With his novel about a young adolescent’s journeys and struggles with the trials and questions associated with Huck’s maturation, Mark Twain examines societal standards and the influence of adults that one experiences during childhood. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn have been condemned since its publication, usually focusing, especially in modern times, on its use of the word “nigger.” While this could be a valid argument had the author portrayed Jim negatively, I find another reason to argue against the novel, especially by school boards and parents groups: because it subverts the ideals that many parents wish to instill in their impressionable youth. Reading this book for the first time since high school and my departure from my parents three years ago, watching Huck live without parental controls made me realize how impressionable one is to the values instilled by his constant role models. Without being forced to conform to societal standards, Huck is allowed to use his own logic to realize what is good and bad, rather than blindly following his elders’ “wisdom.”At the beginning of the novel, Huck shows his skepticism of the values that society imposes when the Widow Douglas attempts to civilize him, running away to his freedom until his friends threaten to expunge him from the gang. Given the option of loneliness or independence, Huck chooses to return. When his father returns and takes custody of him again, Huck is deprived of his friends against his own will. Locked alone in the cabin, Huck is given plenty of time to consider his options. If he remains in the cabin, he will continue to be powerless to the will of his father. If he escapes and returns to town, he will only be returned to his drunken father, who will certainly beat him. He realizes that escape is his only solution. By staging his own murder, Huck kills himself to society’s influences and enables his own uninhibited personal growth. Now free of society’s rules and standards, Huck is able to approach life in a way that most adolescents wish were possible. He is fortunate enough to have Jim along for companionship, removing the loneliness that prevented his earlier flight from society. Unfortunately, this friendship has already been tarnished by society’s influence on Huck. Fortunately, free of society’s rules and standards, Huck is allowed to begin to undo his misperceptions of slaves and begins the slow realization that Jim is just as human as he is. During the first few chapters that they are together, Twain quickly shows the beneficial effect that the two have on each other. Jim’s contribution to Huck is an adult presence, one that while expressing a life’s experience, is not overbearing, due to Jim’s inferior status. In addition, Jim provides protection for Huck from both physical and emotional pains. Twain quickly gives examples of both forms of protection in Chapter 9. Within a few days of their union, Jim’s life experiences enable the pair to prepare for the torrential storm that hits the island, which Jim forecasts. Had it not been for Jim and his ability to notice the change in animal behavior, Huck may have been caught on the river when the storm began, and possibly drown. Following the storm, Jim, as we learn at the end of the novel, postpones Huck’s knowledge of his father’s death until it is necessary. While it is true that Huck’s father beat him and inhibited his development as a normal member of society, the fact remains that any child, especially at an impressionable age, is usually severely affected by the loss of a parent. Even if news of his death would not affect Huck, actually viewing a disfigured corpse is something that most people would prefer to be protected from experiencing. Continuing with Huck’s realization of the problems in society that are better understood from outside of it, the experience he has with the Shepherdsons and the Grangerfords opens his eyes to the problems of blindly following tradition. As we have seen, many people have tried to persuade Huck to follow this path, rather than allow him to make logical decisions for himself. We witnessed it when his father reprimanded him for learning to read and write, arguing that no one in their family was literate, so why should Huck. This experience with the feuding families exemplifies why people should not blindly follow tradition like sheep. At this point, we meet Buck, a representative of an adolescent mind destroyed by adults. Though the same age as the protagonist, Buck’s judgment has been destroyed by his family’s ongoing feud with the Shepherdsons. He admits to Huck that the feud began because of a lawsuit between people who died long ago. Through generations of teaching the young children hatred towards the other clan, both families demonstrate an extreme of what can happen by following blindly. For this refusal to rationalize logically, they are all killed for nothing. Whether consciously or not, Huck realizes his fortune in that he has been relieved of many of the preconceived notions that society would have forced on him, as they had on his dead friend. For this reason he cries as he covers the face of the boy who was not given the opportunity to realize the error of his ways.Huck’s next encounter with society and its values furthers his cynical realizations, as he and Jim meet the Duke and the King. Huck soon realizes that these men are frauds, not only to the people that they con, but also to their companions. They represent the lowest morals in society, which interestingly Huck already attributes to leaders. This is why he does not convey this knowledge to Jim, even though he knows that they are lying about their positions. During the two men’s tenure on the raft, we are given glimpses of how morality, when left unchecked, can quickly spiral downward, especially when greed is involved. At first, the men simply con entire towns out of small change, charging a small admission to see the men poorly perform scenes from a Shakespeare. Desiring more and seeing how easy it is, though the already have prior experiences, they advance to charging more for an even less entertaining show, The Royal Nonesuch, exhibiting how easily people are swayed by advertising. In their final two acts of inhumanity, the royal duo seem to abandon all sense of decency and attempt to steal all of the inheritance money from three girls who are in mourning, then sell Jim back into slavery after that plan is foiled by the men they are impersonating. Even though they succeeded in their earlier ventures, Twain causes these ones to backfire. With regards to the inheritance, Huck steals the money, which the real family finds in the coffin, and the con men barely escape punishment. They do not learn, though, and when they choose to make $40 more important than Jim, they are finally punished, as he informs Mr. Phelps of the scam and the men are tarred and feathered and run out on a rail. This is one of Twain’s most striking blows against slavery, for the men are punished, even though they do what society was teaching at the time: that slaves are property to be bought and sold.After Jim is captured, Huck comes to the conscious realization that many of society’s rules are to be broken. Left alone, away from the distraction of society and the misdirection that it gives, he is given time to think on his own, reflecting upon what he has learned throughout his experience on the outside of civilization. He thinks back to all of the people that he has encountered in his life. In retrospect, he can not find another person who is kinder to him than Jim, no one who is more representative of the good portion of the human race than his friend, a man that society does not even deem a man. He knows that he has been taught that slaves are property, and essentially that freeing Jim is stealing from someone else, but he realizes the greater evil, one that only his experiences away from mankind’s influence could make him see. For this reason, in the climax of the novel, he chooses to free Jim from slavery.Tom’s return to Huck’s life provides complication for his goal, though, as Tom, as Huck’s friend, is allowed to reanimate many of the notions that Huck was able to overcome during his freedom. Tom, unlike Huck, views Jim as sub-human. For this reason, he does not tell Huck or his family that Jim is now a free man, but rather goes along with helping Huck “free” him so that he can have an adventure. Had Jim not been a free man, we can even question whether or not Tom would have helped Huck. Huck certainly does when Tom agrees, as he can not understand how a boy from a family respected by society could help steal a slave. By making Jim free when Tom helps, Twain shows us that Tom is just another member of society, blinded by tradition.The final chapter sums up the book well, clearly finalizing many of the lessons that Twain previously informed us in the books’ Notice are not in the book. Huck is completely freed of the fear of his father, as Jim realizes that it is time that he learns the truth about his death. Jim is now a free man, showing that Miss Watson realized the error of her ways right before death. Most importantly, Huck realizes how his life has changed throughout this experience and chooses that the society that he was born into is in many ways corrupted by the people within it. Fortunately, because of the money and lack of legal control, he has the ability to retire from it, as he plans to “light out for the Territory ahead of the rest” (296) before mainstream society has the ability to come and ruin it with the misguided traditions and beliefs.
“O, it’s de dad-blame’ witches, sah, en I wisht I was dead, I do. Dey’s awluz at it, sah, en dey do mos’ kill me, dey skyers me so. Please to don’t tell nobody ’bout it, sah, er ole mars Silas he’ll scole me; ‘kase he say dey ain’ no witches. I jus’ wish to goodness he was heah now – den what would he say! I jis’ bet he couldn’ fine no way to git aroun’ it dis time. But it’s awluz jis’ so: people dat’s sot, stays sot; dey won’t look into noth’n en fine it out f’r deyselves, en when you fine it out en tell um ’bout it, dey doan b’lieve you” (245).When Huck and Tom attempt to rescue Jim by Herculean, rather than mundane, efforts, they utilize the goodwill of another one of the slaves on the Phelps’ plantation. Though the reader is never graced with the slave’s name, Twain describes him as a wooly-haired chucklehead. Huck and Tom, in their infinite wisdom, use this slave to send various things into Jim’s shack – most prominently, a pie with a rope ladder baked inside. At one point, after the boys have dug a useless hole from inside a shed under the foundation to Jim’s cell, they forget to block the whole and Mr. Phelps’ entire pack of hounds slither under the wall into the room as well. When the “chuckleheaded” slave arrives on the scene with some of Jim’s food, notices the dogs and becomes utterly flabbergasted, Tom takes advantage of his amity and crafts an entire fiction about the dogs’ presence in the room. Previous to this scene, the boys noted that the slave had his hair tied up in little knots, supposedly to keep away the witches. The slave responds to Tom’s explanation of the dogs by invoking his own form of superstition about witches in his Southern dialect. In this passage, Mark Twain attempts to recreate the common language of slaves in the south and also illustrates a stereotype concerning people of color. For some whites at the time, it was conceived that slaves would have wandering, fanciful minds; thus, Tom feels that describing the dogs as fantasies of the slave is a justifiable way to explain their presence in Jim’s cell.If roughly translated from dialect, the passage might read as so:Those damn witches, sir, I really wish I was dead. They are always at (appearing to me) and they almost kill me every time they appear because they scare me so much. Please don’t tell anyone about this, sir, because Mr. Silas will scold me. He says that there aren’t any witches. I just wish he was here now – then what would he say? I bet he couldn’t find a way to get around it this time! But it’s always the same: people that believe one thing, stay that way. They will never look into something that they don’t find out for themselves. And when you find it out and tell them about it, they don’t believe you!The act of “translating” the slave’s dialect into a modern, or “acceptable” version, of common English is tantamount to completely destroying Twain’s description of the story. With the dialect in place, the reader gets a much better sense of the slave as a hoping, feeling person. In this plain English format, the slave doesn’t seem to be saying much – all emotion is drained from the phrase. It’s interesting to see that Twain uses the dialect of the South to give the slaves, Tom and Huck personality; if every character spoke the king’s English in the manner of Nathaniel Hawthorne or the like, Huckleberry Finn would have no character and would lose all of its careful, integral detail. In addition, through Twain’s use of dialect, the reader gets a much better sense of life during the 19th century in the South. A Twain book without dialect would be a boring account of interactions between people without emotional capacity and descriptive character. Thus the dialect is a much more important aspect of a novel’s narrative flow than most readers realize.
Whenever Huck Finn steers his raft from the free currents of the river to the brambles on the banks of the Mississipi he renews his interaction with the society of the American south. When Twain’s narrative comes ashore with Huck, the narrative becomes centered on the roles Huck is expected to play, and the roles everyone around Huck is trying to play. Everyone seems knows what the roles are, but they are less sure if the people around them are filling the roles accurately. Speech becomes the primary means through which people investigate roles. The role-less river life becomes defined by silence in contrast to the constant questions on the shore.The roles played by the people Huck meets are centered around “the legend” that W.G. Cash speaks of: “the assumption that every planter was in the most rigid sense of the word a gentlemen,” and that any upstanding citizen was as well. The form of the gentleman was well defined, but no one’s position as a gentleman was so defined. According to Cash, the people had an uncertainty that comes with making an assumption about one’s own identity; the people of the south had “an uneasy sensation of inadequacy for their role.” They needed to “drive home the perception of their rank and value” (69). Equally important was determining the rank of those around them, or the role they were trying to play, if it was not that of gentleman. Each time that Huck alights on shore there is almost immediately an interview of some sort, where his identity is mined. There is never a community in which he is allowed to stand as himself, quietly. At each town Huck is forced to verbally construct an identity for himself. Thus, the land is not defined only by speech, but by the interrogative pattern of speech; perhaps, as Cash says, “the Southern fondness for rhetoric” (51). Huck’s interactions with adults are always interrogatoryfrom Judith Loftus, the first woman he meets on his journey, to Sally Phelps, the last one. This quality of his interactions extends even to his relationship with other children. Huck tells us that the first moment Buck Grangerford gets Huck alone, he “asked me what my name was,” and soon after “asked me where Moses was when the candle went out” (162). While Buck may not be aware of his efforts, the riddle he asks allows him to place Huck in his understanding of the Christian chivalric code that Cash discusses. The first time Mary Jane Wilks speaks to Huck, she opens a long chain of questions with, “Did you ever see the king?” (223). The constant interrogative dialogue of the shore is thrown into juxtaposition with Huck’s life on the raft. Here there are no questions, and no sound. The days on the raft “slid along so quiet and smooth and lovely” (177). Without dialogue, time on the raft has less form than time on the land, both for Huck and for Twain’s narrative. Both Huck and Twain have the freedom to look around them. Whereas time on the land is filled with words, time on the raft is filled with sights. Huck goes into extended melodious descriptions beginning with lines like, “the first thing to see, looking over the water, was a kind of dull line” (177). The visual world opens out from here. When roleplaying does invade the raft, in the form of the King and the Daupin, the interrogation of the land comes with it. After the faux-royalty’s finish sharing their own stories, they immediately, “asked us considerable many questions; wanted to know what we covered up the raft that way for, and laid by in the day-time instead of runningwas Jim a runaway nigger?” (184). The King and Dauphin clearly have the shore disease of needing to place Huck and Jim in their rigid understanding of people. Because of the form given to shore life by the dialogue, Huck’s voice is frequently made peripheral during his forays off the raft. It is chained to explaining his identity in response to the questions of the townspeople, or describing in detail the behavior and anecdotes of these people. In the scenes where Sherburn delivers his diatribe to the town, Huck’s voice is merely a conduit for Sherburn’s voice for pages at a time, and we hear none of Huck’s thoughts. Interestingly, it is only when Huck is allowed to be silent, when he reaches the raft, that his own voice is liberated. It is on the raft that he is allowed to look naturally at the world around him, rather than at the complicated systems of behavior being played out on the shore.
The afterlife, in accordance to the underworld, includes manifold mythological characters and symbols in the form of the river Styx, Cerberus, Charon, and Hades itself. The journey into the underworld begins with a person’s death and journey for passage into hell, as they need to fulfill certain requirements. Greek mythology suggests the feral river Styx as the insidious river leading into the underworld. On the river souls float along until they meet the requirements, gaining admittance from Charon and Cerberus. The river Styx, “literally means ëhateful’ and expresses loathing of death,” and many Greek philosophers believe the water to be a form of poison (Encarta). Charon, the ferryman on the river Styx, leads souls across the river on his raft into Hades, admitting passage only to those corpses, “containing a coin” (Encarta). Charon also forces those souls lacking the coin to float continuously on the river Styx for one hundred years. In Greek mythology, Cerberus, or “hellhound,” a three-headed dog with a dragon like tail, keeps guard of Hades, admitting souls but letting none escape. The final characteristic of the afterlife, on the side of Hades, includes the description of Hades itself. Hades is the land of the dead where, “It was a dim and unhappy place, inhabited by vague forms and shadows” (Encarta). The characteristics of Hades also add to the atmosphere of death and hopelessness, which surrounds the river Styx. By including the characteristics of the afterlife throughout The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain provides supportive details which present the novel as Huckleberry Finn’s journey through the afterlife and to the gates of Hades.The first and most important requirement for a novel of the afterlife is the inclusion of a deceased character. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain begins the novel by portraying the despondent Huckleberry Finn’s unhappiness in the current world, describing the afterlife and hell as a better home: “but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldn’t stand it no longer, I lit outÖI felt so lonesome I most wished I was dead” (Twain 1, 3). After escaping from his home, the mercurial Huckleberry Finn returns, only providing his polemical father with an opportunity to take him away to his little edifice, where again Huckleberry Finn finds himself unhappy in his current surroundings. Finally, Huckleberry decides death to be the cure for all his problems and develops an elaborate scheme to “fake” his own passage into the afterlife: “Well last I pulled out some of my hair, and bloodied the ax good, and stuck it on the backside” (Twain 25). In reality, Huckleberry Finn takes his own life to escape life’s parsimonious problems and looks back on the event, as a soul listening to the cannon probing the river for his dead body: “They won’t ever hunt the river for anything but my dead carcass” (Twain 26). The events prior to his escape on the raft to the island develop Huckleberry Finn’s death and begin his journey as a spirit through the afterlife. By providing the novel with the first part of the afterlife, Twain begins to develop The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as a novel of Huckleberry Finn’s death and journey through the afterlife and to the gates of Hades.The next requirement for the episodic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to represent Huckleberry’s quest for passage into hell and the afterlife is the inclusion of the river Styx. In the novel, Twain uses connotative phrases and negative imagery to characterize the river, as it includes and exhibits many of the characteristics of the tyrannical river Styx in Hades. Twain begins the description of the river to parallel the river Styx when he creates a sense of hopelessness and trepidation in Huckleberry Finn and Jim as they float down the river, allowing it to dictate their journey with its, “treacherous and capricious” ways (Smith 332). Just after passing St. Louis, Huckleberry Finn and Jim find themselves in the heart of a violent and heinous storm, with no protection as they float submissively down the unforgiving river. Sensing the perilous situation, Huckleberry Finn and Jim gaze in reticence at the surrounding walls of confinement which the domineering river produces: “When the lightning glared out we could see a big straight river ahead, and high rocky bluffs on both sides” (Twain 49). Lightning symbolizes evil and destruction, in association with an enumerable amount of wicked connotative phrases. The dangerous and evil connotative associations with lightning provide a perfect setting for an ominous predator, the daunting river, to lead its victims astray on a terrifying journey. As their journey continues, Huckleberry Finn and Jim encounter further danger as the rivers leads them on a path directly into a steamboat, smashing their raft. Twain describes the steamboat with the connotative phrase “black cloud” in order to illustrate it as a juggernaut in Huckleberry Finn’s path. The menacing river brings the infinitesimal raft and the immense steamboat together, forcing Huckleberry Finn and Jim overboard their shattered transport: “She come smashing straight through the raft” (Twain 71). By leading Huckleberry Finn into such a devastating force, the river displays its ultimate objective to terminate Huck’s quest for freedom and passage into the underworld. Twain’s use of the connotative associations with the color black and lightning, allows him to develop the river as a exasperating snag in Huck’s journey and effectively portray it to represent the river Styx. The representation of the river to be a paradigm of the river Styx, further develops the novel as a story of the afterlife.The next source that Mark Twain uses in, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, to develop the devastating nature of the river, are the illustrations from the first edition. In the first edition book, Mark Twain, “paid (E.W.) Kemble $1,200 and pushed him hard” to illustrate accurate portrayals of the characters and events in the novel (Webster). One of these illustrations includes the wrecked steamboat, containing dead bodies, Huckleberry Finn and Jim encounter. Through the breaks in lighting strikes, Huck spots the wrecked steamboat in the middle of the river: “I see that wreck laying there so mournful and lonesome in the middle of the river” (Twain 50). Through the lighting, connotative to death, Huck discovers the stranded and helpless steamboat, which resides in the middle of the relentlessly destructive river. The description of the marred steamboat provides yet another event Twain uses to develop the river as a destructive force present in the journey of Huckleberry Finn and Jim. Twain also instructs Kemble to include the immobile steamboat in the picture collection of the first edition novel, which creates an even higher elevation and air of destruction as he vividly depicts the destruction of the river (See Fig. 1). The illustrations by E.W. Kemble in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn allow Twain to recall the image present of the steamboat in his mind, thus allowing him to express the full level of destruction present in the corridor of the river. By using such a vivid image to display the steamboat and the death onboard, Twain further develops the river as not only a destructive force but also a merciless one as well. By including the negative images in the pictures, Twain again effectively represents the river in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as the river Styx and the novel as an afterlife story.As Huck continues his journey down the river, Twain again uses the vivid image a picture creates to aid the development of the cunning yet powerful nature of the river and continue its resemblance to the river Styx. When Huckleberry Finn and Jim float down the river, they again stumble upon another victim to the destruction of the river, in the form of a house and a dead man: ” here comes a frame house down [the river]ÖThere was something laying on the floor in the far corner that looked like a manÖ-he’s dead” (Twain 38) (See Fig. 2). Twain again continues to portray the power and destruction of the river, whether it be the destruction of a two-story house or a human being. Also, to show the merciless nature of the river, Twain reveals at the end of the novel the dead body in the corner of the wrecked house to belong to the maladroit Pap Finn as Jim explains to Huckleberry Finn at the end of their journey: “Doan’ you’ member de house dat was float’n down riverÖkase dat wuz him” (Twain 220). Huckleberry Finn’s abusive father serves as his bane and main motivation to stage his death and break from the bondage of life with his father and out for freedom. By later revealing Huckleberry Finn’s grueling journey to escape from his deceased father to be in vain, Twain continues to characterize the evil and stygian nature of the river. By using the connotative and descriptive images the pictures produce, Twain completes the parallel of the river in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to the river Styx. By including the vital part of the afterlife, the river Styx, Twin effectively portrays the novel as one of the afterlife.The next requirement The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn needs to fulfill to represent a novel of the afterlife is the inclusion of the old ferryman, Charon and the copious amount of souls he ferries on the river Styx. In the novel Jim befriends Huckleberry Finn and although a slave, Jim encourages Huckleberry Finn to aid him in his search for money to buy his family: “He was saying how the first thing he would do when he got to a free State he would go to saving up moneyÖand when he got enough he would buy his wifeÖthen they would both work to buy the two children” (Twain 66). Jim encourages and joins Huckleberry Finn’s journey to acquire freedom, which would lead them and Jim’s family to freedom and in effect, end Huckleberry Finn and Jim’s journey on the river. By paralleling the river to the river Styx, the quest for freedom represents the quest for the coin the spirit of Huckleberry Finn needs to gain passage into Hades. The encouragement Jim provides in the quest for money and freedom parallels him to Charon as he accompanies Huckleberry Finn on his journey to Hades on the river Styx and reveals the journey’s end when they acquire money and freedom. The inclusion of the quest for a coin to gain entrance into Hades again presents the novel as an afterlife story.The search for a coin also becomes apparent when Huckleberry Finn passes two men on a raft in search of runaway slaves. Huckleberry Finn lies to them about catching small pox, a cover up for his journey, as a spirit, to obtain a coin for admittance into Hades. They believe the spirit’s story and unwillingly provide him with two coins, one for him and the other, ironically, for the ferryman of Hades himself, Jim: “I’ll put a twenty dollar gold piece on this boardÖhere’s a twenty to put on the board for me” (Twain 69). When Huckleberry Finn encounters these men, he obtains the coin he needs for passage with Charon across the river Styx. By including the acquiring of the coin by Huckleberry Finn, Twain provides another situation, which proves the novel to be a story of Huckleberry Finn’s journey through the afterlife.As the spirit of Huckleberry Finn floats down the river, he also encounters a cornucopia of rafts containing others in search of a coin for passage and some who drift hopelessly along for one hundred years: “A monstrous big lumber raft was about a mile up stream, coming along down, with a lantern in the middle of it” (Twain 27). The raft Huckleberry Finn passes also contains souls in search of the entrance coin, which unlocks the gates of Hades and allows them to pass. However, other souls remain destined to wander for one hundred years and Jim directly relates these “lost” souls on the river to spirits: “Once there was a thick fog, and the raftsÖJim said he believed it was spirits” (Twain 89). In the fog on the river Huckleberry Finn and Jim pass another raft and Charon, Jim, recognizes the sounds as spirits who also float along the river Styx. As Charon, Jim only accompanies one spirit on the journey down the river Styx, Huckleberry Finn, and because of it, they pass others who wait for Jim to guide them on their journey. By including Charon and the spirits, whether they obtain the coin or wander for one hundred years, Twain fulfills the requirement of including Hades’ ferryman to further provide support for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as a paragon of the afterlife.The main example of passage into the underworld only to those who possess a coin occurs with the deceased Peter Wilks. Huckleberry Finn, the duke, and the king head ashore and impersonate the brothers of the late Peter Wilks and their servant. Recognizing the chance, as spirits, to obtain the coin they need to enter the afterlife, the duke and king formulate a plan to seize the inheritance: “bein’ brothers to a rich dead man, and representatives of furrin heirs that’s got left, is the line of work for you and me” (Twain 125). The duke and king soon learn the inheritance of three thousand gold now belongs to the brothers, which would be them through their impersonations. By seizing the inheritance, the king and duke appear to secure their passage into the underworld, thus ending their journey through the afterlife on the river Styx. Huckleberry Finn battles with his conscience in revealing the true identity of the king and duke, spoiling their plan to be the brothers or rightful inheritors. He then decides to steal the gold and ultimately places it into the coffin of Peter Wilks, and providing him with the coin he needs for passage into the afterlife: “the only place I see to hide the bag was in the coffin” (Twain 135). The next day the town buries Peter Wilks along with the money. The money allows his final burial and peaceful passage with Charon and to the gates of Hades by providing the coin. By burying Peter Wilks only after the coin is in place to provide his passage, Twain concludes the last event of a spirit resting and journeying on into Hades, providing additional support in viewing The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as a story of the afterlife.The last requirement for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to be a representation of the afterlife is Cerberus, the hellhound and guardian dog of Hades. Many events occur in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which involve interaction between the gregarious Huckleberry Finn and dogs. Each time Huckleberry Finn encounters a dog or group of dogs, they chase him back by growling and howling, almost as if to warn him of danger at, for example, the bellicose Grangerford household: “A lot of dogs jumped out and went howling and barking at me” (Twain 72). The dogs prevent the pacifistic Huckleberry Finn from entering the property or house, potentially saving him from a Grangerford mistaking him as a belligerent Shepherdson and shooting. The dogs parallel to Cerberus guarding the gates of Hades, refusing entrance to those lacking the coin, which Huckleberry Finn needs in the form of freedom. By including the reference to dogs in the novel, Twain effectively portrays Cerberus as he stands guard at the gates of Hades. The inclusion of Cerberus effectively develops the novel as the story of Huckleberry Finn’s journey through the afterlife and to Hades.As the novel continues, the audacious Huckleberry Finn seals his fate and ultimate passage into Hades by vocally professing his destination at the end of his journey through the afterlife. Huckleberry Finn, before arriving at Aunt Sally’s domicile, finally recognizes his journey through the afterlife and its purpose, supporting the novel as an afterlife story with one important reference: “I’ll go to hell” (Twain 162). By professing his final destination and wish to go to Hades, Huckleberry Finn seals his own fate and the outcome of his afterlife. Only after professing his final destination as Hades, Cerberus, in the form of Aunt Sally’s dogs, appears at the gates of her home, which symbolizes civilization, the “Hell” in Huckleberry Finn’s life. As Huckleberry Finn enters the grounds of Aunt Sally’s residence dogs quickly surround him as he makes his way towards the house: “a circle of fifteen of them packed together around me, with their necks and noses stretched up towards me” (Twain 166). At first, Cerberus refuses Huckleberry Finn’s admittance into Hades, failing to sense his success in his quest to find freedom, the symbol of the coin he needs to enter. Only after realizing Huckleberry Finn’s acquirement of freedom, the coin, and voicing the final destination of his afterlife, Aunt Sally’s dogs, the stygian Cerberus admits him into civilization, and Hell: “half of them come back, wagging their tails around me and making friends with me” (Twain 166). Upon entrance into Aunt Sally’s home and freedom, Aunt Polly later arrives, taking Huckleberry Finn home into civilization, or as he describes civilization in the beginning, “the bad place, and IÖwished I was there” (Twain 2). Huckleberry Finn completes his journey through the afterlife and finally gains passage to the place he sought to be from the beginning, Hell. By including a parallel to Cerberus, the last element in the afterlife, Mark Twain effectively concludes and provides support to label The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as a story of Huckleberry Finn’s journey through the afterlife and successful passage into Hades.The inclusion of the flagrant river, Jim, the dogs, and Huckleberry Finn’s death creates the setting of the novel. In the novel, each piece of the setting executes and depicts a part or idiosyncrasy of the afterlife. By portraying the elements to exhibit characteristics Greek philosophers believed to exist in underworld side of the afterlife, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn stands as an exemplary example of an afterlife novel.Works Cited”Hades.” Encarta Encyclopedia: Microsoft. 2nd Ed. 1998.Smith, Henry Nash. “T.S. Eliot” New York: w.w. Norton and Company Publishing, 1977.Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1994.Webster, Samuel. Mark Twain, Business Man. Boston: Little Brown Publishing, 1946.For the 2 figures go here: http://etext.lib.virginia.edu/twain/twaillus1.htmlFig. 1. The Wreck, The Illustrious Huck From the First Edition; Kimble, E.W. Special Collections (Virginia: University of Virginia Library, 1995)Fig. 2. Jim Sees a Dead Man, The Illustrious Huck From the First Edition; Kimble, E.W. Special Collections (Virginia: University of Virginia Library, 1995)
“The Widow Douglas, she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldn’t stand it no longer, I lit out.” The aforementioned quotation best describes Huck’s philosophy when faced with ties that bind. When he is unable to take the restrictions of life any longer, whether they be emotional or physical, he simply releases himself and goes back to what he feels is right and what makes him happy. Hence, one of the most prominent and important themes of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is freedom. Freedom not only from Huck’s internal paradoxical struggle in defining right and wrong, but also freedom from Huck’s personal relationships with the Widow Douglas and his father, as well as freedom from the societal institutions of government, religion, and prejudices. Throughout the story Huck is plagued with an internal moral dilemma of what he feels is right and what he is taught is right. Huck is possibly the only character in the story that operates solely on his own moral convictions. This produces significant conflict when the accepted rules of society, often corrupt in nature, are imposed upon him. The best example of this internal conflict is Huck’s brief experiences with organized religion. The teachings by the Widow Douglas of the pathways to heaven are in constant conflict with Huck’s own beliefs. Because of this, Huck readily rejects the teachings of organized religion, and therefore must often grapple with the undue guilt that this hypocritical heresy places on him. Such is the case when Huck must decide on whether to protect the whereabouts of Jim or to do the “Christian” thing and return Miss Watson her “property”. Although Huck ultimately does what he feels is right, the reader is left with a sense that the issue is not completely eradicated from Huck’s conscience. Another freedom Huck struggles for is freedom from the two unhealthy family ties he has. The first being the attempted civilization of Huck by the Widow Douglas, and the second being Huck’s desire to escape the wrath of his dangerous and abusive father. Whereby the Widow Douglas tries to better Huck as a person, Huck’s father tries to drag Huck down to his level. Because these forces are pulling Huck in opposing directions Huck is forced to find freedom from each differently. The fact that Huck gives a valid attempt at conformity signifies that he has somewhat of an interest in becoming what is considered “normal”, and thereby pleasing the Widow Douglas. There is a sense that Huck has a genuine gratitude towards the Widow Douglas for taking an interest in his well being, especially since she appears to be the only one that does so. However, given that his attempts are short-lived, it can be assumed that Huck’s desire to adhere to his personal virtues overpowers his desire to become civilized or to please the Widow Douglas. In contrast, Huck appears to have no desire to have a relationship with his father. At one point in the story Huck does not even know if his father is alive or not, and apparently does not care to know. Because of his father’s alcoholism and unpredictable behavior, emotional freedom from him is easily achieved by Huck. However, it is the physical freedom from his father that Huck must accomplish in the story. Because of his jealously of Huck, Huck’s father adopts the belief that Huck is attempting to make a fool of him. Consequently, Huck’s father uses this belief as justification to imprison Huck and use him for his own personal gain. For a boy like Huck, physical constriction is undoubtedly the most miserable condition he could be put in. At this point in the story freedom is not only a desire of Huck – it is a necessity. Lastly, and possibly most importantly of Huck’s search for freedom is the struggle for freedom from the deep-rooted and well-established societal institutions of prejudice at that time. Of all the societal lessons Huck has fought to learn, the most damaging has been that blacks are not people. This is exemplified in several ways throughout the novel. One way is through the constant referral of Jim, by others to Huck, as “property”. The second and most disturbing way is through the overheard conversation explaining the wreck of the steamboat into the raft, by which the question of whether or not anyone was hurt is answered with a “no, killed a nigger, that’s all”. Undoubtedly, it would be easier for Huck to accept these beliefs had he not got to know Jim as a person and as a friend. This is known because before Huck’s experiences with Jim, Huck held the same attitudes towards slaves as everyone else at that time. However, because of the friendship that developed with Jim, Huck once again is forced to find freedom, this time from the strongest of all oppressors of freedom ñ racism. Huck’s desire to continue his forbidden friendship and his desire for freedom from society’s racism proves to be Huck’s most difficult struggle yet. He quickly finds that he cannot simply ignore it as he did with the rules and teachings of the Widow Douglas, and he cannot simply run away from it as he did with his father. Huck eventually learns the lesson of racism that people even today must learn; it is not going to go away and you cannot single-handedly change it, all you can do is follow your heart and do what you know is the right thing to do. Throughout the novel Huck overcomes numerous obstacles and endures various negative repercussions to attain both emotional and physical freedom, thus unquestionably establishing freedom as a major theme in this work. Twain’s implied lesson expressed within this theme is that true freedom is essential to happiness. Twain ends the novel with a frustrated Huck stating; “Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can’t stand it. I been there before.” Although the novel ends leaving the reader a sense that Huck is truly free, this concluding phrase subtlety, yet clearly, implies that the struggle for freedom is a never-ending one.
A hackneyed expression states that one should never discuss religion or politics in certain social settings. Religion has been, is, and always will be a topic of debate and disagreement. Literature is a major media in which religious sentiments are discussed. The description of one boy and his adventures allows Mark Twain the opportunity to impart his views on religion to his readers. In his novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain uses such literary devices as satire, humor, and irony throughout his work to convey his aversion for religion and religious practices. In various scenes in the novel, Twain’s distaste for religion is quite obvious, as traditionally serious practices are portrayed as comical. Huckleberry Finn, the main character, is either directly involved in these scenarios or otherwise a viewer and subsequent narrator of these humorous events. By writing his novel through the eyes of Huckleberry Finn, a young runaway who has had a very limited education, Mark Twain creates a character with quintessential juvenile innocence. This innocence allows Twain to satirize religious sentimentality and superficiality with abandon. Miss Watson and Widow Douglas, Huck’s unofficial guardians who try to “sivilize” him, teach Huck the concept of Christianity. The women emphasis prayer and Providence. Huck recalls, “She told me to pray every day, and whatever I asked for I would get it” (10). The literal minded young boy believes that he would receive anything he desires if he prays for it. This is made apparent when Huck states, “I tried for the hooks three or four times, but somehow I couldn’t make it work” (11). Further attempts by the two women to explain prayer only leads to more confusion, making Twain’s point that religious practices, in this case prayer, do not always make sense. To further this point, Twain includes Huck’s confusion over Providence. Each of the women explains the concept of Providence differently, actually contradicting one another. Huck explains what he is taught by saying, “I judged I could see that there was two Providences.” Thus, Twain criticizes religious philosophy by creating a scenario whereby the two women, and subsequently Huck, have two juxtapose interpretations of a religious concept. Twain conveys his message of how ridiculous it is for two or more people to have different interpretations of the same religious concept and still claim to practice the same religion.While Mark Twain criticizes religious ideas when writing about Miss Watson and Widow Douglas, he illustrates the hypocrisy of the churchgoers when he places Huck Finn in the care of the Grangerfords, a well-to-do family embroiled in a thirty-year feud with the Shepherdsons. On Sunday Huck attends mass with the Grangerfords. “The men took their guns alongÖand kept them handy between their kneesÖ The Shepherdsons did the same” (109). As the scene continues, Twain further develops the hypocrisy of the families, particularly the Grangerfords. “It was pretty ornery preachingóall about brotherly love, and such-like tiresomeness; but everybody said it was a good sermonÖ” (109). Twain’s use of irony displays the contrast of being a church member and being a church follower. The Grangerfords and Shepherdsons, by attending church and complimenting the quality of the sermon, appear to be religious families. However, their respect for church and church practices remains solely in words and not actions. As in the rest of the novel, Mark Twain uses his humorous style to demonstrate his disgust for religion, in this case, the hypocrisy of the “faithful.”When Huck and the king, a scoundrel who takes over Huck’s raft for a while, encounter a “camp-meeting” in Parkville, Mark Twain uses humor again to degrade religion and those who practice religion. They find a “shed” where a preacher is preaching and leading a large group of worshipers in song and prayer. Huck describes the scene, ” And people would shout out, ëGlory!óA-a-men!'”(131). The people carried on this way: shouting and groaning and praising the lord. “You couldn’t make out what the preacher said any more, on account of the shouting and crying” (131). Twain illustrates the mob mentality of the followers at the “camp-meeting” by showing the crowd’s mindless ranting. The king, adept at the art of lying and cheat, uses the religious group’s mindlessness to dupe them into giving him money. “He told them he was a pirateÖ” and that, “he was a changed man now” (132). After hearing the king’s story somebody yells, “Take up a collection for him,” (132) and the group did. This con scene written by Twain harshly attacks the religious believer, painting a picture of a religious believer as gullible, emotional, and perhaps illogical. Twain continues his attacks on religion through his description of the funeral of Peter Wilks. In this classic satire on the sentimentality of funeral customs Twain ridicules undertakers and all other aspects of burial customs. Twain has Huck describe the attendants’ behavior and mood by saying, “There warn’t no other sound but the scraping of the feet on the floor and blowing nosesÖ” (180). The “long-legged” undertaker was described as, “the softest, glidingest, stealthiest man I ever see; and there warn’t no more smile to him than there is to a ham” (181). Portrayed as an extremely morose and gangly man, the undertaker is Twain’s exaggerated stereotype that stands as a comical symbol of undertakers. The funeral was enlivened by a “sick melodeum” (181), and when the Reverend began to speak, “the most outrageous row busted out in the cellar a body ever heard” (181). The “long-legged” undertaker “glided” down the cellar and ended the dog’s howling with a “whack”. Upon returning, the undertaker announced in a manner of unintended comedy, “He had a rat!” (182). After the rat episode Huck describes the sentiment of the others toward the undertaker by saying, “There warn’t no popular man in town than what that undertaker was.” (182). This comical account of a funeral is yet another of Twain’s attacks on religious tradition. By grossly exaggerating the people and procession of the funeral, Twain satirizes one of the most somber of religious traditions.Mark Twain uses his novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, to express his views and sentiments on religion. These views, while derogatory in nature, are far from outright vicious attacks against religion, but are merely comical jests at religious practices. He examines many aspects of religion, including traditions, practices, and characteristics of religious followers. He makes full use of the innocence of his main character, Huck Finn. Huck unwittingly questions numerous controversial aspects of religion throughout the book, which allow Twain to inject his personal views into the novel. Twain also uses his skill as a humorist to mock certain religious practices and traditions through his adept use of humor and satire. The evidence of Mark Twain’s view of religion throughout his novel is unmistakably negative, displaying his aversion for religion and certain religious practices.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn correlates extremely well with novels like The Catcher in the Rye in that it illustrates the profound, omnipresent difficulties, with which characters like Huck and Holden must struggle as they are growing up. In Huck’s particular instance, he seems, from the very beginning, to be conflicted as to whether he should conform to social norms or live according to his own preferences: “The Widow Douglas, she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me…so when I couldn’t stand it no longer, I lit out…and was free and satisfied. But Tom Sawyer, he hunted me up and said he was going to start a band of robbers, and I might join if I would go back to the widow and be respectable. So I went back” (70-71). As revealed by this quote, Huck has already made that critical decision to separate himself from the corruptions he sees in society (e.g. Pap’s abusive alcoholism and excessive racism); he thus sets out on the Mississippi River, hoping to leave behind (perhaps permanently) those societal flaws he had discerned and deemed unacceptable. Unfortunately, no matter how fervent and earnest these efforts of non-conformity may actually be, the basest filth and shortcomings of society (the very kinds Huck is trying so desperately to avoid) always seem to succeed in catching up with him. The optimistic reader can argue that Huck does mature throughout his stay on the raft with Jim, making changes to the racist, prejudiced views and behavior that had been bred into him by society. However, it always ends up that society prevails and Huck’s efforts are therefore proven to have been useless and in vain. In the first few days that Huck spends with Jim on the raft, the reader can observe that he still displays certain tendencies that society has bred within him. He reflects the traits instilled in him by Tom when he plays several pranks on Jim. For example, he places the corpse of a snake in Jim’s blanket “and curled him up on the foot of Jim’s blanket, ever so natural, thinking there’d be some fun when Jim found him there” (115). That night, the dead snake’s mate arrives at Jim’s blanket and bites Jim’s heel, almost killing him. On another occasion, Huck decides, in the model of Tom Sawyer, to board the Walter Scott and bring some criminals to justice, again endangering his own life as well as that of Jim when they are almost caught and killed. On one of many occasions, demonstrating the influence that Pap has had on Huck, he “slipped into corn fields and borrowed a watermelon, or a mushmelon, or a punkin, or some new corn, or things of that kind. Pap always said it warn’t no harm to borrow things, if you was meaning to pay them back, sometime” (125). Eventually, Huck does come to show signs of change as time passes. He comes to admitting that Jim “was most always right; he had an uncommon level head, for a nigger” (134). Even though this statement still stings with a good deal of prejudice, it represents the fact that there has indeed been some progress and change in Huck’s opinion of Jim. In another instance, the reader is able to witness a greater change. Huck and Jim had been separated by fog for a night, but Huck decides to deceive Jim into thinking that it had all been a dream. When he finds out about the prank, Jim feels extremely hurt, saying that he had been sincerely concerned about Huck’s well-being. Huck perceives his error and actually apologizes to Jim: “It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger-but I done it…I didn’t do him no more mean tricks” (142). Once again, Huck’s statement illustrates that he is still not yet rid of his in-bred racism; the apology, however, shows that Huck does acknowledge Jim as a fellow human being, something that any other white in his position would have found quite difficult to do. On yet another occurrence, when Huck observes that Jim is reminiscing and regretting the fact that he had unknowingly beaten his deaf daughter. Huck thinks to himself, “I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks does for their’n. It don’t seem natural, but I reckon it’s so” (210). In this two-faceted statement, Huck once again has not been able to get rid of his in-bred racism; he does recognize that Jim is a good father to his children, a worthy quality that many white men themselves lack (Pap, for one, could never be able to match Jim in his ability to care for and love his children). Finally, towards the end of the book, when Jim is willing to risk his very freedom so that Tom can see a doctor for his wounded leg, Huck affirms, “I knowed he was white inside, and I reckoned he’d say what he did say” (305). This final observation about Jim shows that Huck can’t come to accept that Jim can be a real man as he is-a black man; instead, Huck acknowledges that Jim is a real man but, in effect, changes Jim into a white man in order to explain Jim’s actual ability to be an ideal man. This action, in itself, can be observed as negating all the effort Huck and Jim have put into their flight from society. By turning Jim white to validate his ability to be a “man”, Huck is just like all the other white racists from whom he had run-unable to recognize that a black can actually be a human being. The reader can also observe that escape from white society for both Huck and Jim is, for the most part, impossible. Even though Huck and Jim have their own raft and are traveling peacefully down the Mississippi River, they oftentimes find it necessary to make contact and even interact with abominable white society (e.g. for provisions/supplies or guidance/instructions). However, Huck and Jim are actually affected by white society to a much greater effect. White society is still able to extend its chains of corruption in the form of the “king” and the “duke”, who board the raft and completely dominate Huck and Jim simply owing to the fact that they are white men, the power-wielding figures in their society. Thus, they basically transform the raft, Huck and Jim’s “refuge”, into a new extension of white society. These two white men then use the raft as a tool for their fraudulent schemes, effectively holding Huck and Jim as their prisoners on the raft (especially Jim, who must be bound and gagged to feign the image of a caught run-away slave), whom they exploit at their own pleasure. After many unsuccessful schemes, these men do come to actually selling Jim as a run-away slave. After Huck is finally able to rid himself of the king and the duke in search of the now-imprisoned Jim, white society binds Jim and him down even more, through the form of Tom Sawyer, the epitome of white culture. Even though Tom knows perfectly well that Jim has been freed by the deceased Ms. Watson, he fails to notify anyone about this critical fact so that he can amuse himself “freeing” Jim, whom he plans to pay afterwards for all his “troubles.” Furthermore, even though Tom’s plans are ridiculously long and excessive, neither Huck nor Jim dare to speak a word against Tom because Tom, a representative of white society, has read the white novels and knows how to help Jim “escape” the “proper way.” Through Tom’s great plans, the three of them are almost shot; Jim ends up being caught and nearly lynched. Even after Jim’s freedom has been established and acknowledged, the three of them plan to go into “Injun Territory”, where Tom will be able to exploit yet another vulnerable people, the Native Americans. Huck and Jim’s blind obedience to Tom’s “authority” illustrates how far Huck and Jim’s troubles on the raft have brought them: the exact place and roles in which they had been before fleeing. Thus, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn illustrates in fine detail the great difficulty, with which a child like Huck faced in growing up-the question of values, societal expectations, and interaction with other members of society. In Huck’s individual case, he chooses to separate himself from the wrongs he witnesses in society; he does this by traveling on the raft with Jim, hoping to leave behind that society which he despised. On the raft, Huck appears to be “maturing”, somewhat changing his outlook on African Americans. However, in his fundamental statement that Jim deserved to be white because he was a good man shows how much Huck has really matured in respect to his views on blacks. Furthermore, even on the raft, Huck and Jim are constantly haunted by white society, especially by the king and the duke, who eventually hand Jim over to Tom Sawyer. The unfortunate story concludes with Huck, Jim, and Tom in about the exact same places in which they had been in the beginning of the novel. From the nineteenth century, Twain gives us this story perhaps, not as an answer to a problem, but simply something to actually make us aware that such a problem exists. He knew that the first step is recognition of a problem and that only after recognizing a problem can we actually come to solving that problem.
“Fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities. Truth isn’t.” This witty aphorism, although intended as a commentary on society, also reveals some of Mark Twain’s beliefs about literature. By asserting that fiction must stay in the realm of possibility, Twain establishes his preference of Realism over Romanticism. Realism, a literary style which presents ordinary life in an objective and factual way, is the antithesis of Romanticism, a style which stresses imagination, emotion, and the awesome power of nature. However, despite this proclamation, aspects of Romanticism are clearly present in Twain’s novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which seamlessly blends both Realism and Romanticism. These contrasting literary styles are found in the setting, characterization, and plot of the novel. The use of vivid detail enables Twain to establish an absorbing visual setting. Although the setting is inspired by actual rivers and towns, Twain utilizes a number of Romantic techniques to convey specific aspects of the characters’ surroundings. To establish Huck’s familiarity and comfort with nature, Twain clearly personifies nature, a common aspect of Romantic literature:The stars were shining, and the leaves rustled in the woods ever so mournful; and I heard an owl, away off, who-whooing about somebody that was dead…and the wind was trying to whisper something to me, and I couldn’t make out what it was , and so it made the cold shivers run over me. (5) By embellishing the natural surroundings, Twain establishes Huck’s point of view and personality. However, Twain also uses Realism to add authenticity to the setting, forcing the reader to recognize the truth behind his words. By presenting towns and rivers as they actually exist, Twain creates a plausible setting for his story:We judged that three nights more would fetch us to Cairo, at the bottom of Illinois where the Ohio River comes in, and that was what we was after. We would sell the raft and get on a steamboat and go way up the Ohio amongst the free states, and then be out of trouble. (78)It is necessary to point out that Twain often romanticized even those aspects of the setting that are based on real landmarks. This is especially evident through Twain’s illustration of the Mississippi River. The river, which could easily be described as simply a large waterway that serves as a mode of transportation for Huck and Jim , instead becomes a highly symbolic element that inspires their imagination. However, even within this idealized setting, Twain adds specific, almost pedestrian details:Then the nice breeze springs up, and comes fanning you from over there, so cool and fresh and sweet to smell on account of the woods and the flowers; but sometimes not that way, because they’ve let dead fish laying around, gars and such, and they do get pretty rank; and next you’ve got the full day, and everything smiling in the sun, and the song-birds just going it! (114) Twain’s masterful combination of Realism and Romanticism creates a diverse setting that reflects actual rivers and towns in an idealized way. Twain’s use of both Romanticism and Realism to develop his characters is evident in the dissimilarity between Tom and Huck. While Tom’s flamboyant imagination compels him to make decisions that help him fulfill his fantasies, Huck’s down-to-earth mentality enables him to take the most logical course of action. In this way, Tom serves as a symbol of Romanticism, while Huck is the epitome of Realism. Tom’s romantic tendencies are quickly established in the novel:Kill the women? No; nobody ever saw anything in the books like that. You fetch them to the cave, and you’re always as polite as pie to them; and by and by they fall in love with you, and never want to go home and more. (11)Tom dreams of living out the romantic fantasies he has been exposed to through reading. Huck, on the other hand, believes that these ideas are pointless and illogical. While Tom uses his imagination to liven up ordinary occurrences, Huck refuses to see past the truth:But there warn’t no Spaniards and A-rabs, and there warn’t no camels nor no elephants. It warn’t anything but a Sunday-school picnic, and only a primer class at that. (14)Although both boys feel strongly about their views, Huck lacks Tom’s confidence, and therefore keeps his opinions to himself. Because of this, Tom’s Romanticism triumphs over Huck’s Realism. This triumph is short-lived in the eyes of the reader, however, because Twain brings Tom’s Romantic views into conflict with Jim’s freedom. Instead of easily escaping, Tom makes a production out Jim’s stint in captivity, claiming that it would not be right to escape easily:Blame it, this whole thing is just as easy and awkward as it can be. And so it makes it so rotten difficult to get up a difficult plan…why, all you got to do is to lift up the bedstead and slip off the chain….It’s the stupidest arrangement I ever see. You got to invent all the difficulties. (229)While Tom’s Romanticism is acceptable as childish play, his desire to fulfill his own fantasies at the expense of another’s freedom is almost sickening. Twain utilizes both Romanticism and Realism within his characterization of Huck and Tom, but he clearly favors Huck’s realistic outlook on life. Twain creates conflict between the Romanticism of Tom and the Realism of Huck, yet this conflict is not repeated in the development of the plot. Realism and Romanticism work together to further the events of the story. At several points, Twain uses a distinctly realistic tone to advance the plot, such as when Huck and Jim become separated on the river:The second night a god began to come on…I passed the line around one of [the saplings] right on the edge of the cut bank, but there was a stiff current and the raft came booming down so lively she tore it out by the roots and away she went…There warn’t no raft in sight; and you couldn’t see twenty yards. (78)This twist in the plot illustrates an event that would be commonly experienced when traveling along the river. By advancing the plot through the use of realistic situations, Twain reinforces the authenticity of his novel. However, Twain also employs rather outlandish plot devices that are representative of Romanticism, such as Tom’s particularly miraculous appearance near the end of the book.”It’s Tom Sawyer!” By jings, I most slumped through the floor! But there warn’t no time to swap knives; the old man grabbed me by the hand and shook, and kept on shaking. (215)It is simply illogical for Huck to randomly show up at the exact same house where Tom is expected. This truly preposterous event is an example of Twain’s use of Romanticism. A fusion between the two styles is evident in the actions of the duke and the king. Both characters use outlandish, yet effective, ploys to extort large sums of money from their victims. However, Twain meshes these romantic, outrageous schemes with common-place, realistic events from his time period. This is apparent in the camp-meeting scene:He told them he was a pirate…and, poor as he was…put in the rest of his life trying to turn the pirates into the true path…Then somebody sings out, “Take up a collection for him take up a collection!” (128). By utilizing both Realism and Romanticism to formulate events in the novel, Twain increases the effectiveness and fluidity of the plot. Mark Twain uses both Realism and Romanticism, often simultaneously, to develop the setting, characterization, and plot of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Although Twain states that “fiction is obliged to stick to possibilities,” his use of both Romanticism and Realism is evident throughout the novel, and this added richness benefits the reader.
Mark Twain’s masterwork, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, has over time, created controversy proportionate to its tremendous literary worth. The story of an “uncivilized” Southern boy and a runaway slave traveling up the Mississippi River towards freedom, Huckleberry Finn has been called offensive and ignoble since its first publication. At the same time, supporters such as Ernest Hemingway have hailed it as the book that “all modern American literature comes from” (quoted in Strauss). Objectors have historically protested the novel for its racist content and have successfully banned it in many instances. Others feel that the book is an essential part of the American literary canon and should be taught to all students. The controversy presented in this essay will not be resolved in the foreseeable future – both sides have legitimate, defensible cases. For this reason alone, I believe The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn should be required reading in an 11th grade American literature class. At first glance, objectors of Samuel Clemens’ novel appear to engage in a simplistic level of discourse. Parents, teachers, and likeminded individuals have historically protested the novel over the racism inherent to the material presented. Those concerned with matters of race find reason to ban the book over the word “nigger,” which appears in the text over 200 times. Such detractors claim that because of the overt racism presented, the novel enhances racial tension, makes black students uncomfortable, and can corrupt impressionable minds. Further, some have found the book to simply be a coarse story. Crusaders involved in one of the earliest bans on Huck Finn, undertaken by the Concord [Massachusetts] Public Library committee, labeled the book “rough, coarse and inelegant, dealing with a series of experiences not elevating,” and “the veriest trash” (“Concord”). Such basic criticism of Huck Finn typically draws from a one-dimensional reading of the work. The character of Jim is most immediately portrayed as a stereotypically unintelligent, grotesque figure, and the novel itself ends with his capture and reenslavement. Huck, a naÃ¯ve boy with no morality other than the flawed, inculcated Southern mores he takes for granted, narrates the story from an unwaveringly simple perspective. When judged at face value alone, this novel does indeed appear to be nothing but a bleak commentary about race relations in the 1800s with overwhelmingly racist overtones. Even the most obdurate or obtuse of Twain’s critics, however, are able to grasp the basic elements of satire, sarcasm, and irony apparent in Huck Finn. Twain was an ardent abolitionist and humanitarian in spite of the deeply rooted Southern culture around him. He had no intention of dehumanizing blacks by portraying a sardonic reality any more than Jonathan Swift intended to advocate infanticide. Indeed, the true controversy surrounding Twain’s novel does not lie simply within an objection lodged over such a basic and cynical view of the work. There exists a much stronger intellectual concern that finds itself at the heart of a modern controversy over how people should read and understand works of literature. In addition, the debate extends to what is to be considered part of the distinguished canon of “great literature,” a distinction most modern detractors would deign to concede to Huck Finn. On one side of this conflict are traditionalists, or formalists, who maintain that the point of literature “is to rise above such local and transitory problems by transmuting them into universal structures of language and image” (Graff). These individuals reject subjective criticism of a work of literature based on its ethical message. Instead, they believe that a work’s value and literary merit is based on an objective analysis of the work’s value as “art,” which relates to a work’s ability to describe, consider, or enlighten the human condition and a work’s compositional worth. By that standard, a work of literature cannot be appraised for the limitations of the time period from which it derives any more than “King Kong” could be considered an inferior film for its lack of computer-generated special effects or “Casablanca” for its lack of color. Traditionalists reject deliberation on literature’s ethics and are especially opposed to censorship on ethical grounds.. To them, it would be unfair to judge the Iliad for its reliance on myth, Lolita for its overt sexual situations, or the “Communist Manifesto” for its espousal of a radical doctrine. These works, traditionalists argue, have merit wholly independent of what incorrect, anachronous, or “unacceptable” beliefs or themes the works seem to advocate. Instead, their worth is contingent upon their capacity to transcend such temporal constraints, a capacity that happens to be extremely debatable for any work of poetry or prose. The traditionalists, for the most part, believe in a distinction between literature and its physical effects. Since words have a value apart from their impact on the reader and from their effect on the world, a demarcation between words and their “real” consequences must exist. Opponents to the traditional view focus on specific thematic and ethical messages within works of literature in their analyses. Among their ranks are Marxist critics, who appraise a work based on the class statuses and socioeconomic motives of various characters; feminist critics, who heavily analyze gender roles and conditions in literature; and racial critics, who generally look at a work’s treatment of racial boundaries. These individuals actively examine the ethical messages of novels and consider how works of literature affect readers by this message. The traditionalist and anti-traditionalist debate is at the heart of the controversy surrounding Huckleberry Finn. If all readers saw this book as traditionalists do, no objections to it would exist. Jim’s debasement is irrelevant to the literary merit of the novel. Reading the novel for its ethical message, however, puts it on the same shelf as Mein Kampf for a reader sensitive to racial issues. Jim’s character and plight recall outdated, stereotypical roles of blacks. His position serves only to help cultivate the morality and civility of his white friend, Huck. Various writings bolster this appraisal of Jim as a character. Ralph Ellison likens Jim to a minstrel in blackface, albeit a strongly moral one. Toni Morrison attests to the necessity of Jim’s role as the inferior: “[This] representation… can be read as the yearning of whites for forgiveness and love, but the yearning is made possible only when it is understood that Jim has recognized his inferiority (not as slave, but as black) and despises it ” (56). Ultimately, Morrison argues, “It is not what Jim seems that warrants inquiry, but what Mark Twain [and] Huck… need from him that should solicit our attention” (57). Others have articulated their rage about the novel in similar terms: “It’s not the word “nigger” I’m objecting to, it’s the whole range of assumptions about slavery and its consequences, and about how whites should deal with liberated slaves, and how liberated slaves should behave or will behave towards whites, good ones and bad ones. That book is just bad education, and the fact that it’s so cleverly written makes it even more troublesome to me” (Paul Moses paraphrased in Booth, 3). The debate about Huck Finn provides an excellent opportunity to introduce students to the engaging, vocal debate about literary interpretation. The controversy between traditionalists and non-traditionalists rages in academic halls around the world, and all literature students will encounter it eventually. These views are both solid mainstays of modern literary criticism, and students would do well to begin considering them as early as high school. Ironically, the controversy over whether or not a novel should be taught is itself the reason it must be taught. Why must we teach Huck Finn in particular to exemplify this debate? First, as shown above, it is at the epicenter of the traditionalist controversy and therefore as fine an example as we will find of how this debate plays out.. Second, and more importantly, the novel is one of the bravest, most deliberate, most powerfully-written novels dealing with race. A highly esteemed author himself, Ralph Ellison acknowledges that “Surely for literature there is some rare richness here” (422). Its success is due in part to Twain’s intent, at the outset, to create a work of brilliant satire, infusing his story with irony and a thickly accented narrative. For its frank, carefully constructed, and all too relevant treatment of race relations, American history, and Southern culture, Huck Finn is an indispensable part of the high school curriculum. Works CitedBarr, Kevin J. “The Teaching of ‘Huckleberry Finn.'” Washington Post 25 March 1995: A17. Booth, Wayne. The Company We Keep: An Ethics of Fiction. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1988.Britt, Donna. “On Race.” Washington Post: B1, B7. “The Concord Public Library committee has decided to exclude Mark Twain’s latest book.” Boston Transcript 17 March, 1885.Ellison, Ralph. “Change the Joke and Slip the Yoke.” Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: An Authoritative Text, Backgrounds and Sources, Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton and Company. 421-422.Graff, Gerald. “Debate the Canon in Class.” New Literary History: Autumn 1990.Morrison, Toni. Playing in the Dark. New York: Vintage Books, 1992. Rich, Frank. “Dropping the N-Bomb.” New York Times 16 March 1995: 5.Trilling, Lionel. “The Greatness of Huckleberry Finn.” Introduction. Huckleberry Finn. New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1948. 323-324. Yardley, Jonathan. “Huck Finn and the Ebb and Flow of Controversy.” Washington Post 13 March 1995.
“But you knowed he was running for his freedom, and you could a paddled ashore and told somebody” (Twain 95). As is epitomized by the preceding quote, in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain one of the central conflicts is that of the character of Huck’s battle with his conscience in regard to the question of slavery. Throughout the novel the author slowly changes Huck’s mind about the ethics of slavery by introducing him into situations where black people are taken out of their stereotypical roles. To a great extent, Huck’s revelations about slavery are due to his friendship with Jim, a runaway slave who used to belong to Miss Watson, the Widow Douglas’ sister. As a young boy, Huck does not have all the prejudices of the older members of the Southern community, yet he does know that aiding a runaway slave is legally wrong. Thus, it is a pivotal moment indeed when Huck first discovers Jim on Jackson Island, as his decision to “spare” Jim drastically changes the direction in which the novel is proceeding and sets the stage for much of Huck’s maturation and development as a character.After having staged his own death Huck goes to Jackson Island to lie low for a while. When he stumbles upon a smoking campfire he is afraid, but the next day he goes to find out whom his mysterious neighbor is, and encounters Jim. Admitting to be a runaway after having been reassured that Huck was not a ghost, Jim recounts the tale of how he had to flee to escape being sold down South by Miss Watson. It is at this point when the reader first sees Jim as more of a three-dimensional character, rather than the big black buck who thought he had been ridden around the world by witches when Tom Sawyer played a prank on him. This is because one can empathize with the fact that Jim does not want to split his family up, although at the same time he take pride in the fact that he is worth $800.Upon his discovery of Jim, Huck is immediately faced with the responsibility of protecting Jim. As he is a runaway himself, it could be argued that Huck could not turn Jim in without risk of exposing himself. However, it is more logical to argue that the main reason Huck “spares” Jim when he first comes across him is that he hungers for human companionship. Throughout the first few chapters the reader’s impression of Huck is as an extremely self-reliant character. Yet, he often complains that he is “lonesome,” as well a young boy left to his own devices would be. Jim is a part of his old, safe home with the Widow Douglas, one that Huck can bring with him as he embarks upon his adventures. Although Jim is extremely superstitious and illogical, he also has some practical skills. For example, when Jim sees some young birds flying strangely he warns that there will be rain, and lo and behold, a torrential downpour which would have soaked them to the skin if they had not taken shelter in a cave arrives. In this way Jim starts to become somewhat of a father figure; definitely a better father for Huck than that embodied by Pap.The strength of character that allows Huck to harbor Jim is tested continually during the course of their travels. At first Huck acts as master and Jim as servant in their relationship, as they have apparently continued their societal roles even in isolation from society. This probably makes Huck feel important, as he has never had a slave of his own. At this juncture in the novel Huck is not yet willing to make big sacrifices for Jim as is shown later on in the Walter Scott incident as well as when they are lost in the fog. As the story progresses though, Jim and Huck face many conflicts together and so the gap between them grows narrower. However, even as friends, it is clear that Huck’s relationship with Jim is very different from the one he has with Tom Sawyer. While Tom is a playmate and Huck allows himself to become a follower and to participate in wild fantasies, Jim is a person who will actually take care of him. Jim’s steadfast loyalty to Huck at first could be interpreted as mainly for protection, but in the end a bond of love has grown between them. This bond is what convinces Huck to say, “all right, I’ll go to Hell,” when he tears up the letter that he has written to Miss Watson. Thus, as a result of his first decision to make a companion of Jim in chapter seven, a paradigm shift of moral values from what society deems is correct to what Huck in his heart knows is the right path has been effected.