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Huck’s Journey Through Maturation Mark Twain’s novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is based on a young boy’s coming of age in Missouri in the mid-1800s. The adventures Huck Finn gets into while floating down the Mississippi River depict many serious issues that occur on the shores of civilization, better known as society. As these events following the Civil War are told through the young eyes of Huckleberry Finn, he unknowingly develops morally from the influences surrounding him on his journey to freedom and in the end, becomes a mature individual.
Huck’s evolution begins before he ever sets foot on the raft down the Mississippi. His mother is deceased, while his father customarily is in a drunken state. Huck grows up following his own rules until he moves in with the Widow Douglas and her sister, Miss Watson. Together, the women attempt to “sivilize”(Twain, 3). Huck by making him attend school, study religion, and act in a way the women find socially acceptable. However, Huck’s free-spirited soul keeps him from joining the organized life the two women have in store for him. The freedom Huck seeks in Tom Sawyer’s gang is nothing more than romantic child’s-play. Raiding a caravan of Arabs really means terrorizing young children on a Sunday School picnic, and the stolen “julery”(12) 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 quits the gang. Still, Huck ignorantly assumes that Tom is superior to him because of his more suitable family background and fascination with Romantic literature.
Pap and “the kidnapping” play another big role in Huck’s moral development. Pap is completely antisocial and wishes to undo all of the bad things that the Widow and Miss Watson have attempted to instill in Huck. However, Pap does not symbolize freedom because he promotes drunkenness, prejudice, and abuse.
So, Huck escapes the cabin to search for the freedom of which he is in need. It is after Huck Finn escapes to Jackson Island that he meets the most influential character of the novel, Jim. After conversing, Huck learns things about the runaway slave of which he had never been aware. Jim has a family, dreams, and talents such as knowing “all kinds of signs”(40), people’s personalities, and weather forecasting. However, Huck sees Jim as a gullible slave. He plays tricks on him like the rattlesnake that he puts in Jim’s bed that nearly gets Jim killed. At this point in the novel, Huck still holds the belief that blacks are essentially different from whites. Also, Huck’s conscience constantly reminds him that he is an abolitionist for helping Jim run away from his owner. Huck does not see that Jim is looking for freedom just as he is.
The first adventure Huck and Jim take part in while searching for freedom is the steamboat situation. Huck shows development of character in tricking the watchman into going back to the boat to save the criminals. Even though they are thieves, and plan to murder another man, Huck still feels that they deserve a chance to live. Some may see Huck’s reaction to the event as crooked but, unlike most of society, Huck Finn sees good in people and attempts to help them as much as he can. Getting lost in the fog while floating down the Mississippi River leads to a major turning point in the development of Huck Finn’s character. Up to this event, he has seen Jim as a lesser person than himself. After trying to deny the fog event to Jim, he says, “It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a [slave]; but I done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterward, neither”(74). He continues by explaining how he could never do such a thing again. Huck has clearly gained respect for Jim here and shows it by feeling so horrible over what he did.
The feud between the Grangerfords and the Shepardsons adds to Huck’s disliking of society. In this adventure, Huck learns what a feud is and also witnesses the horrid result the hostility brought upon the two families. After that, Huck and Jim meet up with the Duke and the King. The two con-men use Huck and Jim to aid them in their scams. The con-men’s attempt to act as the brothers of Peter Wilks is an important part of Huck’s development. The Duke and King try to take Peter’s money, however, Huck decides to return the money to Peter’s three daughters. He wants to set himslef apart from the thieves because he knows that he doesn’t belong with them and he feels bad that the daughters are getting tricked so badly. He cannot bare to see such a disgusting scam go through. This action demonstrates further growth and maturation, as does his choice to leave the two con-men..
The most climactic point of Huck’s maturation is when he exclaims “All right then, I’ll go to hell!”(180). He has decided to go against his conscience by freeing Jim, and in doing so, reject society. While the society he has grown up in teaches that freeing slaves is wrong, Huck has evolved to a point where he can realize that what he feels is right, and that his own beliefs are superior to those of Southern civilization. Jim has taught him what it is like to feel free while gliding down the Mississippi. When Huck would need safety from the dry land, Jim has always been supportive.
However, the next situation Jim and Huck go through will bring a turning point for the worst. When Jim is caught by Tom Sawyer’s relatives, Huck decides he will get his friend back. He sees Uncle Silas as such a good man, but fails to see that he owns slaves like all the rest. Then, Huck meets back up with Tom Sawyer, and let’s his useless rescue attempts jeopardize Jim’s freedom. Huck lets Tom Sawyer take the controls and sits quietly while Tom puts Jim through ordeal after ordeal. When it is made certain that Jim is a free man, Huck learns the truth about his father’s death and who was in the floating house at the beginning of the journey. This information is taken by Huck in a very mature manner and his respect for Jim grows even more.
Huckleberry Finn was able to raise above the rest of society. As a young boy, he learned many things about the cruel world, and what freedom really means. Huck will never accept civilization and he will always go back to living on his own terms. Though there were times when Huck made the wrong decision, the reader must realize that growing up is making mistakes; and the mistakes are what people learn from. The journey that Huckleberry Finn went through during the course of the book, helped him become a mature young man and helped him in his ongoing struggle with society.
Twain, Mark The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Boston: The Riverside Press Cambrige, 1958.
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