In Mark Twain’s novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain develops the plot into Huck and Jim’s adventures allowing him to weave in his criticism of society. The two main characters, Huck and Jim, both run from social injustice and both are distrustful of the civilization around them. Huck is considered an uneducated backwards boy, constantly under pressure to conform to the “humanized” surroundings of society.
Jim a slave, is not even considered as a real person, but as property. As they run from civilization and are on the river, they ponder the social injustices forced upon them when they are on land. These social injustices are even more evident when Huck and Jim have to make landfall, and this provides Twain with the chance to satirize the socially correct injustices that Huck and Jim encounter on land.
The satire that Twain uses to expose the hypocrisy, racism, greed, and injustice of society develops along with the adventures that Huck and Jim have. The ugly reflection of the society we see should make us question the world we live in, and only the journey down the river provides us with that chance.
Throughout the book, we see the hypocrisy of society. The first character we come across with that trait is Miss Watson. Miss Watson constantly corrects Huck for his unacceptable behavior, but Huck doesn’t understand why, “That is just the way with some people.
They get down on a thing when they don’t know nothing about it” (2). Later when Miss Watson tries to teach Huck about Heaven, he decides against trying to go there, “…she was going to live so as to go the good place. Well, I couldn’t see no advantage in going where she was going, so I made up my mind I wouldn’t try for it.” (3) The comments made by Huck clearly show Miss Watson as a hypocrite, scolding Huck for wanting to smoke and then using snuff herself and firmly believing that she would be in heaven.
When Huck encounters the Grangerfords and Shepardsons, Huck describes Colonel Grangerford as, “…a gentleman, you see. He was a gentleman all over; and so was his family. He was well born, as the saying is, and that’s worth as much in a man as it is in a horse…” (104). You can almost hear the sarcasm from Twain in Huck’s description of Colonel Grangerford. Later Huck is becoming aware of the hypocrisy of the family and its feud with the Shepardsons when Huck attends church. He is amazed that while the minister preaches about brotherly love both the Grangerfords and Shepardsons are carrying weapons.
Finally, when the feud erupts into a gunfight, Huck sits in a tree, disgusted by the waste and cruelty of the feud, “It made me so sick I most fell out of the tree…I wished I hadn’t ever come ashore that night to see such things.” Nowhere else is Twain’s voice heard more clearly than as a mob gathers at the house of Colonel Sherburn to lynch him. Here we hear the full force of Twain’s thoughts on the hypocrisy and cowardice of society, “The idea of you lynching anybody! It’s amusing.
The idea of you thinking you had pluck enough to lynch a man!…The pitifulest thing out is a mob; that’s what an army is- a mob; they don’t fight with courage that’s born in them, but with courage that’s borrowed from their mass, and from their officers. But a mob without any man at the head of it is beneath pitifulness” (146-147). Each of these examples finds Huck again running to freedom of the river. The river never cares how saintly you are, how rich you are, or what society thinks you are.
The river allows Huck the one thing that Huck wants to be, and that is Huck. The river is freedom than the land is oppression, and that oppression is no more evident than it is to Jim. It is somewhat surprising that Huck’s traveling companion is Jim. As anti-society that Huck is, you would think that he would have no qualms about helping Jim.
But Huck has to have feelings that slavery is correct so we can see the ignorance of racial bigotry. Huck and Jim’s journey begins as Huck fights within himself about turning Jim over to the authorities.
Finally, he decides not to turn Jim in. This is a monumental decision for Huck to make, even though he makes it on the spot. This is not just a boy running away from home. It is someone who has decided to turn his back on everything “home” stands for, even one of its most cherished beliefs. In this way, Twain also allows to let us leave our thoughts of bigotry behind also and start to see Jim for who he really is, a man.
Even though Huck has made his decision about Jim, early in the voyage we see Huck’s attitude towards Jim as racist. Eventually, Huck plays a mean trick on Jim and we see Huck begin to change his attitude, “It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a n*gger; but I done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterward, neither” (86).
Later on in the story, Huck becomes very caring and protective for Jim, where this reaches a climax at the point where Huck saves Jim from two slave catchers by tricking them to think Jim is was Huck’s small pox-ridden father. The dialogue between Huck and Jim also illustrates that Jim is more than someone’s property. He is a human being with feelings, and hopes for a better future.
He is not some ignorant, uncaring sub-human, but plainly the opposite. Twain does not necessarily come out and say that slavery is evil, that is far above Huck’s understanding, but he gives us the ammunition needed to make that decision for ourselves. Huck and Jim’s adventures give us a chance to examine the society they live in. It also gives us a chance to examine ourselves as well as a society today.
The story is over a hundred years old, but many of the social vices then, sadly, pertain to our society now. There are more examples of human failings in this book, the trickery, and cheating of the King and Duke, the lack of caring by the townspeople for Boggs, the naiveté of the Wilks sisters and the lack of common sense in Tom Sawyer.
There is cruelty, greed, murder, trickery, hypocrisy, racism, and a general lack of morality, all the ingredients of society.
All through the adventure, you have Huck Finn and Jim trying to find the one thing they can only find on the river, freedom, but a person can only stay on the river for so long, and so you have to go on land to face the injustices of society. Quite a contrast, the freedom of being without authority, being able to think for yourself, running right next to the constraints made upon you by society.
Somewhere deep within the story, Twain is making a powerful statement, a wish for all humanity, that we can be brave enough to break with what others assume is correct and just, and make decisions for ourselves and the ability to stand on our own and do something about it. We are that mob that stood outside Colonel Sherburn’s house, we are the Grangerfords and Shepardsons, and we are the King and the Duke, and even the foolish townspeople in every town they conned.
Somewhere along the line, we must become I, someone has to have the courage to stand up for what is right, to be what Colonel Sherburn would call a real man. Huck gives us that chance, that ability to see things for what they are. His adventures along with Twain’s sharp criticism are so uniquely combined to give us that realization.
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