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Huckleberry Finn – Values of Society
Often in satire, writers will use the internal conflict of a character to symbolically criticize the values and morality of society. In the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain uses the main character of Huckleberry Finn and the conflict between his personality and social conscience to criticize society. In this clash between his deformed conscience and sound heart, his heart is victorious. This conflict reflects the major themes within this work of slavery, racism, and "civilized" society. With a thorough examination of this conflict and insight into these facets of Huck these facts become apparent to the reader.
It is clear that throughout The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck is a character bearing a deformed conscious. Huck's distorted sense of morals is a direct result of his dysfunctional upbringing. To better understand this let us first examine the background of Huck that Twain gives the reader. "The Widow Douglas she took me for her son" (1). An insightful reader can see from this that Huck is not receiving a mainstream childhood. Huck's father is a drunk, his mother is dead, and he is forced to live with a widowed woman and her self-righteous sister. Given such conditions it easy to see why Huck rejects the morals of a society that has rejected him in the sense that he is not protected from his father. Huck's distorted sense of morals is also a product of selectively accepting precepts that have been instilled into him based on his own intelligence. In a humorous passage Huck describes his feelings towards religion. "Then she [Miss Watson] told me all about the bad place [hell], and I said I wished I was there...all I wanted was a change" (2). Clearly Huck misunderstands the tenants of Christianity yet his motives were not malicious. Huck was merely expressing his desire to free himself of his current situation. He sees beyond the values of a hypocritical society and chooses to follow his own path. These misunderstandings of, and weak feelings of responsibility toward his faith have a distorted impact on his conscience. In variance to the religious beliefs of Miss Watson are the morals of his father.
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It is also clear that throughout The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck is a character bearing a sound heart. Huck's solid sense of what is truly good is a product of his cleverness, his desire to think through situations, and his natural sympathy. This may become very clear to the reader when Huck's childish antics come in opposition to racism. "It was fifteen minutes before I could...humble myself to a nigger; but I warn't ever sorry for it afterward" (77). Huck has chosen to play a trick on Jim but it has caused him only pain. His sound heart allows him to see Jim as a human being and therefore apologize to him because it is the right thing to do. Here, his sound heart prevails and proves that he rejects the current rules of society and opts to make his own. We see further proof of Huck's sound heart when dealing with others. "It didn't take me long to make up my mind that these liars warn't no kings nor dukes at all...But I never said nothing [to Jim]" (112). From this a reader may see that Huck is a clever person but does not wish to harm others. While Jim is wrapped up in the lies of the Duke and Dauphin, Huck spares him the truth to let him have his fantasy and to also keep the peace. While Huck did not wish to have the company of these frauds and scum, he is letting them stay on the raft to simply keep the peace. Huck realizes that these men could easily bring harm to Jim, so he simply lets them have their way.
Despite the many evils and temptations of civilized society, Huck's sound heart is triumphant. Having to live in various contradicting situations, Huck questions everything he has been taught. This is most evident in the novel in his desire to free Jim. "All right, then, I'll go to hell" (192). By stealing Jim out of slavery, Huck has chosen a life of crime and will become a social outcast for it. He realizes that according to everything he has been taught, what he is doing is an atrocity. "...Huck Finn [I] helped a nigger to get his freedom; and if I was ever to see anybody from that town again I'd be ready to...lick his boots for shame" (191). An insightful reader can see here that Huck sees through the duplicities of society. He has chosen to accept Jim as the good person he is, not a slave. By rejecting the rules of society Huck has defeated racism and his sound heart prevails. We see further triumph of Huck's sound heart when his childish antics come in opposition to racism. "It was fifteen minutes before I could...humble myself to a nigger; but I warn't ever sorry for it afterward" (77). Huck has chosen to play a trick on Jim but it has caused him only pain. Huck is able to see Jim as a human being and is able to apologize to him because it is the right thing to do. He sees himself and Jim as equals and for a fourteen-year-old boy to act on this feeling, against all he has been taught, shows a truly righteous heart and gives a powerful message. We note from this section that Twain is strongly criticizing society. By showing that is possible for a child to see over the perniciousness of racism, an adult reader of this book at the time of its publication must realize that it is a contradiction of the values of their religion. We also note the triumph of Huck's sound heart over dishonesty. "I felt so low down and mean that I says to myself...I'll hive that money for them [the orphaned daughters] or bust" (158). Here Huck is faced with a decision as to whether he will let con men con innocent people or jeopardize his relationship with the Kings. Huck's good heart prevails once again and he decides that it is wrong to stand idle while good people are robbed.
As the main character in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck's sound heart collides with a deformed conscience and is triumphant. Throughout this novel Twain uses this conflict to underscore his beliefs on racism, slavery, and civilized society. As it has become present, this novel is truly a satire using comedic elements to inspire social reform.