Numbers Not Part Of The Answer

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Numbers Not Part Of The Answer

Catherine Durante

Ah, yes... let's see... time for a new professor... who will it be? O, Professor Twain. Is he that Professor Clemens that everyone speaks of? The ambiguous writer that walks a fine line between humor and morality? Immediately, my mind goes into analytical mode. No respectable American fiction writer of even The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn writes without a motive, some type of overall message to reach out to the reader, even if it takes excessive digging to reach it. I know it's there! What is this rubbish: "Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished..." (Twain "Notice")! So am I supposed to laugh? Or should I be myself and assume that Professor Twain is a liar and find a moral out of spite? No Catherine! Compose yourself. You're thinking too much. Remember that literature you read on analyzing being on the borderline of obsession? Even you chuckle when you look up at the clock and don't see 3:21 but 7. Am I unnecessarily applying my math mind to matters that yes, probably can be applied in the context of mathematics but more importantly, shouldn't be? Yes, on every page in Huck Finn I saw my usual matrix... a comforting sight. But this time, something's wrong.

My matrix isn't the same. It''s... broken. The numbers aren't in vertical columns winking at me but they're slanted and misshapen. There are all these gaps in the sequence that reveal something underneath them... they look like... words; printed words on a page. This image is new, slightly disturbing, yet not unexpected. My matrix should be broken, not entirely, but slightly damaged. It may seem possible to apply Hess's Law or Gram-Schmidt's process to situations in novels but I'm missing an essential part of the reading process, finding myself in the pages. My mind just tries so hard to find more dimensions in novels than were intentioned, dimensions that cross into the x and y axis planes. Maybe I should focus on putting myself into the plane of the pages instead? I had this debate with myself while I was in the process of reading Huck Finn. I found that the concepts and situations in which Huck as well as the other characters find themselves are familiar to me... I've encountered them in a linear algebra and chemistry classroom. This time I didn't put Huck or Jim in a seat in front of Professor Kasius, I put myself on the raft... with my textbook of course... I just can't forget that. I found my experiences within the pages, I started the problem along with Huck but my solutions did not concur.

From the very first page Huck wades his feet in the murky water, I knew the Mississippi River and myself, with a plethora of mathematical experience, had much in common. That river where "you could see a streak on the water which you know by the look of the streak that there's a snag there in a swift current which breaks on it" (135), is meant to symbolize Huck and Jim's freedom and adventure into known but unknown territory. Despite this liberating notion, the pair of troublemakers is not entirely free from the evils and societal influences that lie along the river banks. The real world intrudes onto the raft; the river floods, Huck and Jim are separated at points in the narrative and they are in contact with criminals who they cannot just let be but have to "hunt up their boat and set her drifting down the river so these fellows can't get away from the wreck" (80). It was only after I finished the novel that I realized, I was traveling down my own Mississippi. I started on calm waters, taking Sequential I math and not receiving anything less than 100% on every test. Everyone thinks the waters will be steady until you hit a place where the water velocity increases and leads to the waterfall. My waterfall (which can be named Ms. Kalinowska) happened first semester of my freshman year in high school, sequential II math. After "plummeting" grades, I reached a steady point where I mastered the material and waded through the waters. Of course, at times, I used the quadratic formula and made a mess of a sheet of paper when I should have realized that x represented an insignificant number and disregarded it... here we go again. However, the Mississippi always fit into my arithmetical microcosm; I didn't have to make it fit.

I was introduced to Huckleberry Finn at the age of sixteen and made him a close companion. Why wouldn't I want a best friend that had been to places I had only seen in "National Geographic"? The only difference between Huck and myself was the fact that "nigger" never had and would never be in my vocabulary. But I've grown up... Huck towards the end of the novel becomes Tom Sawyer, his mind-blowing best friend. Huck does not correct Aunt Sally when she calls him Tom Sawyer in fact he "told them more about [his] family- [he] mean[t] the Sawyer family-than ever happened to any six Sawyer families... Being Tom Sawyer was easy and comfortable" (233). For that span of time he was under Aunt Sally and Uncle Silas' eye, Huck took on Tom's mastermind and above all, his reputation. Just two weeks ago I attended a linear algebra problem session and found myself in a similar situation. A young woman walked into the room, took a seat beside me, and told me she needed assistance with her homework. She elaborated about her struggles with the first three questions... wait... those first three... the ones that I found the easiest? Well, she had missed the last two classes and didn't know that the class was given a sheet that explained how to find orthonormal bases for different sized spanning sets. I subsequently proceeded to explain the solutions to the first questions feeling just like Huck. I pretended to be a master of bases when I was really just a follower... a follower of the rexo. I didn't correct the woman when she said I was smart enough to understand the minute I'm taught. I basked in the glory... then the glow faded from my cheeks. I swallowed my pride and showed her the sheet... she was grateful but I turned red. That's where Huck Finn diverges from my path. Huck never stops being Tom Sawyer. He may tell everyone else his real name is Huck but inside he is Tom, living that lie. I was shocked when Tom explains his elaborate plan to free Jim, "He can have a rope ladder; we can tear up our sheets and make him a rope ladder easy enough. And we can send it to him in a pie" (247). Huck replies, "Tom Sawyer- if we go tearing up our sheets to make Jim a rope ladder, we're going to get into trouble with Aunt Sally, just as sure as you're born" (248). Yes Huck, reject complication and confusion like me... wait... "Well, all right, Tom, fix it your own way" (248). No! I need you to make your own choice Huck. Please, don't let me be ashamed of you, I made you my literary best friend. Those words of Huck I can't process algebraically... it's not a question I would even attempt to solve.

I was at the point in the novel when, like an analytical conundrum, I look for a drastic change, specifically I look for a metamorphosis in Huck's attitude towards Jim. When will he stop playing Tom's game and realize Jim is a person, with the word "black" in front of "person" unnecessary. As the reader I was accustomed to Huck's ambiguity towards Jim half-way through the novel when he discusses his letter to Miss Watson about his raft companion, "I was stealing a poor old woman's nigger that hadn't ever done me no harm, and now was showing me there's One that's always on the lookout and ain't agoing to allow no such miserable doings to go only just so fur and no further, I most dropped in my tracks I was so scared" (222). However, I am at the third to last page and Tom has just revealed he knew all along Jim was free. Huck's response: "Tom Sawyer had gone and took all the trouble and bother to set a free nigger free! And I couldn't even understand, before, until that minute and that talk, how he could help a body set a nigger free with his bringing-up" (292). Did I miss something? Huck, at this stage, is still using the word "nigger"? Say something! Come to a realization! Think back to everything Jim has done for you, are you still going to use that word and not chastise Tom at all? Whenever I reach a conclusion to a problem that has no solution the first thing I do is reevaluate my work to find where I went wrong. Sometimes there is no mistake and I must research further but I always reevaluate the previous steps. With Huck there was no self-reflection, no lesson learned, no further contemplating. Again, I am left with a similar problem with a different elucidation.

As a reader of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, I've been taken on an exciting journey. Like another author I have had the privilege of being familiar with, Twain does leave questions unanswered. Should I take this text seriously? Or is this the ultimate joke for all those writers who attempt to tell rich, lesson-filled stories? My instinct tells me that Twain may have had both in mind but that question is an area that is off-limits for my math mind to solve. Hess's Law will not fit, Gram-Schmidt's process cannot be applied. Numbers can only go so far in crossing the uncrossed "t"s in a text but they can help to relate better to the characters and the situations in which they are interred. I know "what counts."

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