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The Civilization Of Huck Essay, Research Paper

Society is perhaps the most powerful character that exists in all of literature and even in the modern world. Its influence of ideals has become so powerful that many follow it willingly, obeying the commands of a common culture without having to be instructed by any greater or superior authoritative figures. Mark Twain uses society, its social structure, and its influences as a character opposite of Huckleberry Finn. Throughout Huckleberry Finn, Huck is pitted against society s influence in his encounters with the strange, stereotypical people he meets along the Mississippi River. These people reflect many common social values, such as conformity, racism, and negligence of nightmares and frightening images; Huck, however, uses his individualism to avoid the cloud of society, relying on his instincts to guide him through life and fend off the nonsensical ideas which he chooses not to believe. As Huck departs on his journey, he intends to and does liberate himself from the reigns of society, using his strong individual character to overcome social barriers. Society, in return, chooses to ignore Huck and his individualism, removing him from the structure that Huck so desperately fears. He does, however, come to realize his status in relation to society, admitting it in his efforts to rescue Jim. Huck s instincts and individualism light the path to freedom for him and Jim – society s intolerance for his dissent liberates them from the hierarchy, just as Huck desires. As an adolescent child with strong desires for personal will and self-determination, Huck refutes the ideals of society and instead follows his instincts. He abides by his innate sense of right and wrong, making moral decisions which surpass the standards that society has set. Huck grew up on his own, uncivilized in manner and habit and detached from the structure and ideals of society. His actions show his dislike of conformation to society, particularly in response to the Widow Douglas who took him for her son, and allowed she would sivilize [him] (13). He felt it was rough living in the house all the time , and did not enjoy how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways (13); Hucks rushes to escape, and after reuniting with his comfortable, ragged clothing, he was free and satisfied (13) with living his rugged lifestyle. The new clothes that the widow forces him to wear cause Huck to sweat and sweat, and feel all cramped up (14), symbolic of the constriction he feels society has places on him. The restrictions appear again when Miss Watson scolds him and tells him not to put his feet up, to sit up straight, and to behave. Huck also rejects social concepts such as religion and racism. When the widow teaches him about Moses, he does not care at all about the biblical lesson, insistent that he don t take no stock in dead people (15). In the rural South of the mid-1800 s, blacks were still considered inferior and almost everyone had extreme prejudices against them. Huck again follows his moral instincts and was ever so glad to see Jim (53), befriending the runaway slave and agreeing to let him follow on his journey, an action no Southerner would ever tolerate. As Huck and Jim set off down the Mississippi River, it is evident that Huck desires the freedom of the wilderness as opposed to the proper and orderly-structured life of modern society; his choice to go with his instincts and moral conscience separates him from the rigid pattern of civilization. Society, in turn, goes against Huck, in many ways showing that he is insignificant and ignoring him in certain situations. Just as Huck refuses to conform to the social structure of the Southern culture, society rejects him by ignoring his situation, further demonstrating that the people are all conformists and have no moral bearing. After Pap s reappearance, Judge Thatcher awards custody of Huck to Pap, who said that he had been a man that had always been misunderstood before (34). Pap was obviously abusive of Huck, and although he agreed to stop drinking, he later bought a jug of forty-rod and was so drunk that he fell off the porch. Everyone in town was aware of Huck s miserable life with his Pap, but, fooled by his testimony, they allowed him to have Huck back. Huck was a prisoner under Pap s control, as he kept [him] with him all the time, and [he] never got a chance to run off (36). It becomes apparent to Huck that the people did not care about him until after his death ; they were mcuh more concerned about finding his corpse than saving him from his father. Later in the novel, as Huck and Jim approach Cairo, they encounter two men who were looking for several runaway slaves, asking to see the passengers of their raft. Huck then tells a lie, saying that it was his sick father on the raft; the two men hesitate, saying that his pap s got the small-pox, and [he] knows it precious well (112). These men were fearless in their hunt of runaway slaves, but when they were approached to help an ill white man, they grew afraid and told Huck to continue along the river, and to put twenty miles between them (113) as quickly as possible. Huck views society as wanting to uphold silly ideas such as racism and put aside important values such as responsibility, giving him more reasons to wish to detach himself. In his actions, Huck denounces the standards of society, since it has ignored him throughout his troubled life.

As Huck travels along the Mississippi River, he does find the freedom from society that he has been looking for, but he is not entirely oblivious of social values as the influence of society is evident in some of his actions. Huck chooses and continues to follow his instincts in many of the situations he encounters; it is apparent, however, that some social beliefs do affect Huck s judgement. Many times throughout the novel, Huck forces Jim to hide because his fugitive slave status would get him into a lot of trouble. After Huck lies to the two men in the skiff about the passengers on his raft, he feels a certain amount of guilt and responsibility for what he had done. He was feeling bad and low because he knew that he had done wrong (113) by hiding a runaway slave. He justifies his decision by thinking that he d feel the same amount of guilt had he turned in Jim. Huck acknowledges the proper ideals of society through the guilt he feels for disobeying the racist Southern law. When Jim is captured and held prisoner at the Phelps plantation, Huck again recognizes the values of Southern society. Huck writes a letter to Miss Watson, asking her to free Jim; after thinking about the letter for several minutes though, Huck boldly states, All right, then, I ll go to hell (223) before tearing up the letter. His internal conflict reveals that he knows he is wrong by not allowing Jim s owner to handle his capture, as required by law. His actions may not be just, but they are committed instinctually, using his own moral judgement. Huck is aware of the standards of society that have, in several cases, influenced his decisions, but he refuses to submit entirely to these social codes and continues to follow his own sense of right and wrong. Huck is often commended for his strength as an individual, floating freely along the River and choosing to do whatever he feels he must. Although he can been seen as a rebel against society, his actions are morally just, leading him to do good in most situations he encounters. It is unfortunate that while Huck chooses to detach himself from society, society and its conforming people act against Huck, showing him little attention and care. In Huck and Jim s case, however, it is better this way as this separation from society brings them one step closer to the physical liberation of Jim and the natural freedom that Huck desires.


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