The Fruitless Adventures Of Huck Finn
Mark Twain’s classic novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is considered a coming-of-age masterpiece, and an American classic to many literature-enthusiasts. Although most are drawn into the wild journeys the novel takes its readers through and is viewed on the surface level as Huck’s great expedition, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn proves to be a story of an unprogressive, unredeemable character that shows we are bound to fail in making moral or personal reform. At the start of the novel, our protagonist Huck Finn is essentially a racist, uneducated adolescent following in the shadows of his friend Tom Sawyer, all the while wanting to be “unsivilized” just like his drunkard father, Pap. Throughout the heart of the novel, we are given hope that Huck is changing for the better as he becomes more independent and develops a friendship with runaway slave, Jim; but, our hopes are shut down as the novel nears its end. In the end, Huck is still quite explicitly racist and follows the lead of Tom Sawyer who has emerged from the depths of the novel, and still wants to be “unsivilized”. We also find out from Tom that Jim was actually free this whole time that he and Huck were on their adventures, proving such endeavors to have all been in vain.
From the very beginning of the story, just two pages in, Huck describes his living setup and proclaims, “By-and-by they fetched the n*****s in” (47). The word is used quite casually when the novel refers to blacks. In the first few chapters, Huck, Tom Sawyer, and their band of robbers must take a blood oath to uphold gang secrets. As Huck is the son of a non-involved alcoholic father, he does not have any true family that could be killed if he were to disobey the pact. Furthermore, he resorts to offering his guardian Miss Watson, who is quite caring and does not know of her involvement in the oath, along with the other members’ families. When member Ben Rogers asks what the business of the gang will be, Tom Sawyer, the leader of the gang, responds, ‘Nothing only robbery and murder’ (52). As if it were so simple to just go out into the real-world and do as one pleases. Such imagination and naivety goes hand-in-hand with Huck’s desire to be “unsivilized” like his father. After essentially being kidnapped by his own father, Pap, Huck spends some time with him and realizes he does not want to return to his old setup “because [he] didn’t want to go back to the widow’s any more and be so cramped up and sivilized, as they called it” (65). Huck has a vast imagination and does not want to be mentally confined to the boundaries of society. This foreshadows the adventures that Huck is about to embark on and the mental progression Huck may find himself making.
As the adventures progress and the reader reaches the core of the novel, they perceive that Huck shows much improvement on his racist tendencies. Huck deceives Jim on one of their adventures, claiming that Jim was just dreaming when the event actually occurred. But he goes back on his deception stating, “It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a n*****; but I done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterwards, neither. I didn’t do him no more mean tricks, and I wouldn’t done that one if I’d a knowed it would make him feel that way” (115). His prior understanding of slaves as inferior beings has been challenged. Even though Jim had hurt his daughter and made her go deaf, Jim had exclaimed, ”Oh, de po’ little thing! de Lord God Almighty forgive po’ ole Jim, kaze he never gwyne to fogive hisself as long’s he live!” (184). While there is no doubt what Jim did was wrong, he shows compassion and remorse for his actions. Huck sees how Jim has feelings just like whites, how homesick he has become, and how much Jim truly cares for ‘his people’. And thus Huck appears enlightened as to the ethical understanding that blacks and whites are equal and both simply human.
In addition, Tom Sawyer has disappeared from the picture, allowing Huck some breathing room to think for himself. When Huck gets caught attempting to ditch the “duke” and “king”, he thinks on his feet and lies his way out of this predicament, turning the duke and king on each other which “made [him] feel easy and satisfied. Of course when they got to snoring, we had a long gabble, and I told Jim everything” (226). While Huck is still using deception, which partially shows a lack of an improved moral compass, he is learning to think independently and work his way around sticky situations as an adult would. The fact that he also informed Jim of the whole argument demonstrates the development of Jim as Huck’s new friend.
Sadly, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn reaches a critical turning point and the audience is left with a disappointing realization. When Tom Sawyer reappears out of absolute oblivion, he gets shot in the leg, and Huck and Jim discuss finding Tom a doctor. In doing so Huck plainly remarks, “I knowed he was white inside” (279). Huck undoes all the work he has made throughout his adventures with Jim in just one loaded statement. Huck justifies Jim’s thinking and logic by saying he is “white”. He does not acknowledge his racial profile and associate this profile with positivity, but rather racially profiles Jim as an innerly-white man. As Huck sees it, a black man could not think such rational thoughts, or make such logical decisions; so, in the eyes of this protagonist a man that acts or thinks accordingly must inevitably be “white”. Huck has not made real progress. He has rather accumulated knowledge and experience to fit his prior methods of cognitive thinking, molding Jim’s personality to fit the structure of racism. Immediately following this interaction, once Huck has decided to get the doctor, Tom gives Huck precise instructions on how to lure the doctor to him, and disappointingly Huck says he would follow such guidelines. Sound familiar? Yet again we see the same Huck we saw at the beginning of the novel following the great leader, Tom Sawyer. Tom is the one who has a bullet wound in his leg, and yet he is the one ordering Huck around on how to get the doctor if he must. And finally to top off the revival of old Huck, he finds out his father has been dead for quite some time and comes to the realization that “Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can’t stand it” (292). Huck has not reformed and still has tunnel vision with the only line of sight being the uncivilized world.
On the other hand, by supposedly writing a novel without character progress, Twain could be making a commentary on the lies and deception that most humans make. He could also be attempting to make a parallel between the lack of progress the story, or Huck, makes, and the unchanging, unprogressive American ways. Huck has reverted back to his old self and gone on countless adventures, and for what? Maybe Twain is trying to show it’s not about the end goal, but rather about the journey. Perhaps, Mark Twain has aligned his book directly with the course of life. The story, or life itself, is one of enormous complexity bound to confuse, yet it could just be one of lies, mockery, and holds no profound meaning.
Mark Twain has given the impression that the novel has come full circle from beginning to end, but in reality Huck has just made no progress. It could be that the story of Huck Finn was written as a series of events with Twain having no conclusion for Huck in mind, rendering Huck’s progressions all for naught. Not to mention, it is revealed at the culmination of the novel that Jim has truly been a freedman for quite some time. So, Twain wrote a novel about a slave escaping his chains in the South who has unknowingly already been freed? Ironic. First of all, that is quite a cruel situation for Jim, and secondly, the plot of the novel has essentially been tainted from the start. Huck has attempted to lead Jim to freedom, yet such a discovery could not possibly occur as he was technically free all along. Huck Finn may be considered a masterpiece of English literature, but it should also be seen as a marvel of deception and mockery, playing both its characters and its readers for fools.
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Mark Twain’s classic novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is considered a coming-of-age masterpiece, and an American classic to many literature-enthusiasts. Although most are drawn into the wild journeys the […]