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Themes Huck Finn

Freedom
In the novel The Adventures Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, a theme of freedom is portrayed. Freedom takes on a different perspective for each character in the novel. In Jim, the runaway slave, and Huck’s, the mischievous boy, journey, they obtain freedom. Jim’s hunt for freedom is an escape from the clutches of slavery, while Huck’s is a flight from the civilized world. Their hunting for freedom is for one reason, for their happiness. This is shown throughout the novel in Jim’s desire of escaping slavery and Huck’s wish for being uncivilized.

From the beginning of the novel, Jim lives his life as a slave. He is fairly content until one day, when he overhears his owner, Mrs. Watson, talking about selling him to New Orleans. Jim becomes terrified and runs from Mrs. Watson. From that point on in the novel, Jim turns into a runaway slave. His journey with Huck down the Mississippi river begins with only the fear of being caught as a runaway slave. Later in the journey, Jim starts to yearn for freedom from slavery. This is manifested in this quote when Huck describes Jim’s reactions about being free in Cairo, “Jim said it made him all over trembly and feverish to be so close to freedom” (97). Jim’s excitement is also demonstrated in more actions about Cairo as Huck describes more, “Jim was fidgeting up and down past me. We neither of us could keep still. Every time he danced around and says, “Dah’s Cairo!”” (97) Jim’s excitement for freedom is obvious. Slavery sets social chains on Jim’s life and hinders his happiness and his goals in life. The only way Jim can achieve his happiness is through freedom. Freedom for Jim means escape from slavery and a release from the social chains.

Huck makes a clear point about his perspective about living in the Widow’s civilized home when he states, “But it was rough living in a house all the time…and so when I couldn’t stand it no longer, I lit out. I got into my old rags, and my sugar-hogshead again, and was free and satisfied” (1). Huck keeps this outlook on being restricted throughout the novel. Huck’s journey with Jim on the raft is so Huck can flee from the confines of his Father and the Widow. He depicts his satisfaction and freedom on the raft when he states, “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” (128). In these statements from Huck, the portrayal of freedom for him is the flight from the home and civilized life. As an adventurous boy, the house just serves as a jail to Huck’s way of life. Huck’s goals are to get away from that confining life and lead an existence of an unrestricted life. All of the events and goals that Huck accomplishes are for his happiness. In leading the happy life, Huck must obtain the freedom of an unrestricting, uncivilized life. That is what freedom means to Huck.

Similarities appear in each of Huck’s and Jim’s portrayal of freedom. One important similarity is both of their visions of freedom are intertwined with their escaping from society. Miss Watson’s attempts at civilizing Huck are shown when she orders Huck, “Don’t put your feet up there, Huckleberry; and don’t scrunch up like that, Huckleberry, set up straight” (2). This civilization and becoming one with society becomes bad experiences for Huck, causing his desire for an unrestricted life. Jim’s unhappy experiences from society also result to Jim’s portrayal of freedom. As a slave, he is not treated as equally by society as white people are. His unequal treatment from society causes his wish for escaping from slavery, as Huck’s bad experiences from society cause his hope for an unrestricted life. Another similarity is that both wish to obtain freedom for their happiness and comfort. As shown in Cairo and raft quotes earlier, freedom is something that can make their life happy and more comfortable.

Freedom is an important concept. It serves as a common goal, something to obtain. For Jim and Huck, freedom meant happiness, a happiness away from the binds of society and into a world of freedom. In the end, this is what freedom meant to them and is what they strived for.

When on the road to freedom, Huck says “Then the duke took and wrote out a sign on a shingle so- Sick Arab-but harmless when not out of his head” (Twain 143-144).

Conscience
Huck Finn himself is often led by his conscience instead of by societal rules. He believes that there are certain moral obligations that are above and beyond the restrictions of society. This is shown powerfully in the scene where Huck decides to steal Jim out of slavery; he thinks about how society keeps Jim and other slaves from freedom, but also how he has become a sort of person that he despises:

…a person does a low-down thing, and then he don’t want to take no consequences of it… The more I studied about this the more my conscience went to grinding me, and the more wicked and low-down and ornery I got to feeling.
[…]
…at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had small-pox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the ONLY one he’s got now…
(Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, gutenberg.org)

Here, Huck’s conscience fights him on two counts: first, he is convinced that his place in society, and the ill-will he will receive from his friends and neighbors, is worth betraying Jim’s trust for. He believes that he is morally required to betray Jim because that is what society expects of him. However, he then goes on to remember how deep his friendship with Jim actually went; Jim, used to being treated like property, was grateful to Huck for simply treating him like a human being, and so Huck begins to feel even worse about going back to that original expectation. Throughout the book, Huck’s conscience tells him different things about his actions, and he makes his decisions based on the best information he knows at the time.

Rules and Order
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn presents a slew of conflicting rules. Narrator Huck Finn struggles in choosing between religious rules, his own moral instincts, the country’s laws, and the relativist justifications of the conmen called the duke and king. From rules of honor and principle amidst feuding families to childlike views of the world as something fantastical, Huck Finn explores the contradictions between these different systems and the effect such conflict can have on a young boy. When thinking about the big decisions Huck is faced with, we can’t help but think of one of those posters hanging on middle school wall: “What’s popular is not always right, what’s right is not always popular.” We think Huck would agree with that. We could also edit that maxim to say that the law isn’t always right, and Tom Sawyer isn’t always right, and preachers aren’t always right… but Huck has to figure out what is the right thing to do.

The widow rung a bell for supper, and you had to come to time. When you got to the table you couldn’t go right to eating, but you had to wait for the widow to tuck down her head and grumble a little over the victuals, though there warn’t really anything the matter with them (1.3)

Huck finds the rules of civilization to be petty and useless.

So Tom got out a sheet of paper that he had wrote the oath on, and read it. It swore every boy to stick to the band, and never tell any of the secrets; and if anybody done anything to any boy in the band, whichever boy was ordered to kill that person and his must do it, and he mustn’t eat and he mustn’t sleep till he had killed them and hacked a cross in their breasts, which was the sign of the band. And nobody that didn’t belong to the band could use that mark, and if he did he must be sued; and if he done it again he must be killed. And if anybody that belonged to the band told the secrets, he must have his throat cut, and then have his carcass burnt up and the ashes scattered all around, and his name blotted off of the list with blood and never mentioned again by the gang, but have a curse put on it and be forgot forever. (2.10)

Although Tom’s rules are just as ridiculous as the widow’s, Huck initially fails to find fault with them.

Religion
Religion seems to be a constant target for criticism in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Those who are religious are often painted as overzealous, and many of them are manipulated because of their faith. It seems that Twain places organized religion in opposition to his central anti-racism theme; Huck feels like he has to renounce religion in order to help Jim escape to freedom. Twain might have painted religion in such a negative way for several reasons: 1) his own personal views on religion; 2) the common belief in the antebellum South was that God had made black people naturally inferior, and that slavery was OK; and 3) the church was an easy target for satire. We think, most likely, it was some sort of combination of the three.

In the novel, Huck says “After supper she got out her book and learned me about Moses and the Bulrushers, and I was in a sweat to find out all about him; but by and by she let it out that Moses had been dead a considerable long time; so then I didn’t care no more about him because I don’t take no stock in dead people” (Twain 6).

Huck says “I set down one time back in the woods, and had a long think about it. I says to myself, if a body can get anything they pray for, why don’t Deacon Winn get back the money he lost on pork? Why can’t the widow get back her silver snuffbox that was stole? Why can’t Miss Watson fat up? No, says I to my self, there ain’t nothing in it. I went and told the widow about it, and she said the thing a body could get by praying for it was “spiritual gifts” (Twain 13-14).

When the boys are deciding when they can commit crimes as robbers, Huck explains “Ben Rogers said he couldn’t get out much, only Sundays, and so he wanted to begin next Sunday; but all the boys said it would be wicked to do it on Sunday, and that settled the thing” (Twain 13).

Friendship
The developing friendship between a white boy (Huck) and a black slave (Jim) is the main driving force of this novel. It is this friendship that makes Huck’s decision of whether to help Jim escape slavery so difficult. Huck’s ultimate choice pits him against everything had previously known to be right. Huck makes several comments throughout the book that let us know how seriously he takes his friendships. He values loyalty most highly, and that leads him to stick with Jim (who proves his loyalty to Huck several times) to the end. Throughout the course of the story, many friendships are tested again and again, but whether or not the ideal of friendship prevails at the end of the day is subject to debate.

“All right, then, I’ll go to hell.” — mid chapter 31

Foolishness and Folly
For the most part, characters in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are made fools by other characters. Pranks, cons, tricks, and deceptions seem to be everyone’s stock and trade in this novel, which means a healthy supply of gullible nitwits is in demand. And there seems to be no shortage. As one character succinctly remarks (shortly before being made into an utter fool himself), the group of fools in any town always comprises the majority. True – at least as far as the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is concerned.

PRANK ON JIM IN BEGINING AND THE PLAN TO GET JIM OUT

Men and the natural world
One of Huck Finn’s struggles in this book is whether he prefers the world of civilization to living in the woods. Often it seems he is a wild, unkempt thirteen-year-old boy who would rather spend his day catching snakes than washing up for supper. He declares several times that he’s happiest when he’s alone with nature (or alone with Jim and nature). However, it is also clear that Huck craves the structure and caring of a family household. He strongly admires some aspects of the cultural world, and seems to respect (and sometimes envy) others’ choice to follow rules and social norms. The tension between Huck’s desire for a free, unencumbered life and the pull towards family structure and cultural refinement is one of Huck’s central battles.

It’s lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made or only just happened.—— begining of 19

race and racism
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is set in antebellum (pre-Civil War) South and features a friendship between a white boy (Huck) and the black slave (Jim) who is escaping to freedom. The book focuses on issues of race, particularly making the point that the institution of slavery is immoral. Twain ups the satire in the novel to extreme levels to show how hypocritical the South (and America in general) had been to allow slavery in the supposed “land of the free.” More subtly, the novel asks whether the abolition of slavery is a sufficient action, particularly when racism remained so predominant in the decades after the Civil War. Also, think about Jim’s portrayal in the novel and how it relates to race. Does his character support Twain’s “all men are created equal” sentiment, or is the character just reinforcing negative stereotypes about African-Americans?

Although Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn two decades after the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War, America—and especially the South—was still struggling with racism and the aftereffects of slavery. By the early 1880s, Reconstruction, the plan to put the United States back together after the war and integrate freed slaves into society, had hit shaky ground, although it had not yet failed outright. As Twain worked on his novel, race relations, which seemed to be on a positive path in the years following the Civil War, once again became strained. The imposition of Jim Crow laws, designed to limit the power of blacks in the South in a variety of indirect ways, brought the beginning of a new, insidious effort to oppress. The new racism of the South, less institutionalized and monolithic, was also more difficult to combat. Slavery could be outlawed, but when white Southerners enacted racist laws or policies under a professed motive of self-defense against newly freed blacks, far fewer people, Northern or Southern, saw the act as immoral and rushed to combat it.

Although Twain wrote the novel after slavery was abolished, he set it several decades earlier, when slavery was still a fact of life. But even by Twain’s time, things had not necessarily gotten much better for blacks in the South. In this light, we might read Twain’s depiction of slavery as an allegorical representation of the condition of blacks in the United States even after the abolition of slavery. Just as slavery places the noble and moral Jim under the control of white society, no matter how degraded that white society may be, so too did the insidious racism that arose near the end of Reconstruction oppress black men for illogical and hypocritical reasons. In Huckleberry Finn, Twain, by exposing the hypocrisy of slavery, demonstrates how racism distorts the oppressors as much as it does those who are oppressed. The result is a world of moral confusion, in which seemingly “good” white people such as Miss Watson and Sally Phelps express no concern about the injustice of slavery or the cruelty of separating Jim from his family.

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 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. —– PAGE 81

The Supernatural
Belief in the supernatural and superstition in general are the marks of multiple characters in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It’s their mutual belief in certain superstitions that originally draws Huck and Jim together. Neither has a strong religious faith, and their belief in certain superstitions help both Jim and Huck explain things that they cannot otherwise explain. It is possible that the novel parodies religion by comparing it to mere superstition, since some characters take advantage of both belief systems to manipulate and deceive. Often, superstitions are used as attempts to explain why bad things happen. When a character gets rewarded, or when something good happens, most would like to take credit for that positive outcome. But when someone is punished, or something terrible happens…well, it’s a lot more comforting to blame that on plain old rotten luck.

One morning I happened to turn over the salt-cellar at breakfast. I reached for some of it as quick as I could to throw over my left shoulder and keep off the bad luck, but Miss Watson was in ahead of me, and crossed me off. She says, “Take your hands away, Huckleberry; what a mess you are always making!” The widow put in a good word for me, but that warn’t going to keep off the bad luck, I knowed that well enough. I started out, after breakfast, feeling worried and shaky, and wondering where it was going to fall on me, and what it was going to be. There is ways to keep off some kinds of bad luck, but this wasn’t one of them kind; so I never tried to do anything, but just poked along low-spirited and on the watch-out. (4.3)

Huck’s superstitious beliefs seem to revolve around bad luck rather than good. He follows his superstitions as a sort of precaution against certain bad events. We see it as Huck’s desire to blame bad happenings on bad luck, whereas he thinks good things are natural or have been earned in some way. Since Huck doesn’t trust in religion to explain life’s negative moments, he uses superstitions instead.

Family
During his adventures on the Mississippi River Huck Finn encounters one family after another. Having left an abusive father behind, Huck appears to be trying out various familial situations as he travels. It seems like he’s pretty keen on getting a family of his own because most of Huck’s deceptions involve him making up a fictitious “family” of his own that fits in with the story. He develops many pseudo-family relationships during his travels. Interestingly, the strongest family-like bond he creates is with his own friends, and particularly with Jim and Tom. It remains unclear whether or not Huck realizes and accepts this fact, but he definitely recognizes the unmatchable strength of the bonds he and his friends share. As a semi-orphan, Huck replaces his missing family with his friends.

The widow she cried over me, and called me a poor lost lamb, and she called me a lot of other names, too, but she never meant no harm by it. (1.3)

At the outset of the story, the widow is Huck’s primary family.

Some thought it would be good to kill the FAMILIES of boys that told the secrets. Tom said it was a good idea, so he took a pencil and wrote it in. (2.12)

The boys’ notions of family provide comic relief.

Quote #3
“Yes, he’s got a father, but you can’t never find him these days. He used to lay drunk with the hogs in the tanyard, but he hain’t been seen in these parts for a year or more.” (2.13)

Huck’s estranged father stands in contrast to the widow, demonstrating that blood family isn’t always real family in this novel.

Drugs and Alcohol
Alcohol use in Huck Finn is usually portrayed as compulsive and excessive, and it’s always a harmful activity. Huck’s father is an abusive alcoholic, and therefore his son can see nothing positive about the substance in any given situation. Every time a man touches a drop of alcohol in the novel, needless harm comes to him and/or innocent bystanders. Besides Pap’s drunken abuse of Huck, the king sells Jim back into slavery in order to get cash for a whiskey binge. Even a harmless town alcoholic (Boggs from Chapter 21) gets killed because he directs one of his drunken rants at the wrong guy.

“Yes, he’s got a father, but you can’t never find him these days. He used to lay drunk with the hogs in the tanyard, but he hain’t been seen in these parts for a year or more.” (2.16)

Pap’s alcoholism is no secret to the community. It explains others’ willingness and insistence at helping Huck all the time.

Next day he was drunk, and he went to Judge Thatcher’s and bullyragged him, and tried to make him give up the money; but he couldn’t, and then he swore he’d make the law force him. (5.29)

Pap is belligerent and insistent when drunk.

Intellectual and Moral Education
By focusing on Huck’s education, Huckleberry Finn fits into the tradition of the bildungsroman: a novel depicting an individual’s maturation and development. As a poor, uneducated boy, for all intents and purposes an orphan, Huck distrusts the morals and precepts of the society that treats him as an outcast and fails to protect him from abuse. This apprehension about society, and his growing relationship with Jim, lead Huck to question many of the teachings that he has received, especially regarding race and slavery. More than once, we see Huck choose to “go to hell” rather than go along with the rules and follow what he has been taught. Huck bases these decisions on his experiences, his own sense of logic, and what his developing conscience tells him. On the raft, away from civilization, Huck is especially free from society’s rules, able to make his own decisions without restriction. Through deep introspection, he comes to his own conclusions, unaffected by the accepted—and often hypocritical—rules and values of Southern culture. By the novel’s end, Huck has learned to “read” the world around him, to distinguish good, bad, right, wrong, menace, friend, and so on. His moral development is sharply contrasted to the character of Tom Sawyer, who is influenced by a bizarre mix of adventure novels and Sunday-school teachings, which he combines to justify his outrageous and potentially harmful escapades.

When Jim explains what he is doing on the island Huck is on, he says “Well, I b’lieve you, Huck. I-I run off” (Twain 42).

In response to Jim fearing Huck will tell on him, Huck says “Well, I did. I said I wouldn’t, and I’ll stick to it. Honest INJUN, I will. People would call me a low-down Abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum–but that don’t make no difference. I ain’t a-going to tell, and I ain’t a-going back there, anyways. So, now, le’s know all about it” (Twain 42).

When Huck goes to give his money away, he says “‘Please take it’ says I, ‘and don’t ask me nothing – then I won’t have to tell no lies'” (Twain 19).

Morality and ethics
Thirteen-year-old Huck Finn’s narration in this novel focuses largely on his internal moral struggles. Forced to reconcile his personal feelings of friendship for an escaped slave with what society has told him is “right,” Huck learns through the course of the story to trust his moral instincts. Despite his actions, however, the question remains at the end of novel as to whether Huck is truly able to overcome the pervading ethos of the pre-Civil War South. You could argue either way. Huck was amazingly strong-willed and in touch with his own personal sense of morality to turn away from society’s pressures and the law’s threats. But the end of the novel is somewhat ambiguous. To complicate matters, throughout the story Huck does tend to think one thing and then turn right around and believe another.

Page 193

The Hypocrisy of “Civilized” Society
When Huck plans to head west at the end of the novel in order to escape further “sivilizing,” he is trying to avoid more than regular baths and mandatory school attendance. Throughout the novel, Twain depicts the society that surrounds Huck as little more than a collection of degraded rules and precepts that defy logic. This faulty logic appears early in the novel, when the new judge in town allows Pap to keep custody of Huck. The judge privileges Pap’s “rights” to his son as his natural father over Huck’s welfare. At the same time, this decision comments on a system that puts a white man’s rights to his “property”—his slaves—over the welfare and freedom of a black man. In implicitly comparing the plight of slaves to the plight of Huck at the hands of Pap, Twain implies that it is impossible for a society that owns slaves to be just, no matter how “civilized” that society believes and proclaims itself to be. Again and again, Huck encounters individuals who seem good—Sally Phelps, for example—but who Twain takes care to show are prejudiced slave-owners. This shaky sense of justice that Huck repeatedly encounters lies at the heart of society’s problems: terrible acts go unpunished, yet frivolous crimes, such as drunkenly shouting insults, lead to executions. Sherburn’s speech to the mob that has come to lynch him accurately summarizes the view of society Twain gives in Huckleberry Finn: rather than maintain collective welfare, society instead is marked by cowardice, a lack of logic, and profound selfishness. RIGHT TO SON QUOTE

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