Sound Heart and Deformed Conscience in the Mark Twain’s Work
Mark Twain often refers to his novel as a tale about “A sound heart and a deformed conscience that come into collision, and the conscience suffers defeat.” In this quote I believe the term “sound heart” refers to the pure heart of a person who has a strong belief in their morals and acts by doing only the right things and not getting involved in the wrong. However, conscience refers to a person’s inner feelings that guide and change the way one behaves, whether right or wrong. Like many people in the south at the time they were raised to believe slavery was a just practice and their inner conscience and thoughts conduct them to behave in certain, racist, ways that many know now is not an appropriate way to act. With this book being written post-slavery we know that twain is aware that slavery is wrong. That being said we can infer that deformed conscience refers to the immoral guide that leads one into doing wrongful or hateful things.
The first instance where we see a “sound heart” and “deformed conscience” come in contact is when Huck is trying to decide whether or not he should aid Jim in his escape to freedom. He feels sympathy for Jim and wishes to help him but he has been raised to believe helping free a slave is a sin and he would go to Hell. this sympathy comes from a place of loyalty and kindness despite being raised on the soul belief that African Americans are property and no more. Huck goes about saying upon Jim telling him he escaped “…I said I wouldn’t, and I’ll stick to it. Honest injun, I will. People would call me a low-down Abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum-but that don’t make no difference. I ain’t a-going to tell, and I ain’t going back there anyways…” (page52). This quote is significant because it shows Huck cares more about sticking to his word and being loyal, even if it is to an african american man who he has been raised to view as property, is more important than the views of society. We can infer this is in part because of his upbringing and always being somewhat of an outcast.
The second instance where this type of conflict arises is when Huck and Jim encounter the ship with two men on the river who are in search of runaway slaves. When they approach the men Jim is hidden and the men ask if he is black or white giving huck the perfect opportunity to turn Jim in. In this scene the reader can almost feel the tension as Huck debates telling the men everything. Huck has been getting more and more uncomfortable lying about Jim with each time jim mentions freedom, and reader’s start to believe this will be Hucks breaking point. At the beginning of this chapter (chapter 16) the book even states huck thinking “…I begun to get it through my head that he was most free–and who was to blame for it? Why, me I couldn’t get that out of my conscience, no how nor no way”(page94). So we can see he is definitely torn in two by his loyalty and feelings towards Jim and his Southern roots and beliefs. However just as it did before his heart wins and Huck lies to the men saying it is his family member who has come down with smallpox and saves Jim, bringing him one step closer to freedom.
The third instance, and probably the most important, is the climax of the story itself. The writing of the letter to Ms. Watson. This is a crucial point in the story where Huck finally decides he has “sinned” too much and simply cannot live with it anymore. His conscience finally caught up with him and he attempted to do what was “right” in the eyes of the law and a majority of people at the time and come clean about helping Jim. Huck wrote it all out and got everything that had been bothering him off his chest once and for all trying to save himself from going to “the bad place” Watson and the Widow had warned him about. However, upon writing the letter Huck was overcome with emotions and feelings of love towards Jim. Huck decides he cares too much and rips up the letter to Watson and says “All right, then, I’ll go to Hell”(page205). This moment in the story truly depicts a heart that is full of good and kindness towards others, even ones you’ve been raised to despise, defeating a deformed conscience shaped by a poorly educated society. Huck does not say he will go to Hell lightly because as we have seen throughout the story Huck is very literal so reader’s know he truly is giving it all up to save his “best friend”.
Throughout this story we are shown numerous moral dilemmas and conflicts between beliefs and feelings, and time and time again feelings have come out on top. Twain’s quote is about a person vs. self conflict and a very relevant conflict in many lives daily at that. This conflict between social norms and how everyone else believes one is supposed to act and what someone truly feels is the right thing and what they should do. This is relevant to readers today because it shows us many people have crooked beliefs and we don’t have to follow everything society wants us to blindly, because sometimes it is more beneficial and helpful to listen to our hearts.
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