Essay, Research Paper: Adventures Of Huck Finn

Literature: Mark Twain

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In Mark Twain's novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain develops the
plot into Huck and Jim's adventures allowing him to weave in his criticism of
society. The two main characters, Huck and Jim, both run from social injustice
and both are distrustful of the civilization around them. Huck is considered an
uneducated backwards boy, constantly under pressure to conform to the
"humanized" surroundings of society. Jim a slave, is not even
considered as a real person, but as property. As they run from civilization and
are on the river, they ponder the social injustices forced upon them when they
are on land. These social injustices are even more evident when Huck and Jim
have to make landfall, and this provides Twain with the chance to satirize the
socially correct injustices that Huck and Jim encounter on land. The satire that
Twain uses to expose the hypocrisy, racism, greed and injustice of society
develops along with the adventures that Huck and Jim have. The ugly reflection
of society we see should make us question the world we live in, and only the
journey down the river provides us with that chance. Throughout the book we see
the hypocrisy of society. The first character we come across with that trait is
Miss Watson. Miss Watson constantly corrects Huck for his unacceptable behavior,
but Huck doesn't understand why, "That is just the way with some people.
They get down on a thing when they don't know nothing about it" (2). Later
when Miss Watson tries to teach Huck about Heaven, he decides against trying to
go there, "...she was going to live so as to go the good place. Well, I
couldn't see no advantage in going where she was going, so I made up my mind I
wouldn't try for it." (3) The comments made by Huck clearly show Miss
Watson as a hypocrite, scolding Huck for wanting to smoke and then using snuff
herself and firmly believing that she would be in heaven. When Huck encounters
the Grangerfords and Shepardsons, Huck describes Colonel Grangerford as,
"...a gentleman, you see. He was a gentleman all over; and so was his
family. He was well born, as the saying is, and that's worth as much in a man as
it is in a horse..." (104). You can almost hear the sarcasm from Twain in
Huck's description of Colonel Grangerford. Later Huck is becoming aware of the
hypocrisy of the family and its feud with the Shepardsons when Huck attends
church. He is amazed that while the minister preaches about brotherly love both
the Grangerfords and Shepardsons are carrying weapons. Finally when the feud
erupts into a gunfight, Huck sits in a tree, disgusted by the waste and cruelty
of the feud, "It made me so sick I most fell out of the tree...I wished I
hadn't ever come ashore that night to see such things." Nowhere else is
Twain's voice heard more clearly than as a mob gathers at the house of Colonel
Sherburn to lynch him. Here we hear the full force of Twain's thoughts on the
hypocrisy an cowardice of society, "The idea of you lynching anybody! It's
amusing. The idea of you thinking you had pluck enough to lynch a man!...The
pitifulest thing out is a mob; that's what an army is- a mob; they don't fight
with courage that's born in them, but with courage that's borrowed from their
mass, and from their officers. But a mob without any man at the head of it is
beneath pitifulness" (146-147). Each of these examples finds Huck again
running to freedom of the river. The river never cares how saintly you are, how
rich you are, or what society thinks you are. The river allows Huck the one
thing that Huck wants to be, and that is Huck. The river is freedom than the
land is oppression, and that oppression is no more evident than it is to Jim. It
is somewhat surprising that Huck's traveling companion is Jim. As anti-society
that Huck is, you would think that he would have no qualms about helping Jim.
But Huck has to have feelings that slavery is correct so we can see the
ignorance of racial bigotry. Huck and Jim's journey begins as Huck fights within
himself about turning Jim over to the authorities. Finally he decides not to
turn Jim in. This is a monumental decision for Huck to make, even though he
makes it on the spot. This is not just a boy running away from home. It is
someone who has decided to turn his back on everything "home" stands
for, even one of its most cherished beliefs. In this way Twain also allows to
let us leave our thoughts of bigotry behind also and start to see Jim for who he
really is, a man. Even though Huck has made his decision about Jim, early in the
voyage we see Huck's attitude towards Jim as racist. Eventually Huck plays a
mean trick on Jim and we see Huck begin to change his attitude, "It was
fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a
nigger; but I done it, and I warn't ever sorry for it afterward, neither"
(86). Later on in the story Huck becomes very caring and protective for Jim,
where this reaches a climax at the point where Huck saves Jim from two slave
catchers by tricking them to think Jim is was Huck's small pox ridden father.
The dialogue between Huck and Jim also illustrates that Jim is more than
someone's property. He is a human being with feelings, and hopes for a better
future. He is not some ignorant, uncaring sub-human, but plainly the opposite.
Twain does not necessarily come out and say that slavery is evil, that is far
above Huck's understanding, but he gives us the ammunition needed to make that
decision for ourselves. Huck and Jim's adventures give us a chance to examine
the society they live in. It also gives us a chance to examine ourselves as well
as the society today. The story is over a hundred years old, but many of the
social vices then, sadly, pertain to our society now. There are more examples of
human failings in this book, the trickery and cheating of the King and Duke, the
lack of caring by the townspeople for Boggs, the naiveté of the Wilks sisters
and the lack of common sense in Tom Sawyer. There is cruelty, greed, murder,
trickery, hypocrisy, racism, and a general lack of morality, all the ingredients
of society. All through the adventure you have Huck Finn and Jim trying to find
the one thing they can only find on the river, freedom, but a person can only
stay on the river for so long, and so you have to go on land to face the
injustices of society. Quite a contrast, the freedom of being without authority,
being able to think for yourself, running right next to the constraints made
upon you by society. Somewhere deep within the story Twain is making a powerful
statement, a wish for all humanity, that we can be brave enough to break with
what others assume is correct and just, and make decisions for ourselves and the
ability to stand on our own and do something about it. We are that mob that
stood outside Colonel Sherburn's house, we are the Grangerfords and Shepardsons,
and we are the King and the Duke, and even the foolish townspeople in every town
they conned. Somewhere along the line we must become I, someone has to have the
courage to stand up for what is right, to be what Colonel Sherburn would call a
real man. Huck gives us that chance, that ability to see things for what they
are. His adventures along with Twain's sharp criticism are so uniquely combined
to give us that realization. The greatest thing is that it is done so well that
we almost think that we are the ones that discovered it.

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