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Huck Finn Critical Essay Essay, Research Paper

Critical Essay

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Twain told the truth in great novels and memoirs and short stories and essays, and he became a writer of international renown still translated into 72 languages. He became, through the written and spoken word, America’s greatest ambassador and its most perpetually quoted. Samuel L. Clemens was born in 1835 in a town called Florida, Mo., and before he became a famous writer under the pen name Mark Twain, he worked on a riverboat, as a prospector for gold, as a reporter, and at other enterprises( Twain 12). He was not a young man of excellent reputation – a conclusion reached by Jervis Langdon, an Elmira businessman who had been asked by young Sam for his daughter Livy`s hand. Still, the marriage occurred and, shortly thereafter, in 1871, the couple moved to Hartford, renting a home in the Nook Farm neighborhood from John Hooker. They soon began construction on an eccentric and expensive mansion, where they lived for two decades. In the billiard room of this house many of the greatest books of Mark Twain were finished, among them “Tom Sawyer,” “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” “Roughing It,” “Life on the Mississippi,” and “A Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court.” During his two decades in Hartford, Mark Twain enjoyed the company of many good friends in his close-knit neighborhood, like William Gillette and Charles Dudley Warner, as well as frequent visitors from around the country, such as General William Tecumseh Sherman, explorer Henry Stanley, and author Bret Harte. He became a well-known public figure, often making news in the Hartford Courant ( Compton`s Encyclopedia ).

Twain’s years in Hartford were perhaps among his happiest, for in addition to his literary successes it was here that he, Livy, and their three daughters, Susy, Clara and Jean were all together. Twain would eventually outlive everyone but Clara. Financial trouble hit the Clemenses in the 1880s, particularly after Twain invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in a mechanical typesetting device being developed by James Paige. The typesetter was a failure, Twain’s investment was lost, and in 1891 Twain and family left Hartford to live less expensively in Europe. Twain is thought of today in many circles as a great humorist( Twain 25). This is, of course, true. His wit is legendary. But his work is far too complex to characterize only in that way. The writing is full of social commentary, and his voice was controversial at the time of his writings and remains so today. Huck Finn, in some circles, is a racist book because of its repeated use of the word nigger by its characters and because of the portrayal of the slave Jim. But many scholars, including those from an African-American heritage, argue that Twain was accurate in his depiction of the times and a force for change and for understanding the horrors of slavery. Aside from his writing, Twain was also a publisher (he printed the memoirs of U.S. Grant), a much- acclaimed (and well-paid) lecturer, and an entrepreneur. It was his investment in the Paige typesetter that ultimately led to bankruptcy and forced him and Livy to close up the Hartford house and take their three daughters to Europe. He died after Livy and two of his daughters and is buried in Elmira, where he summered throughout his life, in a grave that is marked “Samuel Langhorne Clemens — Mark Twain –1835-1910.” While it is his talent for writing that made him famous, the experiences of his earlier life play very important parts in his books. His experiences as a steam boat pilot are used in many of his books, including Huck Finn. Mark Twain is a term that he learned during his time as a river boat pilot meaning “two fathoms deep”. The renowned author`s greatest book about struggle and hopes and dreams is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Many would say that Huck Finn is a very troubled young boy. . Huck’s dad brought Huck up the hard way with out a mother and instilled many of his beliefs into Huck. He passed some of these bad habits onto Huck which leads to my thesis that, Huck often finds himself in tight predicaments and being brought up the way he was, taught that lying and stealing aren’t wrong, proved very useful in getting him out of many of these predicaments. Because Huck’s father brought him up to be such a great liar and a stealer Huck has been able to escape from many close calls. So in order to escape from his fathers drunken grasps he must concoct some plan to keep his father away from him for good. Huck was brought up in an environment where he saw lying and stealing almost all the time and almost became accustomed to it, Huck himself became a liar and a stealer too. . Huck was brought up a liar and always would be a liar no matter how hard he tried, these had become his natural instincts along with staying alive. So if Huck’s father had not brought him up the way he had and Huck had lived a proper life, a civilized one, then I do not believe that Huck would be able to survive one day in the awful cruel world he lived in. Because his father brought him up tough and strong, and defiant he survived (Twain 37 ).

Huckleberry Finn and Holden Caulfield make take journey into self-discovery. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck Finn is trying to find purpose and identity through conflicting of morals. While Holden Caulfield in Catcher in the Rye, is an adolescent struggling to find mature into manhood. In comparison, they are both on a journey towards maturity and identity. Life itself is a journey full of bonding and experiences which lead to wisdom and understanding. Without maturity one may never have these essential experiences. This leads to an empty shell of a person, never truly feeling passion, love or peace. Huck Finn is a young boy deciding which morals to hold true. The quest for what’s right is long and confusing. During his adventure is forced to choose between his morals and his conscience. When Huck runs into the bounty hunters he is forced to make one of these decisions. He must choose whether to turn his run-away slave friend Jim as his conscience advises or to trust his morals and protect his friend in need. Fortunately, his will is strong and he creates an elaborate lie to prevent Jim’s capture. Huck seeks refuge in nature, where right and wrong don’t exist and life’s beauty is what is truly important. He mentions that nature is peaceful and he need not worry about either his morality or conscience but is allowed to ponder these personal discrepancies. Holden Caulfield, however, has a much more complex yet equally important struggle. His struggle is of his own hypocrisy and misunderstanding. This struggle can be overwhelming for some and it is for Holden who requires help to come to terms with maturity. Even though he is constantly speaks as if he is experienced in connection and bonding, they were always just fa?ades. Holden thinks he is superior to his environment because he has a false knowledge of it and it’s workings. This is best explained by his reaction his old friend June whom he would like to have a meaningful relationship with but cant come to grips on how. Inspite of all he thinks he knows he is really only the faker he despises. Both Huck and Holden must complete their own journey’s to become complete individuals. This journey is only a step on the staircase of life which ultimately leads to inner-peace and happiness. Each experience is unique and powerful but are essential to getting the whole picture. What Huck finally comes to terms with is that life’s questions should be answered from the heart. He also decides that humanity has evolved into a corrupt species whose ideas aren’t worth the headache. His answer is to flee society and all of it’s constraints and live in nature where he is free from civilization. Holden has a tougher decision to make since he must completely reverse his thinking completely. The first step is to realize his hypocrisy which he was able to do but couldn’t truly solve his problem and was forced to seek professional help in the end. Fortunately, both characters ultimately progress onto the next step by some means outside the conformity of normality ( Twain 145-190).

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, essentially follows young Huck on a series of adventures and experiences with his close friend (and runaway slave), Jim, as they both escape society’s burdens. The novel, in a sense, encompasses everything good, bad and in between about and concerning the society of that time. Some important parts of the story Huckleberry Finn are summarized as follows. The steamboat situation does two things, it expresses Mark Twain’s views of the Romantics, and furthers Huckleberry Finn’s development. The steamboat is called the Walter Scott. This is significant, as there was an author of the same name who wrote literature in the Romantic style. The steamboat, is therefore symbolic for the ending of the movement, and as it sinks, Realism takes its place( Twain 45). Huck also shows development of character in tricking the watchman into going back to the boat to save the criminals. Even though they were thieves, and had planned to kill their friend, Huck still felt that the forfeit of their lives would be too great a punishment. Getting lost in the fog 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. Huck Finn says, “It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger; but I done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterward, neither.” He continues by explaining how he could never do such a thing again. Huck has clearly gained respect for Jim here, which explains the risks he is willing to take for Jim later in the book. A short yet significant scene is when the men on shore want to check Huck’s raft for runaway slaves. He escapes by tricking them into thinking that his dad is onboard with smallpox. This scene show a negative view of human nature. The men had helped Huck, until they realized that they were in danger themselves. They put their own safety above that of others, and while this is sometimes acceptable, it is by no means a noble trait. Their behavior with money supports this viewpoint. They gave Huck 40 dollars in gold, but put it on a piece of wood so that they would not have to expose themselves to the disease. The feud between the Granger fords and the Shaped sons is a venue for many of the themes in Huck Finn( Compton`s Encyclopedia).While everyone around her thought she was very gifted, her poems are amateurish and overly depressing. This is Twain’s belief about the romantics in general. Twain ridicules the honor system that binds the two families to slaughter each other for an act that no one can remember. He points to their hypocrisy in commenting favorably on a sermon of brotherly love, with their guns in hand. This feud adds to Huck’s distaste for society and it’s teachings, and is part of his moral metamorphosis. The Royal Nonesuch attacks the human inclination to see things that would generally be inappropriate. It was the line “WOMEN AND CHILDREN NOT ADMITTED” that drew the huge crowds of men for the sole purpose of being tricked. It also illustrates Mark Twain’s view towards con men and scams. Unlike popular opinion, he feels that anyone who is tricked deserves their fate, as it was their own ignorance which brought it upon them. The Duke and the Dauphin’s attempt to mascarade as the brothers of Peter Wilks is an important part of Huck’s development. The Duke and the Dauphin pretend to be William and Harvey Wilks, brothers of the deceased Peter Wilks. They try to take Peter’s estate, however, Huck decides to return the money to Peter’s three daughters. This action demonstrates further moral growth, as does his choice to abandon the two con men. This quote, and the decision accompanying it, represent the highest point in Huck’s moral development. He has decided to free Jim, and in doing so, reject society. While the society his has grown up in teaches that freeing slaves is wrong, Huck has evolved to a point where he can realize that it is right, and that his own beliefs are superior to those of Southern society. Tom Sawyer’s useless rescue attempts are considered by many to be the worst part of the book. There is an apparent stagnant period in Huck’s development during this sheared. When he decides to free Jim, Huck has made great strides. However, he lets Tom take the controls and sits quietly while Tom puts Jim through ordeal after ordeal. Many believe that the ending would be better if there weren’t so many “fortunate coincidences”, and Huck continued with his moral growth( Twain 191-210 ).

In Mark Twain’s novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, he uses several different themes. His themes help to portray the meaning and message of the novel. Twain’s major theme in the novel is man’s inhumanity to man. He develops this theme through the inhumane actions of Pap toward Huck, the dishonesty of the King and the Duke toward the Wilkes girls, and the betrayal of Jim for money by the King and the Duke. Twain uses the inhumane actions of Pap toward Huck to help develop the major theme of his novel. “‘ I’ll take you down a peg before I get done with you’” ( Twain 20). This quote shows how man is inhuman to other men, even if they are related and supposed to love each other. Pap talks and acts mean towards Huck, even though Huck is his own son. Not only is Pap mentally abusive toward Huck, but he is also physically abusive toward him. “But by and by pap got too handy with his hick’ry, and I couldn’t stand it. I was all over welts”( Twain 24). The way that Pap treats Huck shows the inhumanity of man toward other men and helps to develop the major theme of the novel. The dishonesty of the King and the Duke toward the Wilkes girls also help to develop the major theme of the novel. The Duke and the King take their cruelty to another level because they steal and lie to the Wilkes girls, who are left all alone with no parents. And not sell the rest o’ the property? March off like a passel of fools and leave eight or nine thous’n’ dollars’ worth o’ property layin’ around jest sufferin’ to be scooped in?-and all good, salable stuff, too ( Twain 170-171). The Duke and the King are so inhumane that they will go as far as stealing from three innocent girls. “And he said of course him and William would take the girls home with them”( Twain 176). Not only do the Duke and the King steal money from the girls, but they also lie to them about bringing them to England just so they can have more money. They plan cruel and inhumane things to do to the girls when the girls have done nothing to deserve it. Twain also develops the major theme of the novel through the betrayal of Jim for money by the King and the Duke. “? and nobody came out of the wigwam. Jim was gone!”( Twain 203). The Duke and the King symbolize the nation’s scum, and through their action of selling Jim they prove this as well as prove that they do not care about Jim or Huck. They are inhumane and just care about money. Huck learns about the Duke and the King’s actions from a boy in town. ” ‘It was an old fellow – a stranger – and he sold out his chance in him for forty dollars’”( Twain 203). The Duke and the King are so cruel and desperate that they can not even wait to sell Jim back to his owner for $200, they must have some kind of money, even just $40, now. The Duke and the King are cruel to their fellow man, Jim, even when him and Huck are so good to them. These are just some of the many ways that Mark Twain develops the major theme in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Twain uses this type of deliberate cruelty to help make the major theme clearer to the reader. By the inhumane actions of Pap towards Huck, the dishonesty of the King and the Duke toward the Wilkes girls, and the betrayal of Jim for money by the King and the Duke the theme of this novel is well developed ( Twain Huck Finn )

One of the major themes in Huck Finn is that of refusing to conform to the teachings of society. Twain does not seem to feel that one should never conform. Rather, he says that one should follow the moral beliefs that you’ve decided upon instead of what society tells you.

Twain’s anti-romantic sentiment is shown in the book. From the name of the sinking river boat (the Walter Scott) to the overly depressed Emmeline Grangerford, Twain pokes fun at the Romantic movement(Compton`s Encyclopedia ). It is also important to note, that all of Tom’s hair-brained ideas come from romantic literature. Huck Finn is full of anti-slavery symbols. For instance, when Huck (as Tom Sawyer) tells Aunt Sally that a slave was killed in a steam boat accident, she replies “Well, it’s lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt.” When the real Tom Sawyer shows up, he puts Jim through all sorts of ordeals with no qualms about doing so. Twain seems to believe that those who get conned, deserve it due to stupidity( Twain 56).

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel that will continue to be read for decades to come. Why? The novel by Mark Twain, or Samuel Clemens, has many themes that relate to society today. Even today society continues to talk about whether the novel should be read amongst high-school curriculums. Society is also continuing to deal with racism, and its effects on the lives of African-Americans. Another theme that is prevalent in society is lying among American children. Huck Finn is a self taught liar, and a very good one at that. On the raft, while floating down the Mississippi, Huck has an opportunity to exercise his gift for lying. The boy enjoys mendacity; he lies for the sake of lying and keeps the reader turning the page piling on one fiction after another. Just before the runaways get started, Huck visits a neighboring town to get information and encounters a farmer’s wife. He is dressed in an old dress and is pretending to be a young girl searching for her relatives. The woman suspects his sex and tries various devices to ascertain if her suspicions are true.( Twain 250). Among these is threading a needle and throwing a bar of lead at the rats which swarm around the house. Finally she makes Huck own up that he is a boy. In any case, this is a great example of a young boy lying until his nose is a foot long. Lying is prevalent among today’s children as well. Racism has an obvious connection to today’s society. In the novel Huck says many “racist” comments. In this scene Aunt Sally hears of a steamboat explosion. “Good gracious! anybody hurt?” she asks. “No’m,” comes the answer. “Killed a nigger.” Aunt Sally later refers to the “nigger” as if they are not even a person, regarding the death as if it did not even matter. “Well, it’s lucky because sometimes people do get hurt.” At first glance at the novel Huckleberry Finn, many would protest to the explicit use of the “N” word which was used over two-hundred times. As a result Huck Finn, one of the greatest American novels is noteworthy. This book was not written to besmirch the blacks of any rights or defame their character. This book was written to prove a point about the racial tension in the South before the Civil War. Therefore, Twain had no intention of being racist. In fact the message Twain is sending is anything but racist. Today, racism has nearly disappeared from our lives. There are still many individual racists but for the most part this disease has been cured. As in the book, most people described as racists are not, for they are just mistaken. There are school districts across the nation that are debating whether to ban their children from reading Huckleberry Finn. If this book is taught, the novel can open student’s eyes to the racial tension that ignorance causes. The students will become aware of their history. They will not be deprived of a lesson in their past that describes what their great-grandparents went through. We have to remember that Huck Finn was written fifty years before Martin Luther King Jr. was born. During those times it was acceptable to lynch an African American man, and acceptable to use the “N” word. If this book is taken out of high-school curriculums where would students learn about the history of racism( Compton`s Encyclopedia)? In conclusion, the many themes present in Huck Finn will always be relevant to modern society. I believe that Huckleberry Finn will forever be regarded as a literary classic and as a novel that should be read and enjoyed by people of all ages.


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