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In Bad Faith
The Dynamics of Deception in Mark Twain’s America
Forrest Robinson
Harvard University Press, 1986

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.


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Negative Poetics
Edward Jayne
University of Iowa Press, 1992

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Surprised by Shame
Dostoevsky's Liars and Narrative Exposure
Deborah A. Martinsen
The Ohio State University Press, 2003

In Surprised by Shame, Deborah A. Martinsen combines shame studies and literary criticism. She begins with a discussion of shame dynamics, including the tendency of those who witness shame to feel shame themselves. Because Dostoevsky identified shame as a fundamental source of lying, Martinsen focuses on scenes when liars are exposed. She argues that by making readers witness such scandal scenes, Dostoevsky surprises them with shame, thereby collapsing the distance between readers and characters and viscerally involving them in his message of human interconnection.

Treating Dostoevsky’s liars as case studies, Surprised by Shame discusses varieties of shame and shamelessness; it also illustrates how Dostoevsky uses lying to indicate and expose subconscious processes. In addition, Martinsen demonstrates how Dostoevsky plucks shame from the realm of character trait and plot motive and embeds it in the narrative dynamics of The Idiot, Demons, and The Brothers Karamazov, thereby plunging readers into fictional experience and ethically transforming them.

By focusing on shame, this book uncovers new perspectives on Dostoevsky as writer and psychologist. By exposing how shame dynamics implicate readers in texts’ ethical actions, it enriches understanding of his tremendous influence on twentieth-century thinkers and writers. Finally, reading Dostoevsky as a prophet of shame-begotten violence reveals his universal relevance in a twenty-first century already scarred by acts of violence.


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