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There are many examples of family in the novel, some functional, others figurative. When Huck is on the land, he encounters many different types of families; including his relationship with his father, Pap. Pap has many views about how Huck should be raised, including his belief that Huck should not be taught to read; “You’re educated, too, they say; can read and write. You think you’re better’n your father, now, don’t you, because he can’t?... I’ll lay for you, my smarty; and if I catch you about that school, I’ll tan you good” (18). Pap’s reaction to Huck’s education is appalling. As a father, he should only have Huck’s best interest at mind, not concentrating on keeping his child illiterate. Unfortunately, this is not the only example of familial dysfunction we see in the novel. When Huck loses Jim in the water, he washes up and is found by the Grangerfords. This animalistic family is feuding with a neighboring clan, the Shepherdsons, when neither side knows the actual root of the argument. These two families are heartless, and even though they seem civilized enough with their formalities and nice houses, they are savages. Death is a common occurrence, towards which an eyelash never batted. Huck meets his counterpart, Buck, and soon sees how deranged this family really is with the death of Mr. Grangerford. “[Buck] said his father and his two brothers was killed..Buck said his father and brothers ought to waited for their relations-- the Shepherdsons were too strong for them” (97). Even though Huck feels like he fits in with the Grangerfords, he is horrified at the way they view the deaths of their kinsmen. When Buck dies, Huck becomes very upset, solely because one of the few people who he has cared about is dead. Although Huck feels an attachment to the Grangerfords, they do not function as a family and do not treat him accordingly.
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Laws bless you, chile, I 'uz right down sho' you's dead agin. Jack's been heah; he say he reck'n you's ben shot, kase you didn' come home no mo'; so I's jes' dis minute a startin' de raf' down towards de mouf er de crick, so's to be all ready for to shove out en leave soon as Jack comes agin en tells me for certain you IS dead. Lawsy, I's mighty glad to git you back again, honey’ (98).
Even though there is a racial barrier between them, they’re their own family. They live together on the raft, and care about each other deeply, as shown here. Although it took him a considerable amount of looking, Huck found a family, who was on the river with him the whole time.
The river is most often seen as an escape in the novel. Both Huck and Jim run to the river in order to get away from the lives that they don’t want to live. Huck is restless with his life, and he is constantly going to great lengths to enrich it. Tom and Huck start a band of thieves and murderers, and make a blood pact to keep this group alive, but Huck soon finds out that it is all a lie, just a figment of Tom’s imagination. “We played robber now and then about a month, and then I resigned. All the boys did. We hadn’t robbed nobody, we hadn’t killed any people, but only pretended... But I couldn’t see any profit in it” (12). The real adventure that he craves can only be found after he has started down the river. When he and Jim are on the way to Cairo, they happen upon a riverboat that has crashed. Huck boards the boat in search of adventure, and even wishes Tom was with him to join in the fun. “Do you reckon Tom Sawyer would ever go by this thing? Not for pie, he wouldn’t. He’d call it an adventure-- that's what he’d call it; and land on that wreck if it was his last act” (57). Huck ventures onto the boat only to find a gang of real thieves, and ends up reporting them to the captain. Huck’s thirst for adventure is only satiated by what he finds on the river, and these are invaluable to his development as a character. Huck is not only cramped by lack of adventure, but is also unable to act the way he wants while living with the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson.
Miss Watson would say, ‘Don't put your feet up there, Huckleberry;’ and ‘Don't scrunch up like that, Huckleberry—set up straight;’ and pretty soon she would say, ‘Don't gap and stretch like that, Huckleberry—why don't you try to ?’ Then she told me all about the bad place, and I said I wished I was there. She got mad then, but I didn't mean no harm. All I wanted was to go somewheres; all I wanted was a change, I warn't particular (4).
When Huck is on the river, he doesn’t have to conform to anyone else’s view of manners, he can completely be himself; “Jim said he reckoned the widow was partly right and pap was partly right; so the best way would be for us to pick out two or three things from the list and say we wouldn't borrow them any more—then he reckoned it wouldn't be no harm to borrow the others” (56). On the river with Jim, Huck is free to be and do what he wants. Jim, Miss Watson’s slave, is running away to avoid being sold to the south. He steals away in the dead of night only to encounter Huck on the island.
"Well, you see, it 'uz dis way. Ole missus—dat's Miss Watson—she pecks on me all de time, en treats me pooty rough, but she awluz said she wouldn' sell me down to Orleans...Well, one night I creeps to de do' pooty late, en de do' warn't quite shet, en I hear old missus tell de widder she gwyne to sell me down to Orleans, but she didn' want to, but she could git eight hund'd dollars for me, en it 'uz sich a big stack o' money she couldn' resis'. De widder she try to git her to say she wouldn' do it, but I never waited to hear de res'. I lit out mighty quick, I tell you (38).
The only means of escape is the river, which is free of the people and the oppression that takes place on the shore.
Many acts of brutality take place on the land, while the river is a peaceful getaway for Huck. On the river, Huck can be around nature, which he greatly appreciates. “I got out amongst the drift-wood and then laid down in the bottom of the canoe and let her float. I laid there and had a good rest and a smoke out of my pipe, looking away into the sky, not a cloud in it. The sky looks ever so deep when you lay down on your back in the moonshine; I never knowed it before” (31). Huck is forgetting the troubles of the world, and learning to take in the beauty of the flora and fauna and melting into this serene environment. This is far from what he encounters when on land, his abusive father and the murder he witnesses. “He chased me round and round the place with a , calling me the Angel of Death, and saying he would kill me, and then I couldn't come for him no more. I begged, and told him I was only Huck; but he laughed such a screechy laugh, and roared and cussed, and kept on chasing me up” (26). Pap is extremely abusive towards Huck, even to the point where Huck fears for his life. This is only the first time huck encounters brutality on shore, the second when he watches a town drunk get shot to death;
Boggs throws up both of his hands and says, ‘O Lord, don't shoot!’ Bang! goes the first shot, and he staggers back, clawing at the air—bang! goes the second one, and he tumbles backwards on to the ground, heavy and solid, with his arms spread out. That young girl screamed out and comes rushing, and down she throws herself on her father, crying, and saying, ‘Oh, he's killed him, he's killed him!’ (121).
Watching an innocent man get murdered is already emotionally scarring, but Huck watched as well as Boggs’ daughter. An act of brutality as nauseating as such is something that no one should have to witness, let alone a boy of Huck’s age.
Mark Twain’s novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn gives many insights into Huck’s life, and shows how the land is not his home as one would normally expect. The river is a much more nurturing place for him to live as this is where his family is. To stay on land for Huck would be extremely detrimental and damaging. Even Jim feels more at home on the river, he considers Huck his family and is not downtrodden because of his race. The river is a place to be one with nature, in a serene environment and to escape from the troubles of the outside world. The shore is a place where people witness horrible things, where corruption thrives and injustices are common. As is obviously seen here, the river is a much more nurturing place, where Huck and Jim can explore their thoughts and relationships and be themselves.