The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: The Quest for Freedom
In the novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn written by Mark Twain, readers experience the action-packed journey of a young boy as he uncovers the world around him. Twain sets the scene of the novel around the 1830’s as slavery was evident in most aspects of American society. While Huck’s carefree and boisterous lifestyle continually adjusts to the repressive world surrounding him, Huck unknowingly becomes more mature and learns to handle situations like an adult. Throughout Huck’s expedition, he discovers reality through hardship and freedom as he ventures on a quest that becomes much more than just a float down the Mississippi River.
In significant literary quests the most crucial aspect is the quester, who in this case is the animated teen, Huckleberry Finn. Because he is an adolescent, the quest in which he embarks upon can provide a meaningful impact in his blossoming life (Foster 236). Huck begins his quest as an audacious and rowdy boy with frivolous interests. For example, he is interested in playing pretend robber with his friends and pondering for many days over the existence of genies. He despises the restricted, mannerly life with Widow Douglas and Miss Watson, although their guardianship for him is underappreciated. The women serve as strict yet nurturing protectors who shield Huck from Pap.
As Huck’s birth father, Pap shows up often and usually influences him in a negative way. Sadly but understandably, Huck prefered that his father stayed away from him, so he said, “Pap he hadn’t been seen for more than a year, and that was comfortable for me; I didn’t want to see him no more” (Twain 9). Furthermore, Pap told Huck to stop being civilized: “You’re educated, too, they say; can read and write. You think you’re better’n your father, now, don’t you, because he can’t?” (Twain 14). This statement represents Pap’s jealousy for his son and how he did not truly want the best for him. Huck couldn’t endure his life without adventure and his broad imagination to conceal the obvious sorrows of living without a loving family.
As the story opens, the quester was ready for change and freedom as he begins to transition into adulthood on his legendary quest. Every quester has a place to go, but Huck’s destination was less clear. After his father kidnapped him and brought him to an abandoned cabin near the Mississippi River, Huck immediately knew that he must escape. Inventing a plan to fake his death and sail out on the river portrayed Huck’s growing independence and intelligence. In this particular quest, Huck’s goal was to simply flee from Pap, which first brought him to Jackson’s Island.
Quite obviously, the reason for the quest was so he could depart from his insane and unstable father. Rather conveniently, Huck did not have to be alone for long. Jim, Miss Watson’s runaway slave, and Huck find each other and realize that they are both looking for freedom. Discovering Jim places Huck in a complicated position because he needs to choose between returning Miss Watson her property back or Huck could continue on with a familiar friend. Huck decides to advance on his quest with Jim, who becomes a loyal partner and a thoughtful father figure. Twain may have intended Jim himself to be Huck’s destination, as he became an important part of Huck’s journey into liberation and development. The two comrades grew close and eventually cared for each other like family. Huck described their relationship by summarizing how Jim “would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was…and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world” (Twain 161).
Like many literary sidekicks to protagonists, Jim’s character experiences hardship and is sold into slavery once again. According to Thomas Foster, this unfortunate event is because “the plot needs something to happen in order to move forward, so someone must be sacrificed”, and that must occur to poor Jim (Foster 84). Arguably, Huck is a quester who does not travel to a specific place on his quest, but to a mental state of freedom with a friend to support him along the way. Similar to most quests, Huck encounters many obstacles along the way which prevents the travelers from being free. After traveling through a dense fog, Huck and Jim miss the stop at Cairo, which would have released Jim from slavery. They both are downtrodden but Jim encourages Huck, “It ain’t yo’ fault, Huck, you didn’ know. Don’t blame yo’self ’bout it” (Twain 70).
Jim represents a sign of hope in despair, like a father would be for a disheartened son. In this instance, Huck learns from Jim the quintessential life lesson of never giving up in tough situations, which pushes Huck to act like an adult. Later on in the quest, a careless steamboat crashes into the raft and the sojourners escape in opposite directions. Huck emerges from the water and meets an intriguing family, the Grangerfords. Due to the Grangerfords’ fierce feud with another family, the Shepherdsons, a fight resulting in multiple deaths ensues. From this tragic experience, Huck gained another life lesson: do not focus on hatred with others, or there may be an unfavorable result. Lastly, the questers meet two con men who continue on the adventure with Huck and Jim. Huck observes these dishonest men getting through life by short-changing whoever they meet. When the con men steal immense sums of money from a dead man’s relatives, Huck demonstrates genuine maturity by telling the truth to one of the nieces, Mary Jane.
In the end, when the Duke and Dauphin get tarred and feathered, Huck learns one more life lesson: be honest to avoid such a shaming fate. Being the kind person that he is, Huck was concerned for them: “I was sorry for them poor pitiful rascals, it seemed like I couldn’t ever feel any hardness against them any more in the world. It was a dreadful thing to see” (Twain 174). Through the limitations that get the travelers off-track, Huck grasps important lessons from his experiences. As Huck progressed on his quest, he interpreted the surrounding events in order to learn about American life around him as well as himself. Following any literary quest, the quester naturally receives self-knowledge (Foster 3).
After leaving his unpredictable father, Huck finally achieved freedom in his life. With this liberation and necessary space to reflect, Huck was able to start the transformation of blossoming into a young man. The quester discovered about himself that he truly valued his time distanced from civilization. He was easily pleased in the outdoors and knew that he did not need pampering. Huck said, “We said there warn’t no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don’t. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft” (Twain 88). By recognizing his identity on his quest, Huck realized that the open wilderness and his adventures were where he could find his real freedom.
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