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Adventures Of Huck Finn Essay, Research Paper
Mark Twain?s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel about a
young boy?s coming of age in the Missouri of the mid-1800?s. The main
character, Huckleberry Finn, spends much time in the novel floating down
the Mississippi River on a raft with a runaway slave named Jim. Before he
does so, however, Huck spends some time in the fictional town of St.
Petersburg where a number of people attempt to influence him.
Before the novel begins, Huck Finn has led a life of absolute
freedom. His drunken and often missing father has never paid much
attention to him; his mother is dead and so, when the novel begins, Huck is
not used to following any rules. The book?s opening finds Huck living with
the Widow Douglas and her sister, Miss Watson. Both women are fairly old
and are really somewhat incapable of raising a rebellious boy like Huck
Finn. Nevertheless, they attempt to make Huck into what they believe will
be a better boy. Specifically, they attempt, as Huck says, to "sivilize" him.
This process includes making Huck go to school, teaching him various
religious facts, and making him act in a way that the women find socially
acceptable. Huck, who has never had to follow many rules in his life, finds
the demands the women place upon him constraining and the life with them
lonely. As a result, soon after he first moves in with them, he runs away. He
soon comes back, but, even though he becomes somewhat comfortable
with his new life as the months go by, Huck never really enjoys the life of
manners, religion, and education that the Widow and her sister impose
Huck believes he will find some freedom with Tom Sawyer. Tom is a boy of
Huck?s age who promises Huck and other boys of the town a life of
adventure. Huck is eager to join Tom Sawyer?s Gang because he feels that
doing so will allow him to escape the somewhat boring life he leads with
the Widow Douglas. Unfortunately, such an escape does not occur. Tom
Sawyer promises much?robbing stages, murdering and ransoming
people, kidnaping beautiful women?but none of this comes to pass. Huck
finds out too late that Tom?s adventures are imaginary: that raiding a
caravan of "A-rabs" really means terrorizing young children on a Sunday
school picnic, that stolen "joolry" is nothing more than turnips or rocks.
Huck is disappointed that the adventures Tom promises are not real and
so, along with the other members, he resigns from the gang.
Another person who tries to get Huckleberry Finn to change is Pap,
Huck?s father. Pap is one of the most astonishing figures in all of American
literature as he is completely antisocial and wishes to undo all of the
civilizing effects that the Widow and Miss Watson have attempted to instill
in Huck. Pap is a mess: he is unshaven; his hair is uncut and hangs like
vines in front of his face; his skin, Huck says, is white like a fish?s belly or
like a tree toad?s. Pap?s savage appearance reflects his feelings as he
demands that Huck quit school, stop reading, and avoid church. Huck is
able to stay away from Pap for a while, but Pap kidnaps Huck three or four
months after Huck starts to live with the Widow and takes him to a lonely
cabin deep in the Missouri woods. Here, Huck enjoys, once again, the
freedom that he had prior to the beginning of the book. He can smoke,
"laze around," swear, and, in general, do what he wants to do. However, as
he did with the Widow and with Tom, Huck begins to become dissatisfied
with this life. Pap is "too handy with the hickory" and Huck soon realizes
that he will have to escape from the cabin if he wishes to remain alive. As a
result of his concern, Huck makes it appear as if he is killed in the cabin
while Pap is away, and leaves to go to a remote island in the Mississippi
River, Jackson?s Island.
It is after he leaves his father?s cabin that Huck joins yet another
important influence in his life: Miss Watson?s slave, Jim. Prior to Huck?s
leaving, Jim has been a minor character in the novel?he has been shown
being fooled by Tom Sawyer and telling Huck?s fortune. Huck finds Jim on
Jackson?s Island because the slave has run away?he has overheard a
conversation that he will soon be sold to New Orleans. Soon after joining
Jim on Jackson?s Island, Huck begins to realize that Jim has more talents
and intelligence than Huck has been aware of. Jim knows "all kinds of
signs" about the future, people?s personalities, and weather forecasting.
Huck finds this kind of information necessary as he and Jim drift down the
Mississippi on a raft. As important, Huck feels a comfort with Jim that he
has not felt with the other major characters in the novel. With Jim, Huck
can enjoy the best aspects of his earlier influences. As does the Widow,
Jim allows Huck security, but Jim is not as confining as is the Widow. Like
Tom Sawyer, Jim is intelligent but his intelligence is not as intimidating or
as imaginary as is Tom?s. As does Pap, Jim allows Huck freedom, but he
does it in a loving, rather than an uncaring, fashion. Thus, early, in their
relationship on Jackson?s Island, Huck says to Jim, "This is nice. I wouldn?t
want to be nowhere else but here." This feeling is in marked contrast with
Huck?s feelings concerning other people in the early part of the novel where
he always is uncomfortable and wishes to leave them.
At the conclusion of chapter 11 in The Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn, Huck and Jim are forced to leave Jackson?s Island because Huck
discovers that people are looking for the runaway slave. Prior to leaving,
Huck tells Jim, "They?re after us." Clearly, the people are after Jim, but
Huck has already identified with Jim and has begun to care for him. This
stated empathy shows that the two outcasts will have a successful and
rewarding friendship as they drift down the river as the novel continues.
Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
There is a major argument among literary critics whether Huckleberry Finn,
by Mark Twain, is or is not a racist novel. The question boils down to the
depiction of Jim, the black slave, and to the way he is treated by Huck and
other characters. The use of the word "nigger" is also a point raised by
some critics, who feel that Twain uses the word too much and too loosely.
Mark Twain never presents Jim in a negative light. He does not show Jim
as a drunkard, as a mean person or as a cheat. This is in contrast to the
way Huck?s (white) father is depicted, whom Twain describes using all of
the above characterizations and more. We see Jim as a good friend, a man
devoted to his family and loyal to his companions.
He is, however, very naive and superstitious. Some critics say that Twain is
implying that all blacks have these qualities. When Jim turns to his magic
hairball for answers about the future, we see that he does believe in some
foolish things. But all the same, he is visited by both blacks and whites to
use the hairball?s powers. This type of naivete was abundant at the time
and found among all races?the result of a lack of proper education. So the
depiction of Jim is not negative in the sense that Jim is stupid and inferior,
and in this aspect of the story clearly there is no racism intended.
It is next necessary to analyze the way white characters treat Jim
throughout the book. Note that what the author felt is not the way most
characters act around Jim, and his feelings are probably only shown
through Huck. In the South during that period, black people were treated as
less than humans, and Twain needed to portray this. The examples of the
way Jim is denigrated: by being locked up, having to hide his face in the
daytime and how he is generally derided, are necessary for historical
accuracy. So, Mark Twain had to display Jim?s treatment in this manner,
even if it is not the way he felt.
Huck, however, does not treat Jim as most whites do. Huck looks at Jim as
a friend, and by the end of their journey, disagrees with society?s notion that
blacks are inferior. There are two main examples of this in the story. The
first one is where Huck is disgusted by Jim?s plans to steal his own
children, who are "someone else?s property." While Huck is still racist here,
Twain has written the scene in a way that ridicules the notion that
someone?s children can actually be the property of a stranger because the
father is black. The second example is where Huck doesn?t tell Jim?s
whereabouts, which would return Jim to slavery, and instead chooses to
"go to Hell" for his decision. This is again Twain making a mockery of
Southern values, that it is a sin to be kind to black people.
Another reason that is given to say this novel is racist is the use of the word
"nigger." This is not a good reason because this is how blacks were
referred to then. To have used the word Negro or African-American would
have taken away from the story?s impact and make it sound stupid. If Twain
wanted to write an historically accurate book, as he did, then the inclusion
of this word is totally necessary.
These claims that Huckleberry Finn is racist are not simply attempts to
damage the image of a great novel. They come from people who are hurt
by racism and don?t like seeing it in any context. However, they must
realize that this novel and its author are not racist, and the purpose of the
story is to prove black equality.
Racism in Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn
In recent years, there has been increasing discussion of the seemingly
racist ideas expressed by Mark Twain in Huckleberry Finn. In some
extreme cases the novel has even been banned by public school systems
and censored by public libraries. The basis for these censorship campaigns
has been the depiction of one of the main characters in Huckleberry Finn,
Jim, a black slave. Jim, is a "typical" black slave who runs away from his
"owner" Miss Watson. At several points in the novel, Jim’s character is
described to the reader, and some people have looked upon the
characterization as racist. However, before one begins to censor a novel it
is important to separate the ideas of the author from the ideas’ of his
characters. It is also important not to take a novel at face value and to
"read between the lines" in order to capture the underlying themes of a
novel. If one were to do this in relation to Huckleberry Finn, one would,
without doubt, realize that it is not racist and is even anti-slavery.
On a superficial level Huckleberry Finn might appear to be racist. The first
time the reader meets Jim he is given a very negative description of Jim.
The reader is told that Jim is illiterate, childlike, not very bright and
extremely superstitious. However, it is important not to lose sight of who is
giving this description and of whom it is being given. Although Huck is not a
racist child, he has been raised by extremely racist individuals who have,
even if only subconsciously, ingrained some feelings of bigotry into his
mind. It is also important to remember that this description, although it is
quite saddening, was probably accurate. Jim and the millions of other
slaves in the South were not permitted any formal education, were never
allowed any independent thought and were constantly maltreated and
abused. Twain is merely portraying by way of Jim, a very realistic slave
raised in the South during that time period. To say that Twain is racist
because of his desire for historical accuracy is absurd.
Despite the few incidences in which Jim’s description might be
misconstrued as racist, there are many points in the novel where Twain
through Huck, voices his extreme opposition to the slave trade and racism.
In chapter six, Huck’s father fervently objects to the governments granting
of suffrage to an educated black professor. Twain wants the reader to see
the absurdity in this statement. Huck’s father believes that he is superior to
this black professor simply because of the color of his skin. In Chapter 15
the reader is told of an incident which contradicts the original "childlike"
description of Jim. In chapter 15 the reader is presented with a very caring
and father-like Jim who becomes very worried when he loses his best
friend Huck in a deep fog. Twain is pointing out the connection which has
been made between Huck and Jim. A connection which does not exist
between a man and his property. When Huck first meets Jim on the Island
he makes a monumental decision, not to turn Jim in. He is confronted by
two opposing forces, the force of society and the force of friendship. Many
times throughout the novel Huck comes very close to rationalizing Jim’s
slavery. However, he is never able to see a reason why this man who has
become one of his only friends, should be a slave. Through this internal
struggle, Twain expresses his opinions of the absurdity of slavery and the
importance of following one’s personal conscience before the laws of
society. By the end of the novel, Huck and the reader have come to
understand that Jim is not someone’s property and an inferior man, but an
Throughout the novel society’s voice is heard through Huck. The racist and
hateful contempt which existed at the time is at many times present. But, it
is vital for the reader to recognize these ideas as society’s and to recognize
that Twain throughout the novel disputes these ideas. Twain brings out into
the open the ugliness of society and causes the reader to challenge the
original description of Jim. In his subtle manner, he creates not an apology
for slavery but a challenge to it.
Intolerance Within the Novel
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
The entire plot of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is rooted on
intolerance between different social groups. Without prejudice and
intolerance The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn would not have any of the
antagonism or intercourse that makes the recital interesting. The prejudice
and intolerance found in the book are the characteristics that make The
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn great.
The author of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is Samuel
Langhorn Clemens, who is more commonly known by his pen name, Mark
Twain. He was born in 1835 with the passing of Haley?s comet, and died in
1910 with the passing of Haley?s comet. Clemens often used prejudice as
a building block for the plots of his stories. Clemens even said,? The very
ink in which history is written is merely fluid prejudice.? There are many
other instances in which Clemens uses prejudice as a foundation for the
entertainment of his writings such as this quote he said about foreigners in
The Innocents Abroad: ?They spell it Vinci and pronounce it Vinchy;
foreigners always spell better than they pronounce.? Even in the opening
paragraph of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Clemens states,
?Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted;
persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons
attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.?
There were many groups that Clemens contrasted in The Adventures
of Huckleberry Finn. The interaction of these different social groups is what
makes up the main plot of the novel. For the objective of discussion they
have been broken down into five main sets of antithetic parties: people with
high levels of melanin and people with low levels of melanin, rednecks and
scholarly, children and adults, men and women, and finally, the
Sheperdson?s and the Grangerford?s.
Whites and African Americans are the main two groups contrasted in
the novel. Throughout the novel Clemens portrays Caucasians as a more
educated group that is higher in society compared to the African Americans
portrayed in the novel. The cardinal way that Clemens portrays African
Americans as obsequious is through the colloquy that he assigns them.
Their dialogue is composed of nothing but broken English. One example in
the novel is this excerpt from the conversation between Jim the fugitive
slave, and Huckleberry about why Jim ran away, where Jim declares, ?Well
you see, it ?uz dis way. Ole missus-dat?s Miss Watson-she pecks on me all
de time, en treats me pooty rough, but she awluz said she woudn? sell me
down to Orleans.? Although this is the phonetic spelling of how some
African Americans from the boondocks used to talk, Clemens only applied
the argot to Blacks and not to Whites throughout the novel. There is not
one sentence in the treatise spoken by an African American that is not
comprised of broken English. The but in spite of that, the broken English
does add an entraining piece of culture to the milieu.
The second way Clemens differentiates people in the novel of
different skin color is that all Blacks in the book are portrayed as stupid and
uneducated. The most blatant example is where the African American
character Jim is kept prisoner for weeks while he is a dupe in a childish
game that Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn play with him. Clemens spends the
last three chapters in the novel to tell the tale of how Tom Sawyer
maliciously lets Jim, who known only unto Tom is really a free man, be kept
prisoner in a shack while Tom torments Jim with musings about freedom
and infests his living space with rats, snakes, and spiders. At the end of
this charade Tom even admits, ?Why, I wanted the adventure of it??
The next two groups Clemens contrasts are the rednecks and the
scholarly. In the novel Clemens uses interaction between backwoods and
more highly educated people as a vital part of the plot. The main usage of
this mixing of two social groups is seen in the development of the two very
entertaining characters simply called the duke and the king. These two
characters are rednecks who pretend to be of a more scholarly background
in order to cozen naive people along the banks of the Mississippi. In one
instance the king and the duke fail miserably in trying to act more
studiously when they perform a ?Shakespearean Revival.? The duke totally
slaughters the lines of Hamlet saying, ?To be, or not to be; that is the bare
bodkin. That it makes clamity of so long life. For who fardel bear, till
Birnam Wood do come to Dunshire, but that fear of something after death.?
Thirdly Clemens contrasts adults and children. Clemens portrays
adults as the conventional group in society, and children as the
unconventional. In the story adults are not portrayed with much bias, but
children are portrayed as more imaginative. The two main examples of this
are when Huckleberry fakes his death, and when Tom and Huck ?help? Jim
escape from captivity. This extra imaginative aspect Clemens gives to the
children of the story adds a lot of humor to the plot.
Fourthly in the novel Clemens contrasts women and men. Women in
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are portrayed as frail, while men are
portrayed as more outgoing. The foremost example of a frail woman
character in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is Tom Sawyer?s Aunt
Sally. One example was when Tom and Huck were collecting wildlife to
live in the shack that Jim is being held prisoner in they accidentally let
loose some snakes in Aunt Sally?s house and Aunt Sally, ??would just lay
that work down, and light out.? The main reason that Clemens portrays
women as less outgoing, is because there are really only four minor
women characters in the novel, while all major characters are men.
Lastly Clemens contrasts two families engaged in a feud. The
names of the two families are the Sheperdson?s and the Grangerford?s.
The ironic thing is that, other than their names, the two factions are totally
similar and even attend the same church. This intolerance augments a
major part to the plot because it serves as the basis for one of the
escapades Huck and Jim get involved in on their trip down the Mississippi.
In conclusion the entire plot of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is
rooted on intolerance between different social groups. Without prejudice
and intolerance The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn would not have any of
the antagonism and intercourse that makes the recital interesting.
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