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The Conscience of Huckleberry Finn

  • Jonathan Bennett (a1)

In this paper, I shall present not just the conscience of Huckleberry Finn but two others as well. One of them is the conscience of Heinrich Himmler. He became a Nazi in 1923; he served drably and quietly, but well, and was rewarded with increasing responsibility and power. At the peak of his career he held many offices and commands, of which the most powerful was that of leader of the S.S.—the principal police force of the Nazi regime. In this capacity, Himmler commanded the whole concentration-camp system, and was responsible for the execution of the so-called ‘final solution of the Jewish problem’. It is important for my purposes that this piece of social engineering should be thought of not abstractly but in concrete terms of Jewish families being marched to what they think are bath-houses, to the accompaniment of loud-speaker renditions of extracts from The Merry Widow and Tales of Hoffman, there to be choked to death by poisonous gases. Altogether, Himmler succeeded in murdering about four and a half million of them, as well as several million gentiles, mainly Poles and Russians.

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1 Sidnell, M. J., ‘Huck Finn and Jim’, The Cambridge Quarterly, vol. 2, pp. 205206.

2 Quoted in Shirer, William L., The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (New York, 1960), pp. 937938. Next quotation: Ibid., p. 966. All further quotations relating to Himmler are from Manwell, Roger and Fraenkel, Heinrich, Heinrich Himmler (London, 1965), pp. 132, 197, 184 (twice), 187.

3 Ferra, Vergilius (ed.), Puritan Sage: Collected Writings of Jonathan Edwards (New York, 1953), p. 370. Next three quotations: Ibid., p. 366, p. 294 (‘no more than infinite’), p. 372.

4 This and the next two quotations are from ‘The End of the Wicked Contemplated by the Righteous: or, The Torments of the Wicked in Hell, no Occasion of Grief to the Saints in Heaven’, from The Works of President Edwards (London, 1817), vol. IV, pp. 507508, 511512, and 509 respectively.

5 I am grateful to the Executors of the Estate of Harold Owen, and to Chatto and Windus Ltd., for permission to quote from Wilfred Owen's ‘Dulce et Decorum Est’ and ‘Insensibility’.

6 This paper began life as the Potter Memorial Lecture, given at Washington State University in Pullman, Washington, in 1972.

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  • ISSN: 0031-8191
  • EISSN: 1469-817X
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