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Huckleberry Finn Essay, Research Paper

Mark Twain^?s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel about a young boy^?s

coming of age in the Missouri of the mid-1800^?s. It is the story of Huck^?s

struggle to win

freedom for himself and Jim, a Negro slave. ^?Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

was Mark

Twain^?s greatest book, and a delighted world named it his masterpiece. To


knowing it well – Huck riding his raft in every language men could print – it

was America^?s

masterpiece^? (Allen 259). It is considered one of the greatest novels

because it conceals

so well Twain^?s opinions within what is seemingly a child^?s book. Though


condemned as inappropriate material for young readers, it soon became prized

for its

recreation of the Antebellum South, its insights into slavery, and its

depiction of

adolescent life. The novel resumes Huck^?s tale from the Adventures of Tom


which ended with Huck^?s adoption by Widow Douglas. But it is so much more.


this book the world called his masterpiece, Mark Twain put his prime purpose,

one that

branched in all his writing: a plea for humanity, for the end of caste, and

of its cruelties^?

(Allen 260).

Twain, whose real name is Samuel Langhorne Clemens, was born in Florida,

Missouri, in 1835. During his childhood he lived in Hannibal, Missouri, a

Mississippi river

port that was to become a large influence on his future writing. It was

Twain^?s nature to

write about where he lived, and his nature to criticize it if he felt it

necessary. As far his

structure, Kaplan said,

^?In plotting a book his structural sense was weak; intoxicated by a hunch,

he seldom saw far ahead, and too many of his stories peter out from the

author^?s fatigue or surfeit. His wayward techniques came close to free

association. This method served him best after he had conjured up

characters from long ago, who on coming to life wrote the narrative for

him, passing from incident to incident with a grace their creator could

never achieve in manipulating an artificial plot^? (Kaplan 16).

His best friend of forty years William D. Howells, has this to say about

Twain^?s writing.

^?So far as I know, Mr. Clemens is the first writer to use in extended

writing the fashion we all use in thinking, and to set down the thing that

comes into his mind without fear or favor of the thing that went before or

the thing that may be about to follow^? (Howells 186).

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. Huck^?s feelings grow through the novel.


in his feelings toward his friends, family, blacks, and society. Throughout

the book, Huck

usually looks into his own heart for guidance. Moral intuition is the basis

on which his

character rests.

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. In

the beginning

of the book Huck is living with the Widow Douglas and her sister, Miss

Watson. Both

women are fairly old and are incapable of raising a rebellious boy like Huck


However, they attempt to make Huck into what they believe will be a better

boy. ^?The

Widow Douglas she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me; but

it rough

living in the house all the time considering how dismal regular and decent

the widow was

in all her ways^? (Twain 11). This process includes making Huck go to school,


him various religious facts, and making him act in a way that the women find


acceptable. In this first chapter, Twain gives us the first direct example

of communicating

his feelings through Huck Finn: ^?After supper, the Widow Douglas got out her

book and

learned me about Moses…By and bye she let it out that Moses had been dead a

considerable long time; so then I didn^?t care no more about him, because I

don^?t take no

stock in dead people^? (Twain 12). In a letter written by Twain, he had this

to say: ^?As to

the past, there is but one good thing about it, and that is, that it is the

past — we don^?t

have to see it again…I have no tears for my pile, no respect, no reverence,

no pleasure in

taking a rag-picker^?s hood and exploring it^? (Bellamy 156). Twain expresses

his feelings

in the above paragraph by using the ^?I don^?t take no stock in dead

people^?(Twain 12) line

in the novel. In this way he can fashion a child^?s narrative to convey his

views of the past.

This is one example of the process Twain will continue to use in this novel

to conceal

satirical meanings within humorous lines.

Huck, who has never had to follow many rules in his life, finds the demands


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

upon him.

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 boring life he leads with the Widow Douglas. Unfortunately, such an

escape does not

occur. Tom Sawyer promises the gang they will be robbing stages, murdering


ransoming people, kidnapping beautiful women, but none of this comes to pass.


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 (Twain 22). Huck is disappointed that the


Tom promises are not real and so, along with the other members, he resigns

from the


Another person who tries to get Huckleberry Finn to change is Pap, Huck^?s


Some of Huck^?s most memorable lines were in reference to Pap. Twain uses

humor and

innocence to depict a generalization of society: ^?Pap always said, take a

chicken when

you get a chance, because if you don^?t want him yourself you can easy find

somebody that

does, and a good deed ain^?t never forgot. I never see Pap when he didn^?t

want the

chicken himself, but that is what he used to say, anyway^? (Twain 16). These

types of

paragraphs are used for three things simultaneously: to add a note of

satire, to add to the

storyline, and to continue to emphasize the child^?s point of view (Branch

214). Pap is one

of the most interesting figures in the novel. 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 unshaven and dirty. Huck is afraid of his father because he

is an abusive

drunk who only wants Huck for his money. ^?I used to be scared of him all the

time, he

taned me so much, I reckoned I was scared now too^? (Twain 18). Pap demands


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 woods. Here, Huck enjoys,


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

beats Huck

often and he soon realizes that he will have to escape from the cabin if he

wishes to remain

alive. 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


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 when

he overheard a conversation that he will soon be sold to someone in New

Orleans. When

he first finds Jim on the island, he is glad simply because he wants

companionship; but as

the two share the peace of the place, Huck comes to regard Jim as a human


rather than a faithful dog. Huck begins to realize that Jim has more talents

and intelligence

than Huck has been aware of. Jim knows all kinds of things about the future,


personalities, and weather forecasting. Huck finds this kind of information

necessary as he

and Jim drift down the Mississippi on a raft. Mark Twain^?s imagination lends

vigor and

freshness to many passages, and especially in the sections involving

conversations between

Jim and Huck. As Huck and Jim lie on their backs at night looking up at the

stars, while

the raft slips silently down the river, they argue about whether the stars

^?was made or only

just happened^?: ^?Jim said the moon could ^?a^? laid them; well, that looked

kind of

reasonable…because I^?ve seen a frog lay most as many^? (Twain 120). Huck

feels more

comfortable with Jim than he feels with the other major characters in the

novel. With Jim,

Huck can enjoy the best aspects of his earlier influences. Jim allows Huck

security, but

Jim is not as confining as the Widow. Like Tom Sawyer, Jim is intelligent

but his

intelligence is not as intimidating or as imaginary as is Tom^?s. Unlike 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^?(Twain 55). Although their friendship took plenty

of time to

develop and had many bumps in the road, it is a strong one that will last a

long time.

Through it all, Huck triumphed over society and followed his heart, and Jim

helped Huck

to mature and became free. Their journey to friendship is one to remember.

Huck is a

developing character throughout the novel. Much of his development is due to


association with Jim and his increasing respect for the black man.

Huck and Jim start their long journey down the Mississippi to Cairo where

Jim will

find his freedom. It is on this journey where Huck slowly develops a

respectful friendship

with Jim. However, this is slow to develop because Huck plays some very

nasty tricks on

Jim. The tricks would not have been so mean if Huck did not mean so much to

Jim. Jim

really needs Huck^?s help if he is going to make it safely. It is also later

revealed that Huck

is the only friend that Jim ever had. After Huck plays the trick where they

got separated

on the river he realizes what he has done and feels bad; however, Huck is

slow to

apologize. ^?It was fifteen minutes before I could go and humble myself to a

nigger; but I

done it and I warn^?t ever sorry for it afterward, neither. I didn^?t do him

no more mean

tricks, and I wouldn^?t have done that one if I^?d a^?knowed it would make him

feel that

way^? (Twain 86). That incident probably changed the whole way Huck looks at

Jim and

other Negroes. He realizes that they are people with feelings not just a

household item.

Part of the power of the book lies in Mark Twain^?s drawing of the character


Nigger Jim. Mark Twain shows Jim^?s slow, purposeful reasoning. But in other


Jim^?s spirit opens out to a wider horizon. Like Huck, he senses the beauty

of the river. In

his interpretation of a dream, Jim lets ^?the big, clear river^? symbolize ^?the

free States^?-in

other words freedom. If The Enchanted Village might serve as a subtitle for


Sawyer, so The Road to Freedom might serve the same purpose for Huckleberry


(Bellamy 342).

A while later fate decides to test Huck and they come across some slave


Huck is still a little confused between right and wrong and decides to turn

Jim in, but at

the last second Huck starts lying and saves Jim from being discovered. ^?They

went off

and I got aboard the raft, feeling bad and low, because I knowed very well I

had done

wrong^? (Twain 91).

At one of the towns that Huck and Jim stop at they pick up two men who claim


be royalty but are really con-artists. Huck quickly realizes this but does

not say anything

just to keep the peace on the raft. Huck does not really like these two,

King and Duke,

because they do mean things to innocent people to make their living. They go

too far

when they find three sisters who just lost their father and they pretend to

be their British

uncles. They plan to rob the sisters for all their worth but Huck foils

their plan. This

passage illustrates Huck^?s kindness to total strangers. Huck especially did

not care for

King and Duke after King sells Jim for forty dollars. Huck is determined to

free Jim and

finds out that Jim is being kept at the farm of Tom Sawyer^?s aunt and uncle.


presents himself as Tom Sawyer. When Tom actually arrives, he cooperates

with Huck

and presents himself as another fellow, Sid. Huck enlists Tom^?s aid in the

scheme to

rescue Jim. Tom, however, develops an unnecessarily complicated plot. When

they help

Jim escape, a chase ensues. Tom is shot in the leg and Jim is recaptured.

But then the

boys learn that Jim^?s owner has died, bequeathing him his freedom. They also

learn that

Huck^?s father, too, has died. Tom^?s Aunt Sally then offers to adopt Huck,

but he realizes

that the process of becoming civilized is not an enjoyable one.

Throughout the course of the novel Huck changed from a boy who shared the

narrow-minded opinion which looked down on Negroes to one where he viewed

them as

equals. I would say that would be his biggest emotional growth in the novel.

Huck is a very personable narrator. He tells his story in plain language.

It is

through his precise trusting eyes that the reader sees the world of the

novel. Because

Huck is so literal, the reader gains an understanding of the work Mark Twain

created, the

reader is able to catch Twain^?s jokes and hear his skepticism. The


furniture, much admired by Huck, is actually comically tacky. You can almost

hear Mark

Twain laughing over the parrot-flanked clock and the curtains with cows and


painted on them even as Huck oohs and ahhs.

Through the character of Huck, that disreputable, illiterate little boy,

Mark Twain

was licensed to let himself go…That Mark Twain was almost, if not quite

conscious of his

opportunity we can see from his introductory note to the book: ^?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^?

(Branch 216). The

emotional tie-in with the past found expression in Mark Twain^?s

self-identification with

Huck, the dominant strategy he employed. This identification breathed life

into Huck^?s

character and into his experience, which encompasses the dramatic role of


individualized characters.

Allen, Jerry. The Adventures of Mark Twain. Boston: Little, 1954.

Bellamy, Gladys Carmen. Mark Twain: As A Literary Artist. Norman: UP of

Oklahoma, 1950.

Branch, Edgar Marquess. The Literary Apprenticeship Of Mark Twain. New York:

Russell, 1966.

Howells, W. D. My Mark Twain: Reminiscences and Criticisms. New York: Harper,


Kaplan, Justin, ed. Mark Twain: A Profile. New York: Hill, 1967.

Twain, Mark. Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn. New York: Penguin, 1959.

grade 98

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