Huck Finn Throughout the ages The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been a treasured novel to people of all ages. For young adults the pure adventuresome properties of the book captivates and inspires wild journeys into the unknown. The book appeals to them only as a quest filled with danger and narrow escapes. It is widely considered “that children of 12 or so are a little too young to absorb the book’s complexities” (Galileo: Morrow). However, as readers mature and become older, they read the book through enlightened eyes.
They begin to understand the trials and moral struggles that this young boy undergoes in resisting society, struggles that no adult would relish. This paper delves into how Huck Finn rejects the accepted moral values and social mores of his society. Huck’s independence and freethinking are marvels in a conformist’s culture. By itself, the fact that Huck stands up for something against the then-contemporary beliefs is no significant event. The remarkable feat is that he stands up for something that he does not believe.
This is a fact seldom considered by our heroic notions of Huck, because in this day and time slavery and dehumanization are abhorred by almost every ethnicity and religion. Now people attempt to conceptualize what a tragedy and terror it was for slaves. The picture is not pretty. Twain helps us with that visualization. Huckleberry Finn is known as a fairly accurate depiction of what life was like in the south. In a comparison with Tom Sawyer, Lionel Trilling says, The truth of Huckleberry Finn is of a different kind from that of Tom Sawyer. It is a more intense truth, fiercer and more complex.
Tom Sawyer has the truth of honesty – what it says about things and feelings [are] never false and always both adequate and beautiful. Huckleberry Finn has this kind of truth, too, but it has also the truth of moral passion; it deals directly with the virtue and depravity of man’s heart. (258) This assertion tells the reader that most, in that time period, did have the same views, reactions, and ethics as offered in the book. Huck is in direct opposition and retaliation with almost all of these tenets. He first demonstrates this by wishing to leave the Widow Douglas because she wants to “sivilize” him. The interesting observation is, .. the irony of the Widow’s attempt to teach Huck religious principles while she persists in holding slaves. As with her snuff taking – which was all right because she did it herself – there seems no relationship between a fundamental sense of humanity and justice and her religion.
Huck’s practical morality makes him more “Christian” than the Widow, though he takes no interest in her lifeless principles. (Grant 1013) Huck seems to have the inclination that something is wrong with her beliefs in God and how people should follow Him, unfortunately he “couldn’t see no advantage in going where she was going, so [he] made up [his] mind [he] wouldn’t try for it” (Twain 13). Huck could not endure these rigors of formal southern training and finally he “couldn’t stand it no longer. [He] lit out” (Twain 13). Huck never did quite feel right in society, in his hometown or in any of the towns he visited during his daring journey. Only when he was in his rags and on the river by himself or with Jim did he feel “free and satisfied” (Twain 12).
Even with Jim, Huck feels a sense of uneasiness. His duty delegated by the culture is to turn Jim in, yet he “was helplessly involved in doing the thing which his society disapproved – freeing a slave. It was an action which he himself disapproved but could avoid no more than his grammatical blunders” (Cox: The Fate .. 383). Huck’s moral struggle with this situation is a central theme to the novel.
It is so significant that some believe “Huck’s two-page struggle over whether to betray Jim is a masterpiece of metaphysically comic inversion, a sardonic, hilarious examination of conscience” (Galileo: Morrow). Now this predicament of monstrous proportions is considered “a metaphor for all social bondage and injustice” (Grant 1013), since Twain wrote this after the Civil War. Huck’s dilemma is this, should he do what his society has bred into him or do as his soul implores him? Those who have read the book know that “Twain affirms for us the true humanity is of men rather than institutions, and that we can all be aristocrats in the kingdom of the heart” (Grant 1014). Huck, after many fluctuations in conscience, decides he will “go to hell” (Twain 221) and help Jim become a free man. This declaration of goodwill affirms that Huck places more value on Jim’s life than the beliefs of the rest his culture. Huck not only displays this regard for Jim’s life, also the life of people of every race and moral standings standing he knows. Huck seems to dislike any violence or harmful actions.
An example of this is When [Huck] imprisons the intending murderers on the wrecked steamboat, his first thought is of how to get someone to rescue them, for he considers ‘how dreadful it was, even foot murderers, to be in such a fix .. .[and] when [Huck] hears that [the Duke and the King] are in danger from a mob, his natural impulse is to warn them. (Trilling 260-261) Later in the book, everything of the Wilk’s is to be sold and the slaves are to be split up which “made [Huck] feel pretty bad” (Twain 185), even though he knows that “the sale won’t be valid, and it’ll all go back to the estate” (Twain 185). Furthermore when Colonel Sherburn shoots Boggs in cold blood and the crowd gathers savagely around the colonel’s place Huck asserts that “it was awful to see” (Twain 154). These instances show that the kind – heartedness that Huck displays is not just for one man that he became intimately fond of through continual interactions. In fact when Huck and Jim become separated after their boat was crashed into, “it [didn’t] occur to him to search for the old Negro” (O’Connor 444).
So, while these subtle insinuations and omissions seem to portray Huck as indifferent, altogether they continually serve to illustrate his overall innate goodness. So while the reader can not help but believe society has produced some influence on Huck “we believe in ultimately .. Huck’s integrity” (Galileo: Bercovitch) and “hard – headed common sense” (Carter 288). Lastly, Huck displays his tangent from that typical society by refusing let money guide his actions. This ..
theme which Huckleberry Finn shares with most of the world’s great novels is that of man’s obsession with the symbols of material wealth. The book opens with an account of the six thousand dollars Huck got from the robbers’ hoard and ends on the same note. Throughout the intervening pages gold is shown to be not only the mainspring of most human action, but usually the only remedy mankind can offer to atone for the many hurts they are forever inflicting on one another. (Lane 442) During the course of the novel, Huck encounters very large sums of money. Never do we once receive the impression that he would take the wealth and keep it for his own selfish gain. Huck decides to “sell all [his] property to [Judge Thatcher]” (Twain 28) so Pap could not waste the money on “whisky”.
In addition, when the Duke and King stole the three thousand dollars in gold from Peter Wilk’s nieces, Huck stole it back from them. The only thought, though, was returning the gold to the girls. Most would have taken the money and ran – in their time period as well as ours. All these contributions lead to the simple fact that “in a crucial moral emergency a sound heart is a safer guide than an ill – trained conscience” (Baetzhold 352). English Essays.