Escape from Civilization :An Analysis of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Length: 1472 words (4.2 double-spaced pages)
The Novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is one of the central works of American literature. It is about the life of a low level white society boy, named Huck who finds himself running into his drunk abusive father who comes back to town and takes him away. When Huck escapes, he comes across a runaway slave, named Jim. They do not feel comfortable at first being from different levels in society, but once they get out of numerous situations together, such as loosing two con men on river or freeing Jim after he has been sold, it loosens the tension between them and they become good friends to the point where Huck helps Jim escape to the north to be free. This friendship consisted of loyalty and trust. They relied on one an another, and knew that the other would come through to get themselves out of sticky circumstances where it could be the matter of life or death. This novel traces the moral education of a young boy whose better impulses overcome both self interest and the negative forces of his culture. Mark Twain uses characterization, setting, and irony to emphasize his theme that when a person believes something to be right and just, he should do what his morals believe rather than what the normal society accepts as true.
Many characters in this novel exemplify treating someone the way they should be treated contrary to what society thinks. Huck is the main character in the novel. He is a protagonist who survives on his own wits. He is thoughtful, intelligent, and willing to come to his own conclusions even if they contradict society. He helps Jim, a household slave, escape from his old owner to the north to be a free man. Even though he goes against what his society believes is wrong, he still feels that it is the right thing to do. “Intuitive morality, which argues that humans are naturally able to distinguish between right and wrong, and utilitarian morality, which claims instead that observation of one’s social environment and the quest for personal gratification shape moral behavior” suggested by W.E.H. Lecky’s History of European Morals. Mark Twain, the author of the novel, has skepticism of the value of civilized morality, which leads him to conclude that only in complete isolation can one find moral integrity.
During a part in the novel, Huck and Jim consider stealing, but Huck remembers it is wrong by the moral codes he has been taught. Huck looks at Jim more as a friend than a slave. He risks his life for Jim and his place in society. Huck helps Jim by coming up with crazy ideas that get them out of predicaments. Huck is willing to let his good friend Tom Sawyer die to keep his friendship and loyalty with Jim.
Jim is one of Miss Watson’s household slaves. He is intelligent, practical, and ultimately more of an adult then anyone. Jim cherishes his friendship with both Huck and Tom. After getting to know them Jim realizes that humanity has nothing to do with race. Because Jim is a run away slave, he is at the mercy of almost all the other characters and often forced into ridiculous and degrading situations. With the help of Huck he gets through many tough problems and harsh circumstances. Jim and Huck are not just good friends but they rely on each other. Without one an another they would not be able to get up north for the sake of Jim and Huck. “Jim almost immediately, but with some caution, relies on Huck as deeply as Huck has relied on him,” says critic David E. E. Sloane. There are some individuals that try to do what society expects them to do. Silas and Sally Phelps are Tom Sawyers aunt and uncle. The Phelps’ hold Jim in custody and try to return him to his rightful owner, but unknown to the Phelps, is the preparation that Tom and Huck take to free Jim, and eventually their time pays off.
The setting that takes place in this novel portrays the way people lived and the beliefs the people had during this time period. Many felt that they were superior to others by the color of their skin. During this time slavery was in affect especially down south where this novel takes place. People thought that slaves were someone else’s property and they were not looked at as a normal human. If a runaway slave was found the rightful thing was to return the slave to its rightful owner, but there was always a small amount that believed different from societies and thought everyone was equal including slaves. These people would help slaves escape to the north where they could be free. In this novel Huck is that small amount. He helps Jim, a runaway slave escape from the south to be a free man, despite what others thought. Huck runs into Jim after escaping from his abusive father. They help each other through different circumstances and become great friends. They travel up the Mississippi River together in numerous boats, that they encounter. The setting that takes place helps show the irony that takes place in the novel. Even though Huck did help Jim escape from slavery his beliefs were different. He believed that slaves were meant to be where they were in society. At first Huck was not going to help Jim, but after awhile their relationship grew and Huck realized that he did not have to listen to what everyone else says. After that moment Huck changed. He looked at everything differently in life and changed all his beliefs. Huck feels guilty for not turning Jim in, but knows he would feel even worse if he took Jim back to his owner. There were some characters in the novel that were not as generous as Huck. The Duke and The Dauphin are two cons that work their way through towns. Both of them find out about Jim being a runaway slave and sell him. They do not care about others and they are nothing like Huck. They think they are superior to Jim.
The irony of the novel is not realized till the end. When they finally free Jim from being sold into slavery and after Tom was struck in the leg by a bullet, a messenger comes with a note saying that Jim is a free man because his previous owner has died and asked for Jim to be free. This is ironic because Huck spent all his time trying to help Jim escape to the north risking his life for him not knowing Jim was already free. Huck and Jim had no idea that Jims former owner has passed away and could have died through the process of getting Jim to freedom. Huck took time to hide Jim and for that he would have got into a lot more trouble than Jim because he is helping a runaway slave escape, that is the irony of the novel because Huck really did not have to help Jim, but he did it anyway because he knew it was the right thing to do even though the beliefs that took place during this time period thought that helping a runaway slave was a terrible thing to do because a slave is someone’s property.
The characterization, setting, and irony in this novel helps make it one of the central works of American literature. All three support the way Huck believes. He feels that he has to do the right thing despite the beliefs of his social order. The friendship between a runaway slave and a young, white society, low level boy shows that the morals of some people are different from those of others even if they are in the same class. Huck could have returned Jim to his rightful owner but knew he would feel bad about it and decisively chose not too. This shows that not everyone feels the same about certain things and some people do make the right decisions even if it contradicts their culture.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,The." Msn. 16 Apr. 2008 .
Link, Eric C. "Huck the Thief." Galegroup. Summer 2000. Midwest Quarterly. 16 Apr. 2008 .
Mason, Ernest D. "Attraction and Repulsion: Huck Finn Jim, and Black Americans." Galegroup. 1989. CLA Journal. 16 Apr. 2008 .
Sloane, David E. "Huck Acts, an Escape From Sivilization." Galegroup. 1988. BostionTwayne Publishers. 16 Apr. 2008 .
Smiley, Jane. "Say It Ain't So, Huck: Second Thoughs on Mark Twain's Masterpiece." Galegroup. Jan. 1996. Harper's. 16 Apr. 2008 .