This is not the promised Part II of the previous post but, instead, an elaborating on the following passage from that post:
Meanwhile, beneath (quite literally) all of this, enabling the narrator’s and characters’ lack of interest in these matters, is the brute fact of the Mississippi River and its tributaries and, more to the point, the Cotton Blossom‘s ability to travel upstream as well as downstream. In Show Boat‘s jacket art, the other unseen-yet-constant presence, in addition to the riverboat itself, is the river. As in Huckleberry Finn, this novel is obsessed with the various features of its setting; also as with Twain’s novel, though, the river becomes, in Lauren Berlant’s words from a slightly different context, “an apparatus of forgetting” (414). Or, more accurately, in both those novels at least some of their respective characters fervently hope, even if subconsciously, that it become such an apparatus.
In no place do the characters in Ferber’s novel mention Twain’s novel; indeed, it would be very surprising if they were to do so, seeing as most of Show Boat‘s action takes place before or right around Huckleberry Finn‘s American publication date of 1885. Moreover, as of my writing this post I do not know if Ferber had Twain’s novel in mind as she composed hers. Even so, the correspondences between these novels are striking.
In the world of the novel itself Andy Hawks begins his career as a riverman in the 1850s, about ten years after the time in which Twain’s novel is set. We can fairly say, then, that these novels’ respective worlds’ starting points, at least, are contemporaneous with each other. However, I want briefly to point out that, as alluded to in the quoted passage above, these novels have more in common with each other than the same chronological starting point, or even their shared setting of the Mississippi River. Continue reading