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Huck Finn Essay, Research Paper

Moral Development and Dilemmas of Huckleberry Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is based on a young boy?s coming of age in Missouri of the mid-1800s. This story depicts many serious issues that occur on the ?dry land of civilization? better known as society. As these somber events following the Civil War are told through the young eyes of Huckleberry Finn, he unknowingly develops morally from both the conforming and non-conforming influences surrounding him on his journey to freedom. Huck?s moral evolution begins before he ever sets foot on the raft down the Mississippi. His mother has died, and his father is constantly 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 civilize 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 constraining and lonely 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 ?joolry? 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 resigns from the gang. Still, he ignorantly assumes that Tom is superior to him because of his more suitable family background and fascination with Romantic literature (Twain).

Pap and ?the kidnapping? play another big role in Huck?s moral development. Pap is completely antisocial and wishes to undo all of the civilizing effects that the Widow and Miss Watson have attempted to instill in him. However, Pap does not symbolize freedom; he promotes drunkenness, prejudice, and abuse. Huck escapes the cabin to search for the freedom he yearns for. It is after he escapes to Jackson Island that he meets the most influential character of the novel, Jim. After conversing, Huck learns things about the runaway slave that he had never been aware of. Jim has a family, dreams, and talents such as knowing ?all kinds of signs about the future,? people?s personalities, and weather forecasting (Twain 69).

However, Huck sees Jim as a gullible slave. He plays tricks on him like the ?rattlesnake event? that nearly gets Jim killed. At this point in the novel, Huck still holds the belief that blacks are essentially different from whites. In addition, his conscience reminds him that he?s a ?low-down and dirty abolitionist? for helping Jim run away from his owner. Huck does not see that Jim is looking for freedom just as he is (Master Plots).

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 the forfeit of their lives would be too great a punishment. Some may see Huck?s reaction to the event as crooked but, unlike most of society, Huck Finn sees the good in people and attempts to help them with sincerity and compassion. 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 (Twain 92).? 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 shows 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 (Gerber).

On the other hand, Huck risks his own freedom to see that Jim finds his. The feud between the Grangerfords and the Shepardsons adds to Huck?s distaste for society and it?s teachings. In this adventure, Huck learns what a feud is and also witnesses the horrid aftermath the hostility brought upon the two families. Another part of Huck?s moral metamorphosis in this event is that he has come to miss the one man that has given him fatherly love throughout the excursion. The Duke and the King join Huck and Jim in the middle of the novel. The two con men use Huck and Jim to fulfill their greed and desires. Like the two men from the steamboat occurrence, Huck knows that their schemes are wrong. The con men?s attempt to masquerade as the brothers of the late Peter Wilks is an important part of Huck?s development. Later on the Duke and King 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. Huck also learns how conniving people can be while attending the funeral of Peter Wilks. Women would walk up to Peter?s daughters and ?kiss their foreheads, and then put their hand on their head, look up towards the sky with the tears running down, and bust out sobbing just to give the next woman a show? Huck has never seen anything ?so disgusting.? When he sees one of the daughters crying beside the coffin, it makes a deep impact on him (Twain 213).

Not only did he experience his first bout with puppy love, he also feels compassion for an innocent victim. ?All right then, I?ll go to hell!? represents the highest point in Huck?s moral development. 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 (Englewood 47). 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 his haven. However, the next situation Jim and Huck go through will bring another turning point–for the worst. When Tom Sawyer?s relatives catch Jim, 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. Also, just as Jim looks up to Huck, Huck looks up to Tom Sawyer, and let?s his useless rescue attempts jeopardize Jim?s freedom. Jim does show compassion yet again when he attempts to save the Duke and King from being tarred and feathered, but there is an apparent stagnant period in Huck?s development during the ?rescue attempt.? Huck let?s Tom Sawyer take the controls and sits quietly while Tom puts Jim through ordeal after ordeal (Twain 296).

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. It is made evident to the reader that Huck thanks Jim for protecting him from the gruesome nature, and does not regret the adventures he and Jim had together. Huckleberry Finn was able to rise 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 the safety net of the Mississippi River. Though there were times when he made the wrong decision, the reader must realize that growing up is a trial-and-error. Society has come a long way since the Civil War, and it is important to realize that people like the characters, Jim and Huckleberry Finn, have made freedom accessible to all that need a harbor from the dry limits of society soil (Englewood 53).

Although Huckleberry Finn seems to get into a lot of trouble, as he is dishonest at many times throughout the novel, his character seems to melt in the reader?s hand once his fine moral nature begins to unfold. The game Huck plays drifts him into an occasion of rare moral crisis, where he must choose between violating the entire code of social, religious, conventional behavior which the world has taught him, and betraying the person who needs and loves him most and whom he loves most. He writes a letter

which tells Miss Watson that her slave, Jim, is in Mr. Phelp?s possession.

After writing the letter he says:

?I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn?t do it straight off but laid the paper down and set there thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell.? After studying the letter he then said, ?All right, then, I?ll go to hell? and tore it up (Twain 216).

Another thing that affected Huck and may have contributed to his unhappiness that brought him over the edge to run away was lack of money. Early on Huck and his father sold his fortune to Judge Thatched for a dollar. This lack of money may have put an even bigger strain on the father, causing him drink his sorrows away and act irrationally towards Huck. This brought on the constant beatings that Huck was forced to endure until he gained the courage to fake his death, and leave his pitiful life back at the mouth of the river. Money also played a part concerning those two swindling crooks, the King and Duke. The king and Duke tried to pass themselves off as being distant relatives. Their new identity would put them at hand with a large amount of cash. Ultimately their cover was revealed. Huck is able to escape unscathed, but the King and Duke weren?t as fortunate as tar and feathers awaited them (Twain 318).

Drinking also plays a part in Huck?s dilemmas as the story unravels drinking led Huck?s father to beat him. Living in an unhappy situation such as this gave Huck reason to start out on his own adventure. Drinking also led to the Duke?s easy admittance of hiding the money. In this situation, the drunkenness exhibited by both characters helped to put a hole in their cover up. While they were questioned and served a heavy punishment, it was really Huck who stole the money before all of their eyes (Master Plots).

Throughout the novel Huck overcomes numerous obstacles and endures various negative repercussions to attain both emotional and physical freedom. Twain?s implied lessons were expressed within Huckleberry?s moral dilemmas. The novel ends with a frustrated Huck stating; ? Aunt Sally she?s gonna adopt me and civilize me and I can?t stand it. I been there before.? Although the novel ends leaving the reader with a sense that Huck is truly free, he will forever be followed by his moral dilemmas.


Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

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