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Mark Twains Huck Finn Essay, Research Paper
In the novel, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” Mark Twain takes us on an adventure, and it is through the eyes of Huck and Jim that Twain is able to make statements on social traits found in America, particularly the South. Whether these traits were virtuous or contemptuous Twain made himself understood. Specifically, we see virtuous traits displayed in, through Huck ingenuity freewill through both Huck and Jim’s adventure on the raft; and morality displayed through the characters in this novel. Furthermore, Twain criticizes social traits which he finds contemptuous such as racism, greed, trickery, cruelty, hypocrisy, and drinking. It is through the adventure which Huck and Jim take, and more specifically, through the eyes of Huck, that we see all these societal statements.
Twain liked to display the trait if ingenuity in Huck. This should not surprise the reader, the whole book is through the eyes of Huck, but let me explain further. We learn that when Huck is kidnapped by his father he was able to escape on a canoe and while doing so was able to make his escape appear as though he had been kidnapped and murdered. Eventually, even more evidence of ingenuity is displayed when Huck and Jim wanted to get some information from the town. For expamle, Huck cleverly dressed as a girl so that his identity would not be discovered. Huck’s plans were successful, however, he was eventually found out to be a boy. Similarly, the quick whitted Huck, while on the river, Huck went ashore and was captured by the Gangerfords. While on shore he pretends to be ‘George Jackson’ in order to further keep his identity a secret. His memory almost gave him away, however, once again a fast thinking Huck was able to get one of the Gangerford children to remind him of his name. Similarly, The Duke and the King, I believe, showed a level of ingenuity with there many moneymaking escapades. Twain must have taken some delight in displaying the gullibility of the town’s people as well.
The trait of freedom which Huck and Jim experience on the river can be fodder for an entire paper in and of itself. Certainly on land, both Huck and Jim had to conform to roles which society had placed on them. Because Jim was black, it made sense for him to play the part of a slave, whether it was with Ms. Watson, or with the Duke and the King as they traveled from town to town. Moreover, Huck, while in the care of Widow Douglas, was forced to be educated, ’sicilvized’, and had to wear heavy, constraining clothing. Similarly, when Huck was on the Phelps’ farm he was no longer free to be Huck, but was Tom. On the other hand, the river was the only place that Huck and Jim found true freedom. “You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft” (109). The reason Huck and Jim felt free and easy on the raft was because they were out of reach of society.
Hear we find Twain showing trait of morality, once more, through Huck, who has to make several choices, and does so with a moral edge during the course of his adventure. Clearly, these choices show the reader that Huck a very moral person. Huck lived in the South and was taught that slaves are the property of the slave owner, however, when faced with the option of whether to tell anyone Jim is a run away slave he did not. This is another example of a topic in the book that could stand-up to a great deal of literary analysis, Twain gives the reader much to consider throughout his story. Huck was at the Phelps’ home and the societal roles were back in place. Inherently, Huck knew the right thing to do, and that was to see that Jim returned to his owner, Ms. Watson:
“It made me shiver. And I about made up my mind to pray, and see if I couldn’t try to quit being the kind of a boy I was and be better. So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn’t come. Why wouldn’t they? It warn’t no use to try and hide it from Him. Nor from ME, neither. I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come. It was because my heart warn’t right; it was because I warn’t square; it was because I was playing double. I
was letting ON to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all. I was trying to make my mouth SAY I would do the right thing and the clean thing, . . . but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie, and He knowed it. You can’t pray a lie – I found that out.
So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I’ll go and write the letter — and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:
Miss Watson, your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send.
HUCK FINN.” (168)
As a result, this passage depicts that Huck was in an agony of his very soul when he learned what society had said was, indeed, true, and what his own conscious told him was right, were concepts that were in direct conflict with one another. Ultimately, Huck does side with his conscious, “All right, then, I’ll go to hell and he tore it up” (168).
The reader is shown many times that Huck is indeed an honorable man. For example, Huck, while in the custody of the Duke and the King, felt bad about the way the Wilks women were being swindled. He resolves to get the money and attempts to return it to the girls. Further, Huck tried to escape from the Duke and the king after the burial. This shows that Huck, when faced with moral decisions, chooses what is right over what is convenient.
Racism, and Twain’s approach to racism, is another topic which can be a paper in itself. We see in Jim a very complexed character who shows emotions that seem to have been restricted to whites at the time. One such, the reader sees evidence of, was when Jim and Huck were on the raft and Jim was sitting and tells Huck about his family. Huck was surprised that Black people love their family as much as white people do. Furthermore, Jim gets angry with Huck when he pretended the fog was a dream.
The reader quickly sees that Twain has his white characters embarrass themselves when they speak condescendingly toward black people. Likewise, the following quote shows this attitude toward blacks as Pap said while drunk:
“There was a free nigger there from Ohio. . . They said he was a p’fessor in college, and could talk all kinds of languages, and knowed everything. And that ain’t the wust. They said he could vote when he was at home” (44)
Indeed, the trait of greed is easily recognizable in the characters of the Duke and the King. Also, we see they were willing to do anything to cheat people out of their money and property. It was only because Huck was bit with some morality bug that they did not take everything from the Wilks family who had just lost their father. The Duke and the King, wanting to take all the property, stay an extra night giving Huck an opportunity to take the money in the hopes it could be returned.
Furthermore, the Duke and the King display the trait of trickery when they put on the Royal Nonesuch show; at the end of three days they escape the wrath of the town and with all the money. The town’s folk were anticipating a true theatricial event, but instead got something that was completly unacceptable. Certainly, a case could be made for the high level of gullibility in the towns people for waiting three days to realize what had happened before taking matters into their hands and run the men out of town.
The trait of cruelty is especially shown quite clearly through Pap. The entire time Huck is in Pap’s custody he has Huck locked up in a small damp shed. When he comes home drunk Huck is repeatedly beaten. Accordingly if it were not for the ingenuity of Huck in escaping, he may have had a terrible ending in that small damp shed.
Twain shows hypocrisy in many different places throughout this novel. As an expample, the robbers on the river boat that might make the reader shake their head and wonder.
“See? He’ll be drownded, and won’t have nobody to blame for it but his own self. I reckon that’s a considerable sight better’n killin’ of him. I’m unfavorable to killin’ a man as long as you can git aroun’ it; it ain’t good sense, it ain’t good morals. Aint I right” (70-71)?
Morover, taking the thought of hypocrisy further, when questioned about the treatment of servants in Englads from the Wilks girl Huck said the treatment of servants are treated worse than dogs, to which she answers “Don’t they give them holidays, the way we do, Christmas and New Year’s Week, and the Fourth of July” (144)? As if to say that owning a person is righteous if you give them a day off.
It is courious that Twain never displays the people who drink in a positive light. Perhaps he did not like the effects that alcohol had on individuals, or that those who drank were less than those who did not drink. Through Pap the reader is shown the first and most obvious example of this attitude,
“After supper pap took the jug, and said he had enough whisky there for two drunks and one delirium tremens. That was always his word. I judged he would be blind drunk in about an hour, and then I would steal the key, or saw myself out, one or t’other” (45).
Furthermore, an example of both a drinker and a hypocrite is with the Duke and the King when they did lectures in various towns and during these lectures they passed around a collection plate. The first lecture was on temperance, in fact, ironically they did not get enough for both of them to get drunk.
Mark Twain was legendary for his skill in writing and his quick whit. He is still quoted today because of his insights and wisdom. Regardless of who he is or what he did in his life, his literature stands alone and is still taught and enjoyed in classes in the United States. The personality traits celebrated in this text are still notable, and of course there are some traits that are more notable than others. Still, it is with those positive traits mentioned by Twain that we want to associate ourselves with. Ingenuity, and freewill are traits we are losing the more we conform, and morality a trait we hope to see in everyone, even our elected representatives.
Moreover, people’s traits that Twain has been critical of are still those problems that we examine today. I have seen examples of racism in this world in my lifetime. Greed, contrary to Michael Douglas, is not a good thing. We can see this with so many people able to give to charities who help so many and yet we don’t. Trickery and con artist have touched each person in this country, and if you have not been taken just wait, you will have your turn. Cruelty still exists, the way the young people are treated is a large topic on the nightly news, it is truly saddening. Hypocrisy rears its ugly head almost everytime we get those lectures from our politicians on how we need to concerve, pay our taxes, and save for the future. Drinking is a trait that is still a problem we have today.
There is a good argument for those who say Twain did not want to change the world with this book. Taking the issue of racism, Twain was writing this book after slavery was abolished and therefore could reasonably see the direction the country was moving and what the popular thoughts may be in the future. I believe, however, Twain was far before his time and deserves all the respect he gets as one of America’s greatest writers.
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