Society in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” Free Essay Example

April 13, 2022 by Essay Writer

In “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” Mark Twain uses undisguised and relatable characters and escapades in order to entertain the reader as well as reveal several deeper themes and motifs pertaining to slavery, society, and humanity. He tests the conformed thinking of society in order to dissect perceived boundaries between people and reveal basic human nature above civilized ideas and standards. Twain displays a quality of artistic merit in the novel by highlighting important places and events in American history as well as challenging cultural ideas that were widely accepted at the time it was published.

Doing so invites the reader to consider expanding their own perspective on the topics covered, as they are still relevant in today’s society.

The novel takes place in a small town in Missouri on the banks of the Mississippi river in the 1840’s. This setting plays a substantial role in developing themes and artistic merit throughout the book. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” tells of the journey of two runaways, Huckleberry Finn and Jim, down the Mississippi in search of freedom; literal and emblematic.

The book is written through the unfiltered lens of Huck Finn and includes an abundance of historically accurate dialect, which reflects that of the setting. Twain uses this to draw attention to one of the major themes of the book- the unjust treatment of colored people in the South during this time period. The frequent use of racial slurs within the dialect of the region indicates the lack of reverence towards individuals of color. Even with the elimination of specific derogatory terms, slaves in the book, such as Jim, are often referred to as someone’s property and are treated as such by the white characters who have been conditioned by the corrupt society around them.

At the beginning of the novel, Huck Finn is living with the widow and her sister Miss Watson, who legally owns Jim as a slave. The sisters, as well as other white characters, are portrayed and characterized in the book as rather unintelligent, which can be considered Twain’s method of conveying his opinions on how twisted society was in the South during this time as well as how absurd racism and slavery is. Although the novel was written in a different time period, some of the conflicts and truths found in the book are still applicable today, even though slavery no longer exists. Twain uses the dialect and word choice of Huck Finn as well as other characters to make the reader uncomfortable with the treatment of black people during the time of the novel and question why and entire culture considered this unjust treatment normal. It implores the reader to examine their own morals and compare society today with that of Huck Finn’s.

One of the major discussions that is sparked by the novel includes morals and how the society around you can distort one’s principles and beliefs on what is right and wrong. Huck Finn has an internal struggle when deciding if helping Jim escape is the morally right thing to do, since he is legally someone’s property and it could be considered stealing by law. In this instance, it appears blatantly obvious to the reader what the morally accurate decision to make is, but Huck, who has been taught that slavery is normal and just, is conflicted. Huck is beginning to cultivate a relationship with Jim so that he is now more than a piece of property, he is a person. Twain uses this relationship as well as characterization of Jim to allow the reader to connect to Jim’s character and to draw attention to the incredibly flawed culture of the South during this time.

Huck Finn’s internal struggle also implores the reader to consider if one should obey rules and laws put in place that may be flawed or act based upon innate morals and intuition. Ultimately, Huck decides to help Jim, defying the rules that society has taught him his whole life. In his hometown, Huck is seen as an outcast and a nuisance for not following the rules, but it is becoming clear through Twain’s work that people should not aimlessly follow rules, but rely on their own understanding to make decisions which reflect their moral values. Huck’s decision to help Jim also reveals that while the culture and society that you are subjected to can distort personal morals, it does not have to define the type of person you become.

Throughout the novel and their adventures on the Mississippi, Huck Finn and Jim begin to kindle a friendship. They encounter many diversions on the way to the mouth of the Ohio River, where Jim can go to try and obtain freedom, and these diversions as well as the journey as a whole serve as a platform on which to build upon their relationship. Huck and Jim first meet up on Jackson’s Island, where Jim has just run away from Miss Watson and Huck has just escaped his father, who kidnapped him from Miss Watson’s house, by faking his own death. While on the island, Huck and Jim encounter a house that has been swept away by a storm. They enter it and retrieve clothes, money, and other supplies, as well as seeing a dead man whose face Jim hides from Huck. Huck later finds out that a search party is taking place on the island, so he and Jim start their journey on a raft down the river. Twain uses these circumstances of the two being alone on a raft to spark many conversations and reveal that they are more similar than they thought.

Later in their journey, they encounter other things such as a steamboat crawling with criminals and two con artist who successfully con an entire town. Twain uses these characters who are obviously doing wrong to explore where people draw the line on what is wrong and right. After Jim and Huck encounter the wrecked steamboat, they end up getting separated due to a thick fog following a storm. When they are eventually reunited, Jim is overjoyed that Huck is back. Huck, however, decides to play a trick on Jim and convince him that he imagined the whole thing. This ends up hurting Jim’s feelings and making Huck feel guilty. Jim’s emotions of joy and hurt, as well as Huck’s feeling of guilt and his eventual apology, help the reader evaluate the relationship between the two and reveals that Huck and Jim care about each other. Huck turns out to be the perfect person to help Jim escape slavery because of his willingness to break free from the mold of southern society as well as his openness of mind.

In “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” through these characters and events, Twain makes the bold statement that society does not necessarily equal justice and that morals should come from within, and not falter to the ever changing world around us. He also, through his writing, exposed the small-mindedness of slavery and used historically accurate portrayals of characters and dialects to make clear his opinions on the delicate subject matter. Quite simply put, “Right is right, and wrong is wrong, and a body ain’t got no business doing wrong when he ain’t ignorant and knows better” (Twain, 186). Twain closes the book by revealing that Miss Watson had died, and in her will, she set Jim free. Also, he reveals that the dead man in the house towards the beginning of the story was Huck Finn’s father, which means that Huck is free of his abuse. Huck determines that this so called “civilized” society is not for him and decides to take his money and head west in order to continue on more adventures.

Throughout the book, Twain uses the literal journey on the river of Huck Finn and Jim to symbolize the moral journey and growth that Huck encounters. He begins the book conflicted and torn between what he has been taught and what he feels is right. Throughout these adventures, Huck creates his own sense of morals and decides to follow his instincts, revealing that there is an innate goodness present in everyone, even the town’s misfit. This novel possesses an undeniable quality of artistic merit. Time after time, it invokes self reflection and consideration of the reader’s opinion, while at the same time, using accurate pieces of American history to further the plot and themes of the book. Twain uses the seemingly simple and entertaining story and characters in order to challenge widely accepted beliefs that were present at the time of this novel and he does so flawlessly.


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