The conflict between society and the individual is a very important theme portrayed throughout Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Many people see Huckleberry Finn as a mischievous boy who is a bad influence to others. Huck is not raised in agreement with the accepted ways of civilization. He practically raises himself, relying on instinct to guide him through life. As seen several times in the novel, Huck chooses to follow his innate sense of right, yet he does not realize that his own instincts are more right than those of society. Society refuses to accept Huck as he is and isn’t going to change its opinions about him until he is reformed and civilized. The Widow Douglas and Miss Watson try to “sivilize” Huck by making him stop all of his habits, such as smoking. They try to reverse all of his teachings from the first twelve years of his life and force him to become their stereotypical good boy.
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However, from the very beginning of the novel, Huck clearly states that he does not want to conform to society. “The Widow Douglas she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me…I got into my old rags and my sugar hogshead again, and was free and satisfied.” (page 1) Huck says this shortly after he begins living with the Widow Douglas because it is rough for him to be confined to a house and the strict rules of the Widow Douglas. Huck’s father, a dirty and dishonest drunk, was also a problem. He was so angry that his son could read, that he severely beat him and then forced him to stay in a secluded cabin. Huck then devises a plan to escape and heads down river were he teams up with Jim, a runaway slave. The theme becomes even more evident once Huck and Jim set out down the Mississippi. As they run from civilization and are on the river, they ponder the social injustices forced upon them when they are on land. The river never cares how saintly they are, how rich they are, or what society thinks of them. The river allows Huck the one thing that Huck wants to be, and that is Huck. Huck enjoys his adventures on the raft. He prefers the freedom of the wilderness to the restriction of society. Also, Huck’s acceptance of Jim is a total defiance of society. Society automatically sees a black person, and even further, slaves, as inferior. They never think of slaves as human beings, only as property. A slave, such as Jim, could be the nicest, most caring person you have ever met, but since he is a slave he is presumed incapable of such things.
Ironically, Huck believes he is committing a sin by going against society and protecting Jim. In Chapter sixteen, we see, perhaps, the most inhumane action of society. Huck meets some men looking for runaway slaves, and so he comes up with a story about his father being on the raft with small pox. The men fear catching this disease and instead of rescuing him, they give Huck money and advise him not to let it be known of his father’s sickness when seeking help. These men are not hesitant to hunt slaves, yet they refuse to help a sick man. This is contrasted to Huck’s guilt felt for protecting Jim when he actually did a morally just action. Huck’s acceptance for his love for Jim is shown in Chapter thirty-one. Huck writes a letter to Miss Watson to return Jim, yet he ends up ripping the letter and wishes to free Jim. “‘All right, then, I’ll go to hell’-and he tore it up.” (page 214) Here, we see that Huck concludes that he is evil, and that society has been right all along. The ending is perhaps most disappointing because it seems as though through all the situations that Huck is growing up and accepting his innate ideas of right, when in fact he hasn’t grown at all. In the last chapter after everything has been cleared up and set straight, Aunt Sally wishes to adopt Huck and unfortunately, Huck is against that idea. “But I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.” (page 294) In Mark Twain’s novel The Adventures of Huckleberry, Huck finds himself living in a society that doesn’t fit him. Huck is considered an uneducated backwards boy, constantly under pressure to conform to the “humanized” surroundings of society. Everywhere he looks there are people who value things that he sees as meaningless. Huck feels trapped and begins his journey, with Jim, down the river in an effort to find someone or some place that will bring him happiness. Huck and Jim’s adventures give us a chance to examine the society they live in. The conflict between society and the individual is one of the most important themes of this novel. Throughout the story we learn that Huck functions as a more noble person when he is not confined by the hypocrisies of civilization.