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Huckleberry Finn – Development of His Character
Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn displays the development of a 'sound hearted pre teen boy' called Huck Finn. We see Huck develop in character, attitude and maturity as he travels down the Mississippi River. This is represented through Huck's search for freedom from 'sivilisation' and it's beliefs and through his personal observations of a corrupt and immoral society. Most importantly, we live through Huck's confusion over his supposedly immoral behavior and his acceptance that he will '...go to Hell...' as he conquers his social beliefs.
Huck's displeasure in 'sivilisation' and it's beliefs is the trigger to his development. Initially, Huck is presented as a uneducated 12 year old, born in to the rigorous life of pre-civil war America. He lives with Widow Douglas (Huck's conservative and motherly foster parent) and Miss Watson (Widow Douglas' sister) who both try to 'sivilise' Huck through religion, manners and beliefs. 'In the opening chapters, Huck is relatively though not completely, untouched by society. He is totally unsophisticated and is basically unthwarted by the ethical ideals and manners of adult society or by the game-playing unreality of Tom Sawyer.' PAUL EGGERT: Literary Perspectives. From this critics comment, we see that Huck's limited understanding in the 'sivilised' world also limited his capacity to comprehend society's teachings such as religion '...she told me all about the bad place, and I said I wish I was there.' and it's rules and life style 'She put me in them new clothes again, and I couldn't do nothing but sweat and sweat, and feel all cramped up.' This in many ways allowed Huck to make decisions from his own moral evaluation instead of relying on the disillusioned teachings of society.
As the novel develops, we see Huck kidnapped by his father, a drunken byproduct of society's corruption. At first, Huck enjoys the relief from religion and the 'sivilized' life '...it warn't long after that till I was used to being where I was and liked it...' but latter realized he was still trapped in the depressing confines of 'sivilisation'. Huck is subjected to the constant tyrannical treatment inflicted from his father ranging from beatings to being locked up days at a time.
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Through out Huckleberry Finn, many issues are raised regarding society and it's corruption. Among them is the greed and vice which plagues the so called 'sivilised' people. Huck develops through his observation and reaction towards such corruption and immorality as he and Jim journey down the Mississippi River. 'The mean and foolish people in this book are not Negroes. The mean and foolish people are Huck's pap and those two frauds who are extracting money from the innocent people of 'Ankanswal' and other states by posing as the Duke of Bilgewater and the Dauphin of France. They are the swindlers, members of the mob and feudists who shoot each other for nothing. They are whites.' NEW YORK TIMES: 13/9/57. The two main examples of the corruption and immorality demonstrated in Huckleberry Finn and supported in the critics comment is the feud between the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons and the con-men King and Duke.
During Hucks and Jim's voyage down the River, they are separated for a while after their raft was destroyed. Huck finds refugee in a family called the Grangerfords but soon finds him self in the middle of a feud towards the Shepherdsons. Both families are presented as respected, educated and 'sivilised' Christians. Ironically, we see them exhibiting no sense of compassion and engages in a violent feud spanning two generations and due to circumstances long forgotten '...it started 30 years ago or som'ers along there.' Huck unable to comprehend the reasons behind the carnage could only watch as every one around him suffers due to the lack of common sense and their rejection of reality. Huck latter finds Jim and retreat back to the sanctuary of the river. The feud between the Gringfords and the sheperdsons 'depicts man's inhumanity to man' RICHARD P. WASOWSKI : 2001 which in contrast to Huck and Jim's 'unsivilised' life shows the immorality of a society which is said to be based so much on the virtues of Christianity.
Following the events of the feud, we are presented with another example of the unsavory aspect of society, this time in the form of greed and selfishness. On the river, two men identifying them selves as the King and Duke appears and invades the peace on the raft. From the beginning, their motive is clear, they are frauds on a constant scheme to steal from unsuspecting victims. Through out the novel, Hucks attitude is always to evade confrontation. This is also the case with the King and Duke 'It didn't take me long to make up my mind that these liars warn't no kings nor dukes at all, but just low down humbugs and frauds. But I never said nothing...kept it to my self...don't get into no trouble.' Huck initially keeps a low profile and plays alone with the illusion as the con men strip their victims through their gratitude. Their exploitation of blinded citizens first included the king posing as a ex-pirate seeking enlightenment to earn the sympathy and money from gullible victims. It then escalate to shows which took advantage of ...human weakness eg. 'THE ROYAL NONESUCH!!! LADIES AND CHILDREN NOT ADMITTED.' and then draining their money on a meaningless performance. Huck's inaction toward the King and Duke soon ends as they extend their scam to Mary Jane and her sisters which is one of the few people in the novel who are perceived as compassionate and loving. The Duke and King masquerade as their uncles to claim their deceased father's money and estate. Huck sympathetic of Mary Jane's sorrow as the King and Duke take away every thing the have reveals the King and Duke are tricksters and hides the money; destroying their plan.
These two examples demonstrates the corruption and the unethical behavior of the so called 'sivilised' Christians. Hucks observation and reaction towards the feud has strengthen his conscience about the disarray of white society in comparison to Negroes. His reaction towards the King and Duke also marks a important point in Huck's development. Huck have been exposed to the unscrupulous products of society and in the end grew strong enough to work against them. These developments will cause Huck to approach society more skeptically and to confront and accept that the world is not Widow Douglas' delusional mirage. This in-turn loosened Huck's bonds with his misunderstood beliefs and to have more confidence in him self and Jim.
'One of Huck's great developments is in coming to accept Jim for the human being that he is. To a Southerner of 1885, this was as outrageous as accepting the dignity and sincerity of a Communist has been to many Catholics.' Father John Hanrahan. Many critics agree that Hucks relationship and attachment towards Jim is the most important factor in Hucks maturity. During his travels down the Mississippi River with Jim, Huck has developed through his confusion over his supposedly immoral behavior and his triumph over his much doubted social beliefs.
Early in the novel, we see Huck's acceptance of Jim as a person marking the first step in his maturity. However, it wasn't until chapters 15-16 during the fog incident when Huck for the first time considered Jim's place in his morals and most importantly in society. The incident unfolded after Huck and Jim is separated for a night during a fog. When Huck finds Jim on the raft asleep the next day, giving no foresight on the consequences of his actions decides to play a prank on Jim trying to convince Jim that he dreamed the entire fog episode. Realizing how worried Jim had been, Huck later regrets his actions. 'It made me feel so mean I could almost kiss his foot to get him to take it back.' In addition to realizing his wrong, Huck is compelled to right his wrong and humble himself and apologizes to Jim. This, considering Huck's previous education on blacks, (white men was absolutely superior to blacks regardless of education, status or principals), was significant victory over society. Huck also must make a moral decision which is conflicting to the institution of slavery when huck is confronted by two slave hunters. Apologizing to Jim was considered a social offense, helping a slave escape at the time was considered as the stealing of 'property' and could have been punished by law. Torn between his conflicting morals and society's institution to slavery, he unwillingly covered Jim. By using his intelligence and quick thinking, he was also able to protect Jim from slavery and profit from the slave hunters. However, to our perspective, what Huck did was morally right, we see him still considering both contracting outcomes '...what's the use you learning to do right when it's troublesome to do right and ain't no trouble to do wrong...?' This to a certain extent shows a development in Huck since he is giving foresight on the possible outcomes of his actions while still not strong enough to make a definite stand on what he believes in.
As Huck and Jim travels down the Mississippi River, he also realizes the emotional complexity never though possible in a Negro. Jim's emotional side is revealed when he shows remorse at his cruelty towards his daughter. This honesty and responsibility on comparison to any other White man in the novel shows the strength and compassion of a 'unsivilised' slave. Huck matures and grows from this experience.
Huck's final and most important conquest of his social beliefs is his choice of eternal damnation. The two frauds the King and Duke has sold Jim into slavery. Here, Huck faces his biggest moral conflict. Attempting to follow the teachings of society, Huck decides to write a letter to Miss Watson so she can claim back Jim. For a moment, we see Huck relieved that he had done what was seen as the right. It is at this point where Huck made his most bravest decision in the whole novel creating his moral climax. Huck remembers what he has learnt about white society in contrast to Jim and decides to reject every thing society has forced Huck to accept and rips the letter favoring Jim's escape. This defies both the norms of society and the rules most citizen obeys. Huck helped Jim no because he was obliged to, pressured to by his will or dictated by society but because of his own moral judgment pointing that his action was right.
Huck's development from harsh beginnings has progressed to a person who is strong enough to make his own moral evaluation in a society so hostile and corrupted. We have seen Huck taking his first steps to maturity in trying to find freedom to confronting and defeating the culprits which corrupts the society and finally, come face to face with his inner conscience has he struggle to suppress his beliefs of immorality