside (sorry, the Rev.'s demonstration, while apt, doesn't quite qualify) and advertisers heading for the exits. Hence the bitter apology. And I am here to suggest that the main reason the cartoon was racist is because of how uncalled for, preposterous in conception, and utterly unfunny it was.

The editor who green-lighted the mess is Australian, and one wonders how many top editors at the Pest are in fact US citizens. The jape had all the graphic smarts and cement-head appeal of a Viz cartoon (cor, blimey) and likely lighted the dim noggins of the Brit press refugees Rupe keeps on hand, and no one else.

I believe that the question if a person or thing is racist is fundamentally a social one, and therefor best judged by others. In other words, you are not the only or last judge regarding if you are a racist or not. Just think of all the bores you have met over the years who talk deeply stupid shit while insisting they are not racist. Because they are dumb, they very likely believe that to be so, and bitterly resent being told otherwise. But before you begin to feel proud of yourself, remember that this applies to you too, and be prepared for a little self-exam when the time comes.

Now where was I? Man, if I don't keep at this regularly I tend to drift all over the place. . .

Right--the end of the GOP and the financial and philosophical withering of the right.

While it is unfortunate to watch the death of newspapers, now sped up like a movie of a dying rose, let us recall that most of these organs utterly neglected their putative (and self-satisfied) roles as guardians of the polis, for their far more comfortable positions as mouthpieces for their local Chambers of Commerce (whose own rolls must be looking a tad moth eaten at this point.) While many news orgs are sustainable in theory, the companies now dying took on debt to expand their reach so as to remain profitable. Well, that train broke down, and a lot of those local opinion leaders probably have a hard time even reading the news now, much less presuming now to dictate policy to others.

Back to cases, life at Rupe's News Corp seems to go from bad to worse. Even the TV revenue got soft last quarter. All of which is to say that we may not like where we'll be in a year, but at least a lot of the jerks who brought us to this pass will have gone far away.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Huckleberry Finn, Chapters IX & X

Our heros find a cave at the top of the island's largest hill and camp inside. Jim has predicted rain and it is soon pouring. Over the next 12 days the river rises until it has topped its bank on the Illinois side and left a large part of their island under water. Huck and Jim catch part of a raft one night, twelve foot wide and about fifteen or sixteen foot long, and the top stood above water six or seven inches -- a solid, level floor. On another night they see an entire house floating by on its side, paddle out in the canoe and enter through a second floor window.

Inside Jim sees the body of a man, shot in the back, dead two or three days. He tells Huck not to look at the corpse. The room itself is a squalid mess and the two scavenge what clothes and items they can from it. By the time they are done it is daylight, and Jim hides under a quilt at the bottom of the canoe as Huck paddles back to the island.

Back home, Huck wants to talk about the dead man, but Jim cautions him not to. It is bad luck, and the ghost of the unburied man might come haunt them. They find eight silver dollars inside the lining of one of the coats taken from the house, and Jim says it was likely stolen then left behind by the thieves who did not know the money was inside.

There is more talk of bad luck. Huck says that though he touched a snake skin the day before, a very bad omen, they found the money nevertheless. Jim is not so sure, and says bad luck is coming.

Three days later, Jim is bitten by a rattlesnake in the cave, which Huck blames himself for. Earlier that day he left the body of a dead rattler hidden under the foot of Jim's bedroll to scare him, forgetting that the snake's mate would be drawn to lie next to it. Apparently this is what happened. Huck kills the snake and roasts it, giving a portion to Jim as a venom antidote. Jim drains the bottle of whisky they also found in the house and spend the next four days out of his head in fever and pain.

More days pass and the river recedes. They catch an enormous catfish, over 200 pounds, and find small items inside its stomach. If they were not fugitives they could sell the fish for quite a bit in town. Perhaps for this reason Huck grows restless and resolves to do some scouting back home. With Jim's help he fits into a child's dress, also found in the drifting house, puts on a bonnet and lands the canoe south of the village after dark. There he sees an old shanty that appears newly occupied. There is a woman inside, knitting by candlelight. He knocks on the door.


Though there is no evidence that Twain was familiar with Moby Dick, which was published in 1851 and quickly sank from view--so to speak--until after the First World War, what renown the novel did have at the time was in the narrow precincts of New England letters which Twain had eagerly, if ambivalently, joined. Hawthorne had praised the novel highly on publication, and it is conceivable that Twain, a voracious reader, found an old copy in the library of one of his Hartford or Boston associates.

It is tempting to see the relationship of Huck and Jim modeled upon that of Ishmael and Queequeg, and the landing and gutting of the catfish, along with scenes yet to come, as parallel to similar events in Melville's book. Perhaps they are in-jokes, another jab at the New England literary establishment. They could also be sincere and coincidental reflections of certain notions regarding the nexis of social brotherhood and the natural world that infused 19th-century America.

The floating house--and what it contains--is, for the natural and social disorder it implies, one of the book's most riviting images. Indeed, these two chapters are bracketed with ideas of domestic accommodations wholly dependent on the river's whims, from the cave on high ground to the old shanty with new habitation.

In describing what he sees inside the room of the murdered man, Huck tells us there are:

[...] heaps of old greasy cards scattered around over the floor, and old whisky bottles, and a couple of masks made out of black cloth; and all over the walls was the ignorantest kind of words and pictures made with charcoal. There was two old dirty calico dresses, and a sun-bonnet, and some women's underclothes hanging against the wall, and some men's clothing, too.

I think we may assume that the ignorantest kind of words and pictures is a way a boy Huck's age might describe obscene graffiti, and would be another example of how Huck sees without telling. The masks, bottles, dirty dresses, and women's underwear, not to mention the dead man, complete a very sordid tableau which Twain sneaks past his rather more innocent readers.

Last week: Chapter VIII
Next Sunday Chapter XI

Divide's Guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, edited and revised for publication, is now available in a Kindle edition for $3.95.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Huckleberry Finn, Chapter VIII

Huck awakens to the sound of a cannon. A boat is searching for his remains in the river and the loud boom was thought to cause bodies to rise to the surface. Likewise loaves of bread with dots of mercury were set adrift in the belief they would float to the missing body. Huck looks for and finds these loaves in an eddy near a bank of the island and, removing the quicksilver, eats one for breakfast while pondering the efficacy of prayer.

Soon the boat comes level to where he is hiding and, again almost close enough to touch, he sees those looking for him, pap and Judge Thatcher, Tom Sawyer, and Aunt Polly among them. The boat fires another canon shot nearly on top of him and then drifts on.

For the next three days Huck hunts and explores the island, until happening upon the fresh remains of a campfire. Frightened, he breaks camp, collects his things and paddles to the Illinois shore that night. Unable to sleep there he resolves to go back and find out who is on the island with him. Back over, he eventually finds a campfire and a figure sleeping next to it. As dawn breaks he sees it is Miss Watson's slave Jim (Note that at no point in the narrative are slaves given the distinction of having last names.)

Huck cheerfully reveals himself to the awakened man, who is at first terrified for thinking he sees Huck's ghost. Jim tells Huck he has been on the island nearly as long as he. The two prepare breakfast. After asking Huck to promise not to tell, Jim reveals that he has run away from his owner in fear of her selling him, for $800, to a slave trader from New Orleans, and gives some detail how he did so.

The chapter closes with a couple pages of dialogue on the subjects of superstition and good fortune that seems mainly drawn from a minstrel show skit. Twain slips in a finish more punch than punchline, however. Jim reflects on his freedom: "Yes; en I's rich now, come to look at it. I owns mysef, en I's wuth eight hund'd dollars. I wisht I had de money, I wouldn' want no mo'."


It is striking that the local folk methods of finding corpses in the river are very likely drawn from the Bible, the canon shot recalling the trumpet of the Final Day, 1 Corintians 15:52 for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, while the loaves are certainly from Ecclesiastes 11:1, Cast thy bread upon the waters: for thou shalt find it after many days.

Whatever hardship caused Miss Watson to go live with her sister, it is presumably behind her intention to sell Jim. He overhears her say so to to the Widow Douglass and immediately bolts. He does not tell Huck about his wife and children here, but they must certainly be on his mind.

Please note Jim's thrilling account of his escape. He is as ingenious and brave as Huck, and is risking much, much more. After hiding all day in a pile of sawdust in a mill near the river, as darkness falls he swims out to an enormous raft, hiding behind a drift log, and rides it until someone is about to discover him. Back in the river, he swims to the island, where he lives on what might be gathered by hand.

We should appreciate too how much is at stake for our heroes. I think Jim's desperation can be compared with old Finn's, with his character and pluck far superior. In fleeing one father figure Huck finds another, far more admirable, one. Note also how the Mississippi has become both setting and vehicle. A single great actor (Eliot's strong, brown god) on which all the other characters rely for their autonomy.

Last Sunday: Chapter VII
Next Sunday: Chapters IX and X

Divide's Guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, edited and revised for publication, is now available in a Kindle edition for $3.95.

Copyright Infringement Theater Presents

Big Mama T & Buddy G

Saturday, February 14, 2009


The usual apologies for my radio silence. I am on a rare work deadline and have also had to deal with a big storm regarding a small charitable and picnicking organization I have the honor of presiding over, until next year at this time. Between the demands of the two, the last week can be fairly described as Nuts.

I did want to pop in and briefly observe here that, contrary to what most on the right and some on the left think, GOP intransigence on the stimulus bill is a long-term loser for them. Their calculations, of course, is that nothing in the country has fundamentally changed and they can ride resentment to big gov to big gains in the next mid-terms, just like they did in '92. Some might even point to the Tories' recent public opinion revival in Britain and see the same happening here.

Okay, first: Things HAVE fundamentally changed, to the extent that no one can rightly predict what will happen to the country; second, the Labor Party presided over the economic collapse over there, Gordon Brown is NOT Barack Obama (and the big winners in Parliament could well be the IP); third, I do believe our president understands that campaigning for the stimulus (and health care) is indistinguishable from campaigning for 2010, or rather that the efforts of one will merge seamlessly into those of the other in exactly six months.

Finally, in light of the above, I would suggest that while the Repubs may be congratulating themselves over winning the admiration of the DC press corps this go-round, their snide reluctance to give an inch seems to have added no small momentum to calls for a Truth Commission to look into the crimes of the previous administration. HR 104 now has 24 co-sponsors, up from a mere ten a month ago. Chairmen Leahey and Conyers seem ready to roll too.

Let's see how many news cycles the fatheads win then.

UPDATE: Mr. Rich, as usual, puts it succinctly:

This G.O.P., a largely white Southern male party with talking points instead of ideas and talking heads instead of leaders, is not unlike those “zombie banks” that we’re being asked to bail out. It is in too much denial to acknowledge its own insolvency and toxic assets.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Huckleberry Finn, Chapter VII

The next morning pap has no recollection of his fit. Huck, who has also fallen asleep, tells him that he has the gun out because he heard an intruder. He is sent to the river to gather fish for breakfast and there spies an empty canoe floating by. The June rise of the river is underway and a lot of material, especially logs, which can be sold to mills, has been set adrift. Huck dives in and grabs the canoe and hides it in a little creek nearby, planning his getaway.

After lunch, the two Finns secure a set of logs from the river and the old man takes it over to town to sell. Just like him not to wait for more, Huck thinks. In his absence Huck finishes sawing his way out of the cabin, takes supplies to the canoe and then, using an axe and the body of a pig he has shot, creates a fake crime scene in the cabin to make it look as though he has been murdered, with his body tossed in the river, and his killers fleeing inland.

Huck moves the canoe onto the river and ties under a willow waiting for nightfall. Not long after dark he hears his father return, far sooner than expected. Pap passes with feet of the canoe without seeing it and, once he's out of the way, Huck sets out. He hears men talking on a ferry dock in the darkness as he passes, and eventually fetches up on the far point of Jackson's Island, about two and a half miles downriver from town. Just as daylight appears, he goes ashore to sleep.


Consider briefly how a 12-year-old boy of Huck's time and place can set up a convincing murder scene. He either benefitted from Twain's experience as a reporter in Nevada and California, or the details of such things were familiar in small town America before the Civil War. Both might well be the case. However, Huck's telling of the deed is utterly convincing to the reader which is all that's necessary. There are no doubts about his intelligence and ingenuity.

As Huck sets off down the river, we get our first look at it as a place. It is both immense, with front row views of the infinite, and intimate at the same time:

The sky looks ever so deep when you lay down on your back in the moonshine; I never knowed it before. And how far a body can hear on the water such nights! I heard people talking at the ferry landing. I heard what they said, too -- every word of it. One man said it was getting towards the long days and the short nights now. T'other one said this warn't one of the short ones, he reckoned -- and then they laughed, and he said it over again, and they laughed again; then they waked up another fellow and told him, and laughed, but he didn't laugh; he ripped out something brisk, and said let him alone.


I went up and set down on a log at the head of the island, and looked out on the big river and the black driftwood and away over to the town, three mile away, where there was three or four lights twinkling. A monstrous big lumber-raft was about a mile up stream, coming along down, with a lantern in the middle of it. I watched it come creeping down, and when it was most abreast of where I stood I heard a man say, "Stern oars, there! heave her head to stabboard!" I heard that just as plain as if the man was by my side.

As we shall see the river allows Huck to be both actor and nearly invisible observer in the story to come. Indeed by now we should be used to having characters come close to touching Huck without seeing him. It will happen again.

In closing I'd like to note the nearly magical appearance of the empty canoe. Not to argue that such an event is unlikely, only that it seems sent from an earlier time, before Europeans intruded on the Indigenous American world. By the mid-1840s, when the novel takes place, most of the tribes east of the Mississippi had only recently been transported to Indian Territory in what is now Oklahoma and parts of Arkansas. Remnant communities and mixed families still lived in much of the rural south and west, and a great many Native American skills and customs had been transferred by then to frontier society.

There is some question if the model for Huck, Twain's boyhood friend Tom Blankenship, might himself have been part Native American, certainly a not-uncommon rural background at the time. Huck himself, with his love of freedom, hated of civilizing influences, fondness for sleeping out of doors, drunken parent, even his skill at seeing without being seen, were all Native characteristics in the popular imagination when the novel appeared.

That said, the only race prejudice Twain held was against Native Americans, whom he almost uniformly despised, something depressingly clear from a broad survey of his writing. He was aware of this failing, and seems to have regretted it towards the end of his life, and it is his only character defect which can still be balanced against his many virtues and struggles.

The appearances of Native American aspects in Huck Finn, and there are more to come, are probably details without wider intended meaning--there were a lot of canoes on the river; if people were careless, they floated away. However, that does not take away from the fact that Huck starts his journey down river in what was the first human craft to have floated on the Father of Waters, something which speaks to the thematic density and depth to the novel, a richness probably achieved more by way of our author's innate feeling for particular and idiomatic detail than a conscious overall plan.

Last Sunday: Chapters V & VI
Next Sunday: Chapter VIII

Divide's Guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, edited and revised for publication, is now available in a Kindle edition for $3.95.

Friday, February 06, 2009

The Hound Let Loose

Perceptive readers will have noted a recent change in my ultra-exclusive blogroll. Out is the estimable Languagehat, In is the inimitable Hound. My reason for doing so is simple enough. While I respect the hell out of Languagehat's particular and extensive erudition, I spend a lot more time thinking about Bo Diddley than I do Russian pronouns.

I wrote about The Hound, aka Jim Marshall, and his great WFMU radio show a couple years ago but I missed his debut as a blogger a few months back. Jim is a knowledgeable guy and a very entertaining writer with a grasp of the lasting and weird, as his recent remarks on R&B legends Don and Dewey, and the child soldiers Johnny and Luther Htoo make clear. And like Languagehat, when the Hound writes about something you can be damn sure he knows more about it than almost anyone else.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Wheelin' Steele

The best news for the GOP in years is the election of Michael Steele as their national committee head. True, he does not seem to be an especially principled or bright man (and has the confident, gimlet-eyed smile of someone who's never let an innate lack of smarts stop him.) But then again, none of his opponents bested him in either department either. (Which leaves me with the feeling that the GOP keeps its rather smarter members away from elected office.)

Imperfections aside however, Steele's election has already sent the likes of David Duke and his, ahem, clan scuttling for that crack between the floor and baseboard on their way out of the building, and whether the mandarins of the GOP like it or not, their party is far far better for it.

Not going away is the Rebub's big problem, that every one of their putative standard bearers is a polarizing figure among the largely faithful. Palin, Steele, McConnel, Gingrich, even the memory of that squalid little man, draw quick and charged opposition from elsewhere in the party. (The Democrats have not been in such a state since Hubert Humphrey and George McGovern were in office.) Making matters worse is the merry influence of one "Rusty" Limbaugh, a man who lies and bullies with impunity, has never run for elected office and is unforgiving of those who do, and whose own hyper-entitled well-being relies not a jot on the success of the GOP.

That this drunken passenger has lurched from first-class to grab the helm of the ship is hilarious. That no one on the bridge has the nerve or the strength to send him back to his cabin is pathetic.

While I would caution my liberal associates from expecting too much too soon from the new administration, profound (and highly entertaining) changes are in the works. A lot of them have nothing to do with the say so of President Obama. TV has conditioned us to expect fast and visible results. Alas for those watching at home, progress is mainly calculated in tiny, nearly invisible, daily increments. Rest assured, however, much is in motion.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

Huckleberry Finn, Chapters V & VI

Huck's father, in a litany of threats, demands his son's money and that he quit going to school. Huck, having signed his fortune over to Judge Thatcher, replies he only has a dollar, which his father takes to go drinking, promising he will soon wrest Huck from his caretakers.

In the next few weeks his case is heard in court and a judge new to the district grants him custody of the boy. Huck buys his freedom with three dollars borrowed from Judge Thatcher, giving the money to his father who uses it for a bender, which lands him in the village jail as a public nuisance for a few days. The new judge undertakes old Finn's reform, going so far to house the apparently sober and grateful man in his own home until one night soon after Finn gets drunk and falls off the roof, nearly dying from exposure.

Finn pursues Huck's money in court. Thatcher gets the case delayed, and Huck continues to buy time in three-dollar increments. (Perhaps because the boy himself does not understand the situation, Twain never says explicitly that since Huck is too young to have entered into a legal contract with Thatcher, Finn's claim to the money as the boy's parent--as Thatcher surely knows--is nearly airtight.) Finn thrashes Huck when he can and then, one spring day, kidnaps him from outside the Widow's house, taking him to a remote log cabin on the Illinois side of the river.

There he imprisons the boy, beating him regularly with a cowhide strap. Townspeople figure out where they are, but Finn runs off a man sent by the Widow. Whippings aside, Huck soon gets accustomed to life in the cabin, away from the civilizing influences of his protectors, and resolves to escape both his father and the Widow in short order. As time passes, Finn increases his beatings of the boy, now using a switch. During one of his unusually long absences, measured in days, Huck finds the blade of an old saw and works on a log in the wall hidden behind a curtain.

Upon Finn's eventual return from town, where he'd been thrown in jail again, he gets drunk and rages against the authorities, finally hurting himself during a racist tirade. He passes out after more drinking and awakens with the DTs, screaming about snakes in the cabin and the unquiet dead outside, and chasing Huck around the room with a knife. Soon tiring, he lays against the door to sleep. Huck loads a rifle and trains it on his father, ready to shoot him if need be.


I don't think there's much doubt that Twain intended Finn to stand for the most repulsive aspects of that was once called, in all seriousness, the White race: There warn't no color in his face, where his face showed; it was white; not like another man's white, but a white to make a body sick, a white to make a body's flesh crawl -- a tree-toad white, a fish-belly white.

He is 50, which puts his birth year about 1795. (Twain never tells the year the action of the book takes place. He himself was born in 1835.) Which is to say this human refuse has come from somewhere east, and south, pushed west by failure and dislocation to the west bank of the Mississippi, where he is barely tolerated by society and gains his only measure of self-satisfaction by drinking heavily, talking big, beating his son, and feeling superior to blacks. He was a common enough character on the American frontier.

In fact, most adults will find in Finn's drunken tirade the very model of the barroom (and radio) loudmouth that has survived to our day:

They call that govment! A man can't get his rights in a govment like this. Sometimes I've a mighty notion to just leave the country for good and all. Yes, and I told 'em so; I told old Thatcher so to his face. Lots of 'em heard me, and can tell what I said. Says I, for two cents I'd leave the blamed country and never come a-near it agin. Them's the very words.

Far worse that Finn's ignorant rage, however, is society's connivance in some of his worst behavior. Here Twain is devastating:

Why, looky here. There was a free nigger there from Ohio [....] And what do you think? They said he was a p'fessor in a college, and could talk all kinds of languages, and knowed everything. And that ain't the wust. They said he could vote when he was at home. Well, that let me out. Thinks I, what is the country a-coming to? It was 'lection day, and I was just about to go and vote myself if I warn't too drunk to get there; but when they told me there was a State in this country where they'd let that nigger vote, I drawed out. I says I'll never vote agin. [....] And to see the cool way of that nigger -- why, he wouldn't a give me the road if I hadn't shoved him out o' the way.

Is Finn arrested for assault? Hell, no. In fact he demands to know why the Ohio man is not put up for sale. We can't, say the bystanders, presumably far more respectable citizens:

Why, they said he couldn't be sold till he'd been in the State six months, and he hadn't been there that long yet. There, now -- that's a specimen. They call that a govment that can't sell a free nigger till he's been in the State six months.

It should come as no shock to understand that a segregated society relies explicitly on ignorant creeps like Finn to maintain the status quo, protecting them from the consequences of their most outrageous actions against blacks of even the highest social standing allowed. Twain's mordant joke here is that the govment Finn despises is one which fits his nature and ambitions to a tee.

In closing let's note that Huck's kidnapping, transportation to a far shore, imprisonment, beating, and coerced labor at the hands of a brute, along with his resolve to escape, comprise a deft recapitulation of the African slave experience. This is a mainly unappreciated facet of the story and, for my money, exemplifies the profound and subtle artistry Twain used to tell the tale.

Previously, Chapters III & IV
Next Sunday, Chapter VII

Divide's Guide to Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, edited and revised for publication, is now available in a Kindle edition for $3.95.