In Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain creates a strong opposition between the freedom of Huck and Jim's life on the raft drifting down the Mississippi River, which represents "nature," and the confining and restrictive life on the shore, which represents "society." Early in the novel, Huck describes how much he dislikes his life with the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson, who try to "sivilize" (1) him. He says "it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal and regular and decent the widow was in all her ways" (1). Huck wants to be free from the Widow's and Miss Douglas's rules and routines, and sees travel and mobility as his escape route. He tells the reader that when "I couldn't stand it no longer, I lit out" (1), and that "All I wanted was to go somewheres; all I wanted was a change" (2).
At the beginning of Chapter 19, Twain offers a long descriptive passage of Huck and Jim's life on the raft that seems, at first glance, to celebrate the idyllic freedom symbolized by the river and nature. The episode occurs immediately after the Grangerford episode, where both Huck and Jim were trapped--Jim in his hiding place in the swamp, and Huck in the absurd cycle of violence of the Grangerford's feud with the Shepherdsons. Now free to drift aimlessly down the river, Huck and Jim seem to escape the confining and destructive social world on the shore and return to nature. A close reading of this passage, however, shows that the river is not a privileged natural space outside of and uncontaminated by society, but is inextricably linked to the social world on the shore, which itself has positive value for Huck. I...
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...e various signs of society's presence on the river seem at first to suggest contamination and corruption, by the end of this section we can see them as valuable and lovely in their own right. The steamboat's sparks are just as beautiful and awe-inspiring as the stars in the sky.
Harris, Susan K. "Huck Finn." Huck Finn. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers. 1990.
Mitchell, Lee Clark. "The Authority of Language in Huckleberry Finn." New Essays on Huckleberry Finn. Ed. Louis J. Budd. New York: Press Syndicate of the University of Cambridge. 1985.
Trachtenberg, Alan. "The Form of Freedom in Huckleberry Finn." Huck Finn. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishing. 1990.
Whitley, John S. "Kid's Stuff: Mark Twain's Boys." Huck Finn. Ed. Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishing. 1990.
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