Something is not right in the world of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. The unease is less evident to Tom, the manipulator, than to the socially marginal Huck. The trouble is most dramatically revealed when Huck, whose “sivilized” Christian conscience is developing, faces the choice between betraying his black friend Jim—which he believes is his moral duty—and letting him escape, as his heart tells him to do.
“Bad faith” is Forrest Robinson’s name for the dissonance between what we profess to believe, how we act, and how we interpret our own behavior. There is bad faith in the small hypocrisies of daily living, but Robinson has a much graver issue in mind—namely slavery, which persisted for nearly a century in a Christian republic founded on ideals of freedom, equality, and justice. Huck, living on the fringes of small-town society, recognizes Jim’s humanity and understands the desperateness of his plight. Yet Huck is white, a member of the dominant class; he is at once influenced and bewildered by the contradictions of bad faith in the minds of his fully acculturated contemporaries.
Robinson stresses that “bad faith” is more than a theme with Mark Twain; his bleak view of man’s social nature (however humorously expressed), his nostalgia, his ambivalence about the South, his complex relationship to his audience, can all be traced back to an awareness of the deceits at the core of his culture—and he is not himself immune. This deeply perceptive book will be of interest to students of American literature and history and to anyone concerned with moral issues.