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Huck Finn Essay, Research Paper

“All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn,” according to Ernest Hemingway. Along with Ernest, many others believe that Huckleberry Finn is a great book, but is the novel subversive? Since this question is frequently asked, people have begun to look deeper into the question to see if this novel is acceptable for students in schools to read. First off subversive means something is trying to overthrow or destroy something established or to corrupt (as in morals). According to Lionel Trilling,

” No one who reads thoughtfully the dialectic of Huck’s great moral crisis will ever again be wholly able to accept without some question and some irony the assumptions of the respectable morality by which he lives, or will ever again be certain that what he considers the clear dictates of moral reason are not merely the engrained customary beliefs of his time and place.”

Trilling feels that Huck Finn is such a subversive character that this will not make people believe in something totally again, because they will fear being wrong like the society in Huckleberry Finn was. I believe this and I think the subversion in the novel is established when Mark Twain begins to question the acceptable morality of society. Twain uses humor and effective writing to make Huckleberry Finn a subversive novel about society in the 19th century.

Huck Finn, a boy referred to as “white trash,” is a boy that has grown up believing totally what society as taught him. This passage shows an example of how society teaches him.

“?And keep them till they’re ransomed.” “Ransomed? What’s that?” “I don’t know. But that’s what they do. I’ve seen it in the books, and so of course that’s what we’ve got to do.” “Well how can we do it if we don’t know what it is?” “Why, blame it all, we’ve got to do it. Don’t I tell you it’s in the books? Do you want to go to doing different from what’s in the books, and get things all muddled up?” (8-9)

This is a conversation between Tom Sawyer and his gang of robbers. This shows how the boys are influenced by society and believe they most follow exactly what is in the books, because that is the right way to do things. In today’s society, ransoming someone is a huge crime and is totally unacceptable. In this book, Twain makes ransoming a humorous issue. In fact, throughout the novel Twain makes violence a humorous issue and does not act upon it as a serious issue. This goes with the whole theme of the novel that there is no moral. The way Huck has been raised, he has no clue that what Tom’s gang wants to do is ludacrist, and should be totally unacceptable. Twain uses this conversation also to show the beginning of questioning throughout the novel. This will show a pattern of how Huck questions things to learn. Whatever Hucks hears, he believes is the right and acceptable answer. Tom’s Gang of Robbers was a part of humorous violence in the novel, but Huck would run into real violence as well.

Huck faked his death, and headed down the river, and he decides to go ashore and stays with a stranger family named the Grangerfords. The Grangerfords who were a very nice family, but a family that was obsessed with death. The Grangerfords and another family called the Sheperdson’s have had a feud going on for 30 years, but no one knows why.

“What’s a feud?” “Why, where was you raised? Don’t you know what a feud is?” “Never heard of it before-tell me about it.” “Well,” says Buck, “a feud is this way: A man has a quarrel with another man, and kills him; and then that other man’s brother kills him; then the other brothers, on both sides, goes for one another; then the cousins chip in-and by and by everybody’s killed off, and there ain’t no more feud. But’s it’s kind of slow, and takes a long time.” “Has this one been going on long Buck?” “Well I should reckon! It started thirty year ago, or som’ers along there. There was trouble ’bout something and then a lawsuit to settle it; and the suit went agin one of the men, so he up and shot the man that won the suit-which he would naturally do of course. Anybody would.” (108)

This conversation is a very important role in determining if this novel is subversive or not. The Sheperdsons and Grangerfords never question the principle of a feud. They are not even sure why they are having a feud in the first place. They are not positive on how it started, or who started it. The irony in this, would be that both families are totally fine with this, and continue with the killing of each other. Twain uses this scene to portray the real violence that also occurs in the novel. The killing of each other being acceptable is an example of subversive writing, and another is when Huck sees Jim as an equal person as himself.

As the novel goes on, and while Huck and Jim continue their voyage down the Mississippi, Huck begins to realize many things. In fact, the climax of the novel occurs when Huck is trying to decide to turn Jim in to Miss Watson, or not to.

“?And I got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places harden against me, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, ’stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was;?..and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around and see the paper?..All right, then, I’ll go to hell”-and tore it up. (214)

Huck Finn’s conscience is what he has learned, or what society has taught him, and it is telling him that it is not right to keep Jim with him. Huck’s real conscience, or his heart, is telling him the right thing to do. Huck Finn has a sound heart and a deformed conscience. Huck thinks that he is doing something very evil, but the reader knows that he is not. This is important because it shows that Huck believes him and Jim are equal. The effect Jim has had on him as caused him to believe that a black man is not inferior to the white man. Now that Huck has realized this, him and Jim must re-enter society, because that is the only place they have to go.

When Twain reaches this point in the novel, the only thing that he can do is try to bring Huck and Jim back into society. The conversation between Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn where they were talking about “The Great Evasion” plays a significant role in this.

“Well, by the end of three weeks everything was in pretty good shape. The shirt was sent in early, in a pie, and every time a rat bit Jim he would get up and write a line in his journal whilst the ink was fresh; the pens was made, the inscriptions and so on was all carved on the grindstone; the bed-leg sawed in two, and we had et up the sawdust, and it give us the most amazing stomach-ache. We reckoned we was all going to die, but didn’t.” (267)

This occurs when the boys finally have all their plans done to free the Jim out of captivity. Huck had a plan in the beginning that was much easier then the one Tom had planned, but Tom insisted they do his. It was so important to Tom to use his because, it was what they did in the books, just like with his band of robbers. Little does Huck know, that this was a cruel joke played on Jim. They could have freed Jim much easier, but Tom wanted to play this joke on Jim. In the end, Jim was freed from his “dungeon” and Twain now must bring him and Huck back into the “real” world. Jim’s escape led to Huck and him being discovered by Aunt Polly and brought back into society. Jim finds out all along he was a free man, and Aunt Sally decides to adopt Huck and “sivilize” him, which Huck can’t stand, cuz he’d been there.

Mark Twain clearly has written a subversive novel in Huckleberry Finn. In the society that Huck and Jim lived in blacks were inferior to the whites, but that is not the way Twain portrays them in this novel. The fact that killing people is humorous is another way that Twain shows subversion in the novel. He is trying to prove that sometimes what is accepted is not always the correct way. This causes Twain’s novel to be portrayed as a very subversive novel. After all, Mark Twain has put together a very interesting and entertaining, but subversive novel named Huckleb


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