Religion, Slavery, and Democracy in Huckleberry Finn

Religion, Slavery, and Democracy in Huckleberry Finn

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Religion, Slavery, and Democracy in Huckleberry Finn


This essay will analyze the themes of religion, slavery, and democracy in the book Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. By exploring these themes that lie behind the book’s veneer, we can understand Twain’s objective for writing this book.

Religion is sarcastically reflected in Huckleberry Finn by Twain’s sense of storyline and the way his characters talk. A predominant theme, and probably one of Twain's favorites, is the mockery of religion. Twain tended to attack organized religion at every opportunity and the sarcastic character of Huck Finn is perfectly situated to allow him to do so. The attack on religion can already be seen in the first chapter, when Huck indicates that hell sounds like a lot more fun than heaven. This will continue throughout the novel, with one prominent scene occurring when the "King" convinces a religious community to give him money so he can "convert" his pirate friends.

Twain’s skeptical take on religion can be elicited because superstition is a theme that both Huck and Jim bring up several times. Although both of these characters tend to be quite rational, they quickly become irrational when anything remotely superstitious happens to them. The role of superstition in this book is two-fold: First, it shows that Huck and Jim are child-like in spite of their otherwise extremely mature characters. Second, it serves to foreshadow the plot at several key junctions. For example, spilling salt leads to Pa returning for Huck, and later Jim gets bitten by a rattlesnake after Huck touches a snakeskin with his hands.

Another theme that is dealt with in this book is slavery. In fact, slavery is one of the main topics that has been frequently debated in regards to Huckleberry Finn since it was first published. Twain himself was vehemently anti-slavery and Huckleberry Finn can in many ways be seen as an allegory for why slavery is wrong. Twain uses Jim, a slave who is one of the main characters, as a way of showing the human side of a slave. Everything about Jim is presented through emotions: Jim runs away because Miss Watson was going to sell him South and separate him from his family; Jim is trying to become free so he can buy his family's freedom; and Jim takes care of Huck and protects him on their journey downriver in a very materialistic manner.

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Thus, Twain's purpose is to make the reader feel sympathy for Jim and outrage against the society that would harm him. However, at the same time that Twain is attacking slavery, he also pushes the issue into the background for most of the novel. Thus, slavery itself is never debated by Huck and Jim.

Moreover, the other slaves in the novel are noticeably minor characters. Only at the very end does Twain create the central conflict concerning slavery: Should Huck free Jim from slavery and therefore be condemned to go to hell? This moment is life altering for Huck because it forces him to reject everything that "civilization" has taught him. In the end, he makes the decision to free Jim based solely on his own experiences and not based on what he has been taught from books.

The themes of thievery and freedom also come up in the book, in that Huck and his gang are free to whatever they want. They are on the wrong side of the law and have no one to tell them what to do. Consequently, the themes of robbery and freedom are ones that permeate the novel. They are first introduced in the second chapter with respect to Tom Sawyer's band: Tom believes that “there is a great deal of freedom associated with being robbers.” This theme can be traced throughout the rest of the book. Huck and Jim encounter robbers on the shipwrecked boat and later they are forced to put up with the King and the Dauphin, both of whom "rob" everyone they meet and free to do as they wish. Tom's robber band is also paralleled by the fact that Tom and Huck both become literal robbers at the end of the novel. They both resolve to steal Jim out of slavery and have the freedom to do so.

In conclusion, many various themes run through this novel. Tom has an anti-slavery sentiment, which tells us what Twain thought of slavery. Also, skepticism of religion is demonstrated through all of the hysterical mockeries Twain makes of organized religion. Additionally, the element of freedom is also encompassed, as the main characters are free to roam as they please.
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