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Huckleberry Fin Essay, Research Paper
America? land of the free and home of the brave; the utopian society which every European citizen desired to be a part of in the 18th and 19th centuries. The revolutionary ideas of The Age of Enlightenment such as democracy and universal male suffrage were finally becoming a reality to the philosophers and scholars that so elegantly dreamt of them. America was a playground for the ideas of these enlightened men. To Europeans, and the world for that matter, America had become a kind of mirage, an idealistic version of society, a place of open opportunities. Where else on earth could a man like J. D. Rockefeller rise from the streets to one of the richest men of his time? America stood for ideals like life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. People in America had an almost unconditional freedom: freedom to worship, write, speak, and live in any manner that so pleased them. But was this freedom for everyone? Was America, the utopia for the millions of common men from around world, as great as the philosophers and scholars fantasized?
America, as a society, as a country, and as a leader was not as picture perfect as Europeans believed. The United States, under all the gold plating, carried a burden of unsolved national problems, especially racial. The deep scar of slavery had left a dent in the seemingly impenetrable armor of the country. From the times of early colonization to the late 19th century, Africans had been brought over by the thousands in overcrowded and unsanitary slave ships and sold like cattle to the highest bidder, an inhumane and despicable act that America, land of the free and home of the brave, allowed to happen. Why? Slavery is what the plantation society of the South thrived on. The South?s entire economic system was built upon the shoulders of the African slave. Too precious and dear to let go, the South held on to this institution until the Thirteenth Amendment was signed in by Lincoln in 1865. In this hypocritical society is where The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn finds itself. Mark Twain?s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an epic story of the journey of a redneck boy and a runaway slave, escaping the grips of society in the hope of a chance at the freedom they long for so dearly.
The novel?s author, Mark Twain, also grew up in this society. Samuel Clemens, Twain?s birth name, led a life that had a great influence on the works that he produced later in his life. Born in Florida, Missouri, Clemens? childhood was filled with adventures much like those found in both The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Following his childhood experiences, Clemens worked on steamboats on the Mississippi River up until the river was closed during the Civil War. The war opened his eyes to the issue of slavery, which shows up in many of his works, including Huckleberry Finn.
Huckleberry Finn takes place when slavery was very much a part of Southern culture and society, nearly thirty years prior to the Civil War. Since the institution of slavery was such a stronghold of Southern society during Huckleberry Finn, Huck?s helping bring Jim to freedom makes him an outlaw. In James Wright?s ?The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? published in Great Writers of the English Language: American Classics in 1991, Wright clarifies for the reader that ?Huck in helping Jim, was not only going against the moral codes of the South, but was going against strict written law? (14). Since helping a runaway slave was written law, Huck?s helping Jim signifies Huck making a conscience decision to rebel openly against society. In Walter Blair?s ?So Noble? and So Beautiful a Book? published in Twentieth Century Interpretations of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1968, Blair suggests, ?In those slave-holding days, the whole community was agreed as to one thing ? the awful sacredness of slave property? (70). The unity of the Southern society in regard to slavery is what made it so difficult for the United States to rid itself of it. Slavery was in fact, sacred, and to go against this evil religion was taboo. ?To help steal a horse or a cow was a low crime, but to help a hunted slave? or to hesitate to promptly betray him to a slave catcher when opportunity offered was a much baser crime, and carried with it a stain, a moral smirch which nothing could wipe away? (Blair 70). Blair makes an interesting point here. He states that to go against slavery was a ?moral smirch.? Slavery was so much a part of these people?s lives that they made it part of their morality, their religious sense. It was morally correct to enslave another human being, but to help another was a crime. This illustrates the irony and hypocrisy of the South.
The characters and actions in Huckleberry Finn embody the culture of a growing nation and the people that comprised it. All aspects of Huckleberry Finn as a novel promote realism and accurately portray life in 19th century America. In Pearl James? ?The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? published in Novels for Students in 1997, James states, ?Twain personifies the American folk culture through his use of colloquialism, using speech rather than writing in his dialogue? (14). Here James emphasizes the importance of the local dialect Twain uses in his character dialogue. This is significant in persuading the reader of the realism of the book. Published in Twentieth Century Interpretations of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1968 Bernard DeVoto states in his ?Viewpoints? that ?the novel derives from the folk and embodies their mode of thought more purely and more completely than any other written? (114). DeVoto has furthered the fact that Huckleberry Finn, in essence, is like a picture from the past, a doorway to the history of our culture.
Although when first written Huckleberry Finn was considered trash and strictly a children?s book, the opinion of the novel has changed over the course of the years. The majority of the literary critics that have expressed their opinion on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn consider it a literary masterpiece and the first true American classic. In F.R. Leavis? ?Viewpoints? published in Twentieth Century Interpretations of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1968, Leavis heralds the novel by emphasizing that ?Huckleberry Finn, by general agreement Mark Twain?s greatest work, is supremely the American classic, and it is one of the great books of the world? (109). While Leavis has recognized Huckleberry Finn as the ?American classic,? other critics go further. In Louis J. Budd?s ?Introduction? to New Essays on Huckleberry Finn published in 1985, Budd decrees, ?More so today, people who pay any mind to books get used to hearing Huckleberry Finn called the great American novel, a masterpiece, a classic, and even a world classic? (1). Twain has created a masterpiece that can be enjoyed by not only scholars but by anyone. Appearing in Modern Critical Interpretations in 1986, James Cox stresses in ?A Hard Book to Take? that Huckleberry Finn, although ?read by people of all ages, loved throughout the nation, it finally made its way into the academy so that professors of literature ? at least a good number of them ? have come to take both confidence and pleasure in deeming it a masterpiece of American literature? (87). The majority of the critics agree on Twain?s success with Huckleberry Finn. Twain employs many devices of language, especially characterization, to enhance the read of the book. In Mark Twain?s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain utilizes a plethora of characters and their interactions with Huck to illustrate Huck?s views of society.
From the onset of the novel, Huck Finn is presented with negative experiences relating to society, forcing him to escape from this suffocating and life-threatening environment. Miss Watson, as one of the first characters that the reader witnesses Huck interacting with, stands for the hypocritical society that Huck is trying to escape from, which becomes blatantly evident to Huck when she plans to take the eight hundred dollars for Jim. Miss Watson and the Widow Douglas attempt to ?sivilize? Huck, which in essence ?cramps Huck?s style.? James Wright?s ?The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? associates being ?sivilized? with being ?overrun with violence and greed? (15). The source of the ?sivilizing? is society, which is represented here by Miss Watson. In Leo Marx?s ?Mr. Eliot, Mr. Trilling, and Huckleberry Finn? appearing in The American Scholar in 1953, Marx believes that ?it is she who keeps ?pecking? at Huck, who tries to teach him to spell and to pray and to keep his feet off the furniture? (29). Miss Watson?s pecking is an annoyance to Huck and causes him to want to escape. ?The Widow Douglas, she took me for her son and she allowed she would sivilize me?and so when I couldn?t stand it no longer, I lit out? (HF 1). The characteristics of being ?sivilized? are also physically uncomfortable to Huck. He does not enjoy starchy clothes and sitting properly. Huck is a backwoods boy, wishing to be free. ?She put me in them new clothes again, and I couldn?t do nothing but sweat and sweat, and feel all cramped up? (HF 1). This cramping of style is what again forces Huck to want to escape at the conclusion of the novel.
Huck has a general sympathy for mankind. He sees people for what they are, regardless of the outside masks they may use to hide their true selves. On the outside, Miss Watson appears to be a lovely old lady. Comparatively, Jim appears to be a dirty, worthless slave, less than human. But Huck knows this is not true. He sees both Miss Watson and Jim in a different light. Marx later explains that by giving in to the offer of the slave trader of eight hundred dollars to sell Jim down the river without his family, Huck now comes to the conclusion that ?Miss Watson, in short, is the enemy? (29). This realization is the first step in the moral development that Huck experiences throughout the course of the novel.
While Miss Watson represents some of the hypocritical aspects of society, Pap is the character that Twain has created to be the hated villain. The ultimate evils of society found in the novel are no more apparent than in the character of Pap, who is Huck?s father. Pap?s violent behavior and drunken rages eventually result in a desperate attempt by Huck to save his life and escape from the cruel and dishonest society he wishes to not be a part of. Cox makes the point in his analysis of Pap that ?first of all, his treatment of Huck convicts him of child abuse?? (90). Pap?s treatment of Huck makes the reader sympathize with Huck and allows the reader to see some of the violent aspects of society. ?But by-and-by Pap got too handy with his hick?ry and I couldn?t stand it? (HF 27). Pap?s alcoholism and abuse eventually lead to threats on Huck?s life, which becomes the deciding factor in Huck?s decision to flee. ?He chased me round and round the place, with a clasp knife, calling me the Angel of Death and saying he would kill me?? (HF 32). The violent behavior of Pap further instigates Huck?s view that society is evil, violent, and without compassion.
Pap?s evil characteristics are not limited to that of a drunken child abuser. Pap exemplifies the characteristics of a racist, uneducated white man to perfection. His criticism of an educated, well-to-do black man is an ironic contrast to himself, an uneducated drunken hick. In one of his drunken speeches, Pap rages on that ?? they said he [the black man] was a p?fessor in college, and could talk all kinds of languages, and knowed everything?they said he could vote?? (HF 30). Pap has a resentful attitude towards an individual who has accomplished something almost unheard of in these times. He even carries this attitude as far as saying that he is not going to participate in voting merely because this educated capable man is black. ?It was ?lection day, and I was just about to go and vote, myself, if I warn?t too drunk to get there; but when they told me there was a State in this country where they?d let that nigger vote, I drawed out? (HF 30). The paragraphs where Pap is condemning the government are crucial for the understanding of what Pap symbolizes and his importance in the novel. In Janet Holmgren McKay?s ?An Art So High? published in New Essays on Huckleberry Finn in 1985, McKay expresses to the reader that ?Pap?s rather lengthy diatribe against the ?govment? seems to belong in the novel? it develops Pap?s character as town drunk, petty philosopher, and racist?? (71). Even though Pap is a terrible father and no role model for Huck, he still believes that the law has no right to take Huck from him. ?Here?s the law a-standing ready to take a man?s son away from him ? a man?s own son, which he has had all the trouble and all the anxiety and all the expense of raising? (HF 29). Pap also feels that the government is wrong for not allowing him access to the six thousand dollars that Huck has received, and even goes as far as to blame the government for his current condition. ?The law takes a man worth six thousand dollars and uppards, and jams him into an old trap of a cabin like this, and lets him go round in clothes that ain?t fitten for a hog? they call that govment? (HF 28)! Pap?s drunkenness, ignorance, abuse, and resentment are all aspects of his character that make him not only an enemy in the eyes of the reader, but more importantly, in the eyes of Huck.
Once Huck has fled from the constraints of society and has begun his journey down the great Mississippi River, he encounters various characters that give further proof to his view that society is evil and that the only true friend Huck has is the runaway slave Jim. Twain uses the feud between the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons to illustrate the absurd and hypocritical idiosyncrasies of Southern aristocracy of the time. In Steven Mailloux?s ?Reading Huckleberry Finn? published in New Essays on Huckleberry Finn in 1985, Mailloux explains that ?Buck sees no problem with his appeal to this dubious rhetorical authority ? a tradition of self ?perpetuating murder originating in an unknown argument? (122). Not seeing a problem with the feud, Buck represents the ingrained beliefs of the Southern society. Killing another family for no known reason strikes Buck as perfectly normal. When Buck is presented with the question of what a feud is by Huck, he explains with a narrative saying, ?A man has a quarrel with another man, and kills him; then that other man?s brother kills him; then the other brothers, on both sides, goes for one another; then the cousins chip in ? and by-and-by everybody?s killed off, and there ain?t no more feud? (HF 119). Here again Huck?s general sympathy for all people shows up. Huck can not understand why people would kill each other and when asked by Huck if he knew why the feud started, Buck responds ?Oh, yes, pa knows, I reckon, and some of the other old folks, but they don?t know, now, what the row was about in the first place? (HF 120). This conversation is another stepping stone for Huck?s realization that society is evil.
The feud of the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons shows the brutal and hypocritical manner in which society conducts itself. In Richard P. Adams? ?The Unity and Coherence of Huckleberry Finn? published in Twentieth Century Interpretations of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1968, Adams reminds the reader that the hypocritical aristocracy contributes to Huck?s continual awareness of the true values of a civilization that he is asked to belong to (44). The incident that strikes Huck as most ironic is his trip to church with Buck. The presence of guns sitting next to the men in church is a perfect example of how sanctimonious society really is.
Next Sunday we all went to church? the men took their guns along, so did Buck, and kept them between their knees or stood them handy against the wall. The Shepherdson done the same. It was pretty ornery preaching ? all about brotherly love, and such-like tiresomeness; but everybody said it was a good sermon, and they all talked it over going home, and had such a powerful lot to say about faith, and good works, and free grace, and preforeordestination, and I don?t know what all, that it did seem to me to be one of the roughest Sundays I had run across yet. (HF 121)
Huck?s views on the feud take on a more opinionated appearance later in his adventures with Buck. Huck concludes discussing the feud on this note: ?It made me so sick I most fell out of the tree. I ain?t agoing to tell all that happened ? it would make me sick again if I was to do that? (HF 127). Huck?s experience with Buck and his family show him a part of society he had formerly not been aware of, the aristocratic element. At first seeming extremely lavish and pleasurable, Huck realizes that the supposedly refined show the same faces of evil as Pap and Miss Watson.
The character that represents the conformities to the views of society better than no other in the novel is Tom Sawyer. Since Huck represents a revolt against society, the two form a striking contrast that make Huck?s rebellion more apparent. Hoffman later notes Tom?s role saying, ?By contrast, Tom Sawyer functions as the perfect representative of his society? although mischievous, he accepts without conflict the instinctive and intellectual values of his society? (32). Huck Finn is a character that is practical and realistic, where Tom Sawyer is a romantic. He lives in the world of pretend and make believe. When devising his magnificent contrivance of Jim?s escape, Tom?s plans are not his own, rather out of fantasy books he had read. ?Because it ain?t in the books so?don?t you reckon that the people that made the books knows what?s the correct thing to do? (HF 10)? The incident where the two boys are collecting supplies for Tom?s gang is another example of Tom?s conformity to society. Huck Fink has been taught by Pap to simply ?borrow? things. Tom could not stand to do this. When Tom and Huck take the candles from Miss Watson, ?Tom laid five cents on the table for pay? where Huck would have simply ?borrowed? them (HF 6). This shows the striking contrast of the two characters and their views of the world.
Tom Sawyer also represents the cruelties and evils that characters such as Pap and the Grangerfords displayed. In his discussion of the cruelties of the society that Huck finds himself in, Cox states that ?all the other cruelties are committed for some reason ? for honor, money, or power?but Tom?s cruelty has a purity all its own? (175). Where Huck has a general sympathy for all mankind, Tom disregards the condition of others for his own pleasure. When Huck sees the king and duke tarred and feathered he replies, ?Well, it made me sick to see it; and I was sorry for them poor pitiful rascals, it seemed like I couldn?t ever feel hardness against them any more in the world? human beings can be awful cruel to one another? (HF 254). In contrast to Huck?s kindness and good heartedness, when Aunt Sally asks Tom why he tried to set Jim free when he already was Tom replies, ?Why, I wanted the adventure of it?? (HF 317). When Tom says this, the reader sees the evil that society has taught this young boy. Deriving the ideas he had been taught from the fantasy books he has read, Tom persuades his friends to join ?Tom Sawyers Gang.? When Tom is discussing the gang with his peers, Tom indulges in the idea that each member must swear to an oath that Tom has got from his books.
And if anybody that belonged to the band told the secrets, he must have his throat cut, and then have his carcass burnt up and the ashes scattered all around, and his name blotted off of the list with blood and never mentioned again by the gang, but have a curse put on it and be forgot, forever. (HF 8)
Tom goes on to tell the members what they are going to do in this gang. ?We stop stages and carriages on the road, with masks on, and kill the people and take their watches and money? (HF 9). Society here has taught a young boy to punish and kill for telling secrets and robbing and killing innocent travelers simply for the adventure of it. Society is where Tom?s plain evilness comes from, which Huck knows and is trying to escape from.
Contrary to the majority of the interactions that Huck experiences in his adventures, he does experience a few positive ones, one being that of Mary Jane Wilks. Mark Twain presents the character of Mary Jane Wilks as one of the few noble and sympathetic human beings in Huckleberry Finn. In Nancy Walker?s ?Reformers and Young Maidens: Women and Virtue? published in Modern Critical Interpretations in 1986, Walker describes Mary Jane as ?innocent and trusting? and goes on to express that she ?defends Huck when her younger sister accuses him ? accurately ? of lying? (83). One such incident that proves Mary Jane?s trust is an incident with the king and duke. For Mary Jane to prove her trust to the king and duke ?she hove up the bag of money and put it in the king?s hands, and says, ?Take this six thousand dollars, and invest it for me and my sisters any way you want to, and don?t give us no receipt for it?? (HF 186). Mary Jane is even trusting and caring towards Huck when she knows that he is lying to her about his identity. When Mary Jane is questioned about Huck?s lies she replies, ?It don?t make no difference what he said? the thing is for you to treat him kind, and not be saying things to make him remember he ain?t in his own country and amongst his own folks? (HF 191). Mary Jane?s characteristics of innocence and trust make her one of the few characters in the novel that are an exception to society?s evils.
In addition to being innocent and trusting, Mary Jane shows the same sympathy towards people as Huck does and contributes to Huck?s moral development. Walker later makes the point, ? The passage describing Huck?s parting with Mary Jane in Chapter 28 marks the penultimate stop in the moral development that culminates in his decision to risk his soul to help Jim? (83). Huck comments on the parting between the Wilks girls and the slaves saying,
I thought them poor girls and them niggers would break their hearts for grief; they cried around each other, and took on so it most made me down sick to see it. The girls said they hadn?t ever dreamed of seeing the family separated or sold away from the town. I can?t ever get it out of my memory, the sight of them poor miserable girls and niggers hanging around each other?s necks and crying; I reckon I couldn?t a stood it all but would a had to bust out and tell on our gang if I hadn?t knowed the sale warn?t now account and the niggers would be back home in a week or two. (HF 200)
The experience Huck had with Mary Jane left a deep impression on him. The treatment of the slaves goes against Huck?s very being and makes him feel sick to see it. His conscience, going against what he has been taught his whole life, tells him that this is wrong and leads him to his final decision that Jim?s quest for freedom is noble and worth risking himself for.
The character of Jim is perhaps the most influential character in Huck?s realization of his own beliefs. First viewing Jim as simply a slave, Huck?s views change. In Huckleberry Finn, Huck comes to view Jim as both a representative of humanity and the true father that Pap never was, learning to accept Jim as an equal. Jim?s fundamental characteristics of sympathy and kindness allow the reader to see him as a symbol of all humanity. James notes in his analysis of Jim that ?on the journey down the river, Huck learns that Jim has real feelings, recognizes his humanity, and vows to not play any more tricks on him? (16). Jim, like any other man, has a family, and when he is separated from them, Huck sees that Jim is as human as he is. ?He was thinking about his wife and his children, away up yonder, and he was low and homesick; because he hadn?t ever been away from home before in his life; and I do believe he cared as much for his people as white folks do their?n? (HF 170). Huck?s statement here signifies that Huck is coming to the realization that Jim is an equal. Huck goes on to account, ?He was often moaning and mourning that way, nights, when he judged I was asleep, and saying, ?Po? little ?Lizabeth, po? little Johnny?? He was a mighty good nigger, Jim was? (HF 170-1). Jim is more to Huck than just a slave. He is a man, a companion, and a friend. In Ralph Ellison?s ?Viewpoints? appearing in Twentieth Century Interpretations of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1968, Ellison depicts Jim ?like all men, is ambiguous, limited in circumstance but not in possibility? Jim? is not simply a slave, he is a symbol of humanity? (113). Jim?s characteristics of sympathy and kindness cause the two to become true friends.
As the two continue their journey down the Mississippi, Huck and Jim form not only a true friendship, but also a father-son relationship. James continues his analysis of Huck and Jim?s relationship exploring the idea that ?Jim fills a gap in Huck?s life: he is the father that Pap is not; he teaches Huck about the world and how it works, and about friendship? (16). Part of the reason that Huck takes so kindly to Jim is because he found no father figure in Pap. Jim cares for Huck and looks out for him.
I?d see him standing my watch on top of his?n, stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey and how good he always was? (HF 235)
Another reason that Huck forms this mutual relationship with Jim is because of the fun times the two enjoy on the raft. Pap was not a man that Huck enjoyed being around for obvious reasons, but Jim was. ?And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before, all the time in the day, and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight; sometimes storms, and we afloating along, talking and singing, and laughing? (HF 235). This enjoyment that Huck shares with Jim helps build the relationship. In J.C. Furnas? ?The Crowded Raft: Huckleberry Finn and Its Critics? published in The American Scholar in 1985, Furnas quotes Mr. Lionel Trilling?s comments on Huck and Jim?s relationship in saying, ?In Jim, Huck finds his true father? the boy and the negro slave form a family, a primitive community?? (516). During the times that the two were separated, they were lost without one another. When the two are reunited, Jim is ecstatic. ?It was Jim?s voice ? nothing ever sounded so good before? and Jim, he grabbed me and hugged me, he was so glad to see me? (HF 128). Huck feels the same way about Jim when he finds him on the island. ?Pretty soon he gapped, and stretched himself, and hove off the blanket, and it was Miss Watson?s Jim? I was ever so glad to see Jim? (HF 46). Jim, being such a saintly character, makes him a perfect father figure for Huck, and throughout their journey, that is exactly what he becomes.
Jim is also the primary reason for Huck?s continuously maturing moral sense. Throughout the course of the novel, Huck?s attitude towards Jim and society?s institution of slavery becomes more and more clear to him; he realizes for the first time in his life that his own conscience and beliefs are stronger than those of society?s. In Frances V. Brownell?s ?The Role of Jim in Huckleberry Finn? published in Novels for Students in 1997, Brownell makes the point that ?it is when he is alone with Jim in the secure little world of the raft drifting down the Mississippi that Huck hears a voice of love that makes sense in a world of hatred?? (19). Jim?s love is the only love that Huck has the chance to experience in the novel. Huck realizes this and gives up every chance he has to turn Jim in. ?? and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had small-pox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he?s got now?? (HF 235). Jim gratefulness to Huck knows no limits. The freedom that Jim eventually comes to know is all owed to Huck. Jim thanks Huck saying ?I?s a free man, en I couldn?t ever ben free ef it hadn? ben for Huck; Huck done it? (HF 98). Huck?s bond with Jim, and his love for him is the cause of the moral rebellion that Huck experiences.
When Huck decides to help Jim, he has come full circle from the views of society and does what his conscience tells him is right. In his analysis of Huck, Adams stresses, ?When he repudiates his own conscience in this way, Huck takes a long step farther in his repudiation of Southern society, which has formed his conscience? (Adams 45). Huck is in constant struggle with himself, toiling over what he feels in his heart to be right, and what his mind tells him is right. ?Well, then, says I, what?s the use you learning to do right, when it?s troublesome to do right and ain?t no trouble to do wrong, and the wages is just the same? (HF 101)? Huck truly believes that when he decides, ?I?m agoing to steal him? (HF 248), that what he is doing is wrong. It bothers Huck so much that he tries to pray to God about it. In a rather ironic manner, Huck can not bring himself to do it, because he thinks he is wrong for helping Jim. ?I was trying to make my mouth say I would do the right thing and the clean thing, and go and write to that nigger?s owner and tell where he was, but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie ? and He knowed it? (HF 234). This constant battle inside Huck makes the reader feel sympathy for Huck and develop him into the hero of the novel.
Huck?s moral growth and acceptance of Jim climax in a dramatic fashion. Huck?s love for Jim becomes so strong that Huck is willing to give not only his life for him, but also his soul. Cox discusses Huck?s decision saying, ?This moment, when Huck says ?All right, then, I?ll go to hell,? is characteristically the moment we fatally approve, and approve morally? (180). Huck?s decision does not come easily to him, rather he battles with himself between what he feels is right, and what society has told him is right. Huck holds the letter telling of Jim?s whereabouts in his hand while he contemplates the fate of his best friend. Torn with himself Huck says,
It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was trembling, because I?d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding by breath, and then says to myself: ?All right, then, I?ll go to hell? ? and tore it up. (HF 235)
Although Huck has made the right moral decision, he still believes what he is doing is wrong. Society has taught Huck that slavery is an acceptable practice, however, Huck?s conscience can not agree with this. Huck condemns himself after his decision and ironically blames his father for what the reader recognizes as the morally right choice. ?I shoved the whole thing out of my head; and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn?t? (HF 235). Huck?s decision here marks the thematic highpoint of the novel. Huck?s moral metamorphosis has now been completed by Jim, making him the most influential character in Huck?s formation of his views of society.
In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain has masterfully used characterization to portray his views of society through the eyes of the central character, Huck. Huck merely tells the simple story of his trip down the mighty Mississippi with the runaway slave Jim. However, Huckleberry Finn has meant much more to its readers than Mark Twain ever could have imagined. The novel has been and remains a standard of excellence in American literature that has yet to be challenged. Marx sums up his analysis of the novel stating, ?Everyone agrees that Huckleberry Finn is a masterpiece? (14). Twain?s works in American literature, including The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, helped writers in America establish an identity for a still growing nation. McKay praises the book exulting, ?The publication of Twain?s most widely read and accomplished novel was an event incalculably important to the development of a genuinely American literature? (61). However with all the novel?s praise, James notes in her discussion, ?The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been a source of controversy since its publication in 1884? (14). Schools across the country have banned the novel for its frequent use of the word ?nigger,? despite the fact that the word was one that was very much a part of the region?s colloquialism. James furthers this discussion stating, ?It was banned from many public libraries on its first appearance for being trash? (14). For all the novel?s criticism of being racist and a bad influence on young readers, Huckleberry Finn is still considered a true American classic.
A simple redneck boy and a runaway slave. Huckleberry Finn is more than that. Whether or not Mark Twain knew what he was writing when he composed this piece, he was creating not only a story, but a message. American society, as glorious as the history books say it was, had its dark elements. If nothing else, Twain has skillfully captured this theme and used it to produce a highly commendable novel. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is that novel, a story of two friends on a quest for freedom and an escape from a cruel and oppressive society.
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