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Looking At Huck Finn Essay, Research Paper


The primary theme of the novel is the conflict between civilization and “natural

life.” Huck represents natural life through his freedom of spirit, his uncivilized

ways, and his desire to escape from civilization. He was brought up without

any rules and has a strong resistance to anything that might “sivilize” him. This

conflict is introduced in the first chapter through the efforts of the Widow

Douglas: she tries to force Huck to wear new clothes, give up smoking, and

to learn the Bible. Throughout the novel, Twain seems to suggest that the

uncivilized way of life is better; he draws on the ideas of Jean-Jacques

Rousseau in his belief that civilization corrupts rather than improves human


The theme of honor is one that permeates the novel. It is first introduced in the

second chapter with respect to Tom Sawyer’s band: Tom believes that there

is a great deal of honor associated with being robbers. This theme can be

traced throughout the rest of the book. Huck and Jim encounter robbers on

the shipwrecked boat and later they are forced to put up with the King and

the Dauphin, both of whom “rob” everyone they meet. Tom’s robber band is

also paralleled by the fact that Tom and Huck both become literal robbers at

the end of the novel. They both resolve to steal Jim out of slavery, and in the

process they act honorably. Thus honor, and acting in a way to earn honor,

becomes a central theme that Huck will have to deal with.

The theme of food is one that occurs in many parts of the novel. It is based on

the fact that Huck grew up fighting for food with pigs, eating out of “a barrel

of odds and ends.” Thus, whenever there is mention of food, it is a sign that

Huck has someone to take care of him. For example, in the first chapter it is

the Widow Douglas who feeds Huck. Later she is replaced by Jim, who

takes care of Huck on Jackson’s Island. Food is again mentioned when Huck

lives with the Grangerfords and the Wilks.

Another theme, and probably one of Twain’s favorites, is the mockery of

religion. Twain tended to attack organized religion at every opportunity, and

the sarcastic character of Huck Finn is perfectly situated to allow him to do

so. The attack on religion can already be seen in the first chapter, when Huck

indicates that hell sounds like a lot more fun than heaven. This will continue

throughout the novel, with one prominent scene occurring when the “King”

convinces a religious community to give him money so he can “convert” his

pirate friends.

Superstition is a theme that both Huck and Jim bring up several times.

Although both of these characters tend to be quite rational, they quickly

become irrational when anything remotely superstitious happens to them. The

role of superstition is two-fold: it shows that Huck and Jim are child-like in

spite of their otherwise extremely mature characters. Second, it serves to

foreshadow the plot at several key junctions. For example, spilling salt leads

to Pa returning for Huck, and later Jim gets bitten by a rattlesnake after Huck

touches a snakeskin with his hands.

Slavery forms one of the main themes that has been frequently debated since

Huck Finn was first published. Twain himself was vehemently anti-slavery;

Huckleberry Finn can in many ways be seen as an allegory for why slavery

is wrong. Twain uses Jim, a slave who is one of the main characters, as a way

of showing the human side of a slave. Everything about Jim is presented

through emotions: Jim runs away because Miss Watson was going to sell him

South and separate him from his family; Jim is trying to become free so he can

buy his family’s freedom; Jim takes care of Huck and protects him on their

journey downriver in a very maternalistic manner. Thus, Twain’s purpose is to

make the reader feel sympathy for Jim and outrage against the society that

would harm him. However, at the same time that Twain is attacking slavery,

he also pushes the issue into the background for most of the novel. Thus,

slavery itself is never debated by Huck and Jim. Even the other slaves in the

novel are noticeably minor characters. Only at the very end does Twain

create the central conflict concerning slavery: should Huck free Jim from

slavery and therefore be condemned to go to hell? This moment is life-altering

for Huck because it forces him to reject everything that “civilization” has taught

him; he makes the decision to free Jim based solely on his own experiences

and not based on the what he has been taught from books.

The theme of money is threaded through the novel and is used to highlight the

disparity between the rich and the poor. Twain purposely begins the novel by

pointing out that Huck has over six thousand dollars to his name; this sum of

money dwarfs all the other sums and makes them seem inconsequential by

contrast. It is also within this context that Huck is able to show such a relaxed

attitude towards wealth. Having so much money, he does not view money as

a necessity. In addition, Huck’s upbringing on the land has made him

independent enough that he views money as a luxury. Huck’s views on money

are meant to contrast with Jim’s views. Jim sees money as equivalent to

freedom; with money he can buy his freedom and that of his family. Money

also would allow him to live like a white person, thus raising his status in the

society. Thus, throughout the novel Jim constantly tries to get money whereas

Huck takes an apathetic attitude towards the subject.

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