Essay, Research Paper: Adventures Of Huck Finn And Moral Progress

Literature: Mark Twain

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The main character of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn undergoes a total moral
transformation upon having to make life defining decisions throughout his
journey for a new life. Huck emerges into the novel with an inferiority complex
caused by living with a drunken and abusive father, and with the absence of any
direction. It is at this point where Huck is first seen without any concept of
morality. Fortunately, Huck is later assisted by the guidance of Jim, a runaway
slave who joins him on his journey and helps Huck gain his own sense of
morality. Throughout Huck’s adventures, he is put into numerous situations
where he must look within himself and use his own judgement to make fundamental
decisions that will effect the morals of which Huck will carry with him
throughout his life. Preceding the start of the novel, Miss Watson and the widow
have been granted custody of Huck, an uncivilized boy who possesses no morals.
Huck looks up to a boy named Tom Sawyer who has decided he is going to start a
gang. In order for one to become a member, they must consent to the murdering of
their families if they break the rules of the gang. It was at this time that one
of the boys realized that Huck did not have a real family. They talked it over,
and they was going to rule me out, because they said every boy must have a
family or something to kill, or else it wouldn’t be fair and square for the
others. Well, nobody could think of anything to do– everybody was stumped, and
set still. I was most ready to cry; but all at once I thought of a way, and so I
offered them Miss Watson–they could kill her (17-18). At this moment, Huck is
at the peak of his immorality. A person with morals would not willingly
sacrifice the life of someone else just in order to be part of a gang. It is at
this point where Huck can now begin his journey of moral progression. Huck
encounters his first major dilemma when he comes across the wrecked steamboat
and three criminals. When Jim and Huck take the skiff for themselves, leaving
the three robbers stranded, Huck realizes that he has left them to die. Now was
the first time that I begun to worry about the men– I reckon I hadn’t time
to before. I begun to think how dreadful it was, even for murderers, to be in
such a fix. I says to myself, there ain’t no telling but I might come to be a
murderer myself yet, and then how would I like it? (76). This is the first time
that Huck questions the effects of what he has done on other people. After he
realizes that he could now be considered a murderer, he makes a plan to get a
captain to go investigate the wreck in order to save the men’s lives. Even
though the men he would be saving are murderers and robbers, he can not justify
being responsible for their death, and makes it a point to correct what he has
done wrong. This is the first major step in Huck’s moral progression. At that
point, he establishes a set of standards that considers leaving the men to die
as immoral. Throughout the book there is the recurring theme of Friend v.
Society. This is a main moral decision that Huck is forced to make a few times
in his journey. Upon arriving at Cairo, Huck must decide if he should go along
with society and turn Jim in as a runaway slave, or keep his promise to his
friend, and see him through to freedom. Huck feels guilty not turning Jim in
when he hears him talking about hiring an abolitionist to steal his family. He
does not think it is right to help take away slaves from people that he
doesn’t even know. To turn Jim in for these reasons would be the influence of
society on Huck. Huck’s decision on this matter marks another major step in
Huck’s moral progression, because he decides not to turn in Jim on his own.
This is the first time he makes a decision all on his own based on his own
morality. Both this incident and the Wilkes Scheme represent Huck’s ultimate
realization and rejection of society. To encapsulate Huck’s total moral
progression through his decision to help Jim, Huck states, “I’ll go to
hell” (207) to see Jim into freedom. Huck’s moral progression can be traced
throughout the book beginning from his total lack of morals to being able to
make the right decisions on his own. It is only with the help of Jim as a moral
guide that Huck is able to undergo this moral transformation to use his own
judgement and truly progress. The situation that Huck is encountered with about
choosing friend over society is the main dilemma that pushes Huck to establish
his own standards of morality, rather than accepting those that society has set
forth.
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