Huck and Jim – where is our adventure?


Last week my son and I took a day trip from southern Indiana to Newport, Kentucky. Our destination was the Newport Aquarium. Newport is directly across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Ohio.  

It is a trip we make nearly yearly, and we make our way by traveling to Louisville, Kentucky (a trip of 9 miles from our home), along US 42 all the way to Newport.  

US 42, or River Road, as it is called at the beginning, follows the Ohio River in the length of our trip. 

At one particular place during the trip, I looked out upon the Ohio River, and I thought of Huckleberry Finn and Miss Watson’s slave Jim. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck escapes from his pap, and Jim escapes from his owner, Miss Watson. Together, they travel by raft down the Mississippi River, having numerous adventures. Jim’s purpose is to escape to the North and gain his freedom. 

The numerous times I have read the book, I have marveled at the interesting times, the danger, the excitement not only of Jim’s promised land of liberty, but of each of the character’s freedom on board the raft. 

Of course, that part of the story is a metaphor about America, its youthfulness at that time, discovering itself, encountering danger, surviving, having misfortunes, and keeping pursuance of its dreams. 

I then thought about my early teen years in the late 1960s and early 1970s. I remembered some of the ways I discovered adulthood, some of the really idiotic things I did, and how through it all, it remained an adventure, complete with victories and defeats, and learning how to navigate through life as an adult.  

Most of us, as we grow older, look back on the period of time when we transitioned from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, and not only do we wonder how we survived, but we also cherish certain parts of it. We also bury things we never want to remember again. 

Then I thought of today, and the things young people have to do. Floating on a raft down the Mississippi River certainly was fraught with certain dangers, but those were of a different kind than dangers youth face today. You know the litany: drugs, sex, violence, abuse, alcohol, etc. 

I also believe I understand that sailing down the Internet River for young people today is as close as they are going to get to Huck and Jim’s grand adventure. This trip has many more dangers than the trip down the Mississippi carried. 

The Mississippi was ever-changing in its routes and paths and currents, and people had to be wary of where they were sailing, floating, or steam boating. The rise or fall of the river added to the complexity of the trip as well. 

The internet is also changing by the minute, but in many different ways. There is no current to follow, and many dark coves, such as pornography, exist in remote places. People can get into these coves and get lost. 

Of course, the days of floating down the Mississippi are the past, never to return, as are the days of the 1960s and early 70s.  

I think the childishness, the discovery of life, like Huck and Jim experienced, is gone from our society for a long time, if not forever. The children of America are exposed to a horrible amount of “reality” from an early age, and it steals their childhood and innocence way too soon. Much of this “reality” comes from computer simulation and games, but also from dysfunctional homes and from society as a whole. 

We herd the youth of our nation to become adults and to become serious at a much earlier age. Perhaps that is a permanent change to our culture.

Huck and Jim are classic characters from American literature. Sadly, not many of our young teens – the age Huck was –  would even consider reading about them. It would be too tame and “boring.” Many of them have bypassed the stage where they are allowed to have fun and to daydream past the time they enter school. 

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