The Moral Dilemma in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a Novel by Mark Twain

December 9, 2020 by Essay Writer

Throughout The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck faces many dilemmas that test his morality. Initially, Huck acts like a spoiled child, which is reflected in his lack of appreciation towards the adult characters that take care of him. When Huck is forced to make a decision that determines Jim’s fate, he grapples with his own moral complexity for the first time and begins to understand that his actions have consequences. By the end of the story, Huck learns to make decisions based on his sense of right and wrong, regardless of popular opinion in society. Huck begins the story as an unconcerned child who cares little about the wellbeing of others, but he develops his own understanding of right and wrong and how they influence other people.

In the exposition of the story, Huck’s lack of morality is shown through his ingratitude for the adult characters that watch over him like Miss Watson and Jim. Miss Watson teaches Huck lessons in manners, reading and religion. Huck is ungrateful for these lessons and when told about heaven and hell, he decides he would rather go to hell because “I couldn’t see no advantage in going where she was going, so I made up my mind I wouldn’t try for it” (Twain 4). Huck does not enjoy the idea of Miss Watson’s heaven and because he wants to get away from her life of “sivilization,” and he even says he would rather go to hell. Although Miss Watson is one of the few characters actually trying to give Huck a better life, Huck remains ungrateful for her lessons and everything she does for his betterment. When Huck joins Tom Sawyer and his gang, he worries he cannot join when the boys agree that if anyone in the gang does something terribly wrong, their families should be killed. While the boys would not actually kill members of one another’s family, Huck still panics and “was most ready to cry; but all at once I thought of a way, and so I offered them Miss Watson – they could kill her” (Twain 9). Huck’s attitude is appalling. He wants to be rid of Miss Watson and when the gang realizes Huck lacks family members that they could kill, he offers Miss Watson as a substitute because she is the closest thing he has to a family member. It is abundantly clear in the beginning of the story that Huck is self-centered and does not consider how his actions will influence those around him.

Initially, Huck acts indifferent towards Jim’s feelings as seen through his constant lying and pranks on Jim, but as he spends time on the Raft he starts to seriously consider the consequences of his actions. When Huck lies about the fog that rolls in on the raft, Jim finds out and becomes upset. While Huck feels little remorse about the lie, he still apologizes to Jim. “It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger” (Twain 73). While Huck still views Jim as a lesser person because of his race, he is starting to develop a relationship with Jim to the point where he feels obliged to apologize to Jim for lying. Huck clearly feels that his relationship with Jim is getting closer. Shortly after, Huck starts to consider whether helping Jim was the right decision or not when Jim says he plans on stealing his children too. “Here was this nigger which I had good as helped to run away, coming right out flat-footed and saying he would steal his children […] it ain’t too late, yet–I’ll paddle ashore at the first light, and tell” (Twain 75). Huck is presented with his most difficult decision by this point in the novel, and this is the first time where he actually considers what he has done. While he plans on giving up Jim, this is the first time in the story that he actually considers how his actions affect other people. As Huck is about to turn in Jim he goes against his original plan and when asked about Jim’s race by several men, Huck lies. “‘ Is your man white or black?’ I didn’t answer up prompt. […] ‘He’s white’” (Twain 76). Even though Huck’s original intent is to turn Jim in, Huck lies for him so that he is not caught. This sudden change of heart comes from Jim telling Huck that he is his only friend in the world (Twain 75). Huck does not think that slavery is inhumane now, but in this moment he lies in order to protect Jim when he needs it the most. Huck wants to protect Jim, but he cannot help but struggle between society’s opinion of slavery and his own view on the depravity of enslavement.

Towards the end of the story, Huck rejects society’s established morality of slavery, but struggles with his justification of why Jim should be free. When Huck is considering helping free Jim, it is clear he is doing so for the wrong reasons. “It would get all around, that Huck Finn helped a nigger get his freedom; and if I was ever to see anybody from that town again, I’d be ready to lick his boots for shame” (Twain 177). Huck finds himself at conflict with his individual morality because he is afraid of what others will think of him. Huck’s counter argument for not freeing Jim is that it would make himself look bad. Huck’s motivations are still somewhat selfish at this point in the story, but he eventually concludes that freeing Jim is more important than his own reputation. Huck considers writing a letter to Miss Watson to inform her about Jim’s location, but decides that Jim’s freedom is more important. “I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a trembling because I’d got to decide […] ‘All right, then, I’ll go to hell’–and tore it up” (Twain 179). Huck shows that when he originally decided he wanted to go to hell to get away from Miss Watson, he did not believe his actions were evil enough for him to be sent there.

He started out in the story lying to Jim and misbehaving, which are actions that would make him more likely go to hell. Although freeing Jim is Huck’s most important morally “good” decision, he regards it as his worst. So, while Huck does end up making the best decision by freeing Jim, he is not morally aware at this point, but rather he was simply trying to help a friend. When Jim turns himself in to make sure Tom Sawyer receives medical attention, Huck responds by thinking, “I knowed he was white inside, and I reckoned he’d say what he did say” (Twain 230). In the end of the novel, Huck truly sees Jim as an equal, but he does not necessarily regard all slaves as worthy of freedom. Instead, Huck recognizes Jim’s good morality, but thinks he is more like a white person than a black person.

By the end of the story, Huck transforms from someone who gives little consideration for those around him to a new person who thinks about the morality of his decisions. His initial immaturity shows that he does not care about the people taking care of him. Eventually, he starts to show remorse for his actions that affected Jim negatively. By the end of the story, Huck decides that Jim’s freedom is more important than any shame he might attract for freeing him. Yet, he is not completely morally aware of the evils of slavery and only seems to recognize Jim as undeserving of slavery, rather than all slaves. Huck still holds racial prejudice at the end of the story, but it is clear he goes through a moral transition in which his sound heart wins over the morally deformed conscience in which society has influenced negatively.

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