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Huck Finn Essay

No one who has read the novel Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain can deny not seeing the faults of the civilized world

that Twain so critically satires. This element of the novel plays the perfect backdrop to the thing Twain uses to compare civilization with: The ideal way of living. Every time the main characters Huck and Jim are away from the influences of the civilized world, Twain’s vision of the ideal way of living reveals itself to the reader. By observing the things that occur when Huck and Jim are in the influences of the civilized world and when they are not, we can see the vast differences that lie between these two elements.

The first glimpse that we get of the civilized world in Huck’s time comes to us as early as the first chapter. Huck describes to the reader how he is getting along in civilization. He tells us things about society that he doesn’t yet understand, like how the Widow forbids him to smoke yet she uses tobacco herself. Twain establishes the hypocrisy of civilization early on in the novel to give the reader insight on the differences between the “proper” ways of nineteenth century society and the “improper” behavior that Huck is accustomed to dealing with.

This insight that Twain gives to the reader is further expanded with the introduction of Huck’s Pap into the story. After leaving Huck for a little over a year, Pap comes back for Huck, figuring he may have something to gain. “That’s why I come. You git me that money tomorrow- I want it.” [29] are Pap’s words to Huck when they first reunite. Pap, the person most responsiable for Huck’s welfare, is the person who abuses Huck the most. Even though Huck is outside of the civilized world’s grasp when he lives with Pap, this is not the freedom Huck is looking for. Pap is in every respect the exact opposite of Jim. Where Jim is caring, sensitive and fatherly towards Huck, Pap is selfish, cruel and dirty.

After he fakes his own death to escape from Pap, Huck flees to Jackson Island in order not to be discovered. Jackson Island is also where Huck and Jim accidentally run into each other while running away from society. While their reasons for running away are clearly different, they decide to run away together. This is where Twain’s concept of the ideal way of life is first presented in the novel . They both share a common desire to find freedom, and this leads them to help each other out, despite the fact that Jim is a runaway slave and Huck is agonizing over whether to turn Jim in or not to[44-54].

The location of Huck and Jim’s hideaway in the novel changes when Huck finds out people are trying to capture Jim. Their home then turns into a raft floating on the Mississippi. On the raft, Huck and Jim view each other as equals, not as a slave and a runaway. All of their needs are met while onboard. When they get hungry, they fish. When they get bored, they talk to each other. They rely on each other and the Mississippi, with no assistance from the civilized world [69-99].

The harmony between Huck and Jim that is created from them being on the raft however, is not enough to keep the civilized world at bay..In this case, civilization comes in the form of two thieves, the Duke and the Dauphin. Ousted from society themselves because of their “occupation” as conmen, these two men help lead Huck and Jim into even more altercations with the civilized world, such as the Peter Wilks incident [158-201].

Twain uses the Wilks incident to convey man’s inhumane dishonesty and

it’s repercussions. The Duke and the Dauphin pose as the

brothers of the deceased in hopes of taking Peter Wilks fortune away from his

nieces. The Duke and the Dauphin’s dishonesty disgusts Huck, who says

that “It was enough to make a body ashamed of the whole human race.” [162].

Huck realizes what the Duke and the Dauphin are planning to do to Peter Wilks

nieces is immoral, and this motivates Huck to stop their plans before it’s too late

to do so.

Mark Twain knew enough about civilization to understand that his ideas on

the way to live were nothing more that romantic idealisms at their best. This did

not stop him however, from writing about it in his stories. Like his ideas on the

ideal way of living, Twain’s message is simple. Civilization will alawys be

imperfect, and the individual who sees this imperfection will always find


Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Perfection Learning Corporation , Iowa: The Perfection Form Company, 1979.

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