Throughout the Mark Twain (a.k.a. Samuel Clemens) novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the author expresses a plain and striking point of view. His point of view is that of a cynic; he looks upon civilized man as a merciless, cowardly, hypocritical savage, without desire for change, nor the ability to effect such change. Thus, one of Mark Twain’s main purposes in producing this work seems clear: he wishes to bring to attention some of the man’s often concealed shortcomings.
While the examples of Mark Twain’s cynic are commentaries on human nature can be found in great frequency all through the novel, several examples seem to lend themselves well to a discussion of this sarcastic view. At the beginning of the novel, it would seem that both Huck Finn and Jim are trapped in some way and wish to escape. For Huck, it is the ideas of Miss Watson and the Widow Douglas and the violence and tyranny of his drunken father. Huck did not care for the ideas of going to school, church, wearing proper clothes, and using manners. Huck was more of a rugged type. With his father, he was kept in a veritable prison and wished to escape because he was locked inside all day. Jim feels the need to escape after hearing that his owner, Miss Watson, wishes to sell him down the river-a change in owners that could only be for the worse. As they escape separately and rejoin by chance at an island along the river, they find themselves drawn to get as far as possible from their home.
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Their journey down the river sets the stage for most of Mark Twain’s comments about man and society. It is when they stop off at various towns along the river that mixtures of human character flaws always seem to emerge. Examples of this would include the happenings after the bringing on of the Duke and King. These two con artists would execute the most preposterous of schemes to relieve unsuspecting townspeople of their cash. The game of the King pretending to be a reformed marauder-turned-missionary at the tent meeting showed that people are gullible and often easily misled, particularly when in groups and subjected to peer pressure.
The execution of the Royal Nonesuch showed another instance of people in society being subject to manipulation. The fact that after being taken by a poor show they sent rave reviews of it to their friends to avoid admitting they had been conned showed that people in groups are ever afraid of losing status, and will do nearly anything to protect themselves. Both the King and the Duke, also, showed such a ridiculous degree of corruptness that it is difficult to believe that all humans aren’t at least somewhat evil. They were only doing the shows for the money and they did not care if the shows were good or what the people thought of them.
Another point made by the author is that most men are basically cowards. A good example of this occurred when Col. Sherburn shot the drunk Boggs and the townsfolk came after Sherburn to lynch him. After Sherburn, one man with only a shotgun held off the immense mob and made them disperse, it was obvious that no individual really had the courage to go through with the lynching. The idea that people are basically savages and confined for the moment by society is shown in more than one instance. For instance, when the group was preparing to hang Huck and the King over their plot to defraud the Wilks daughters, or more obvious, in the war between the Shephardsons and the Grangerfords. Neither family knew when, where, or why their families began their feuds. Buck killed Harvey for no reason, only because his family despises the Shephardsons. When Buckshot Harvey, Huck asked for his reasons:
“Did you want to kill him, Buck?”
“Well, I bet I did.”
“What did he do to you?”
“Him? He never done nothing to me.”
“Well, then, what did you want to kill him for?”
“Why, nothing—only it’s on account of the feud”(58).
The aspect of people being basically hypocrites is seen at the beginning when Miss Watson insisted that Huck follow the Widow and become civilized, while at the same time deciding to sell Jim into a hard life down the river.
A final point seems to be that man is continually fleeing from something. In the end, Jim and Huck found themselves at the end of their journey, neither having anything left to run from as Huck’s father was dead and Jim was a free man. They found out that Miss Watson had left in her will that Jim would be free. They will take the whole meaning out of their journey down the Mississippi. Jim was free and therefore there was no purpose to carry on. Huck was also right back where he began because he said, “Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before”(141). It would seem then that Huck and Jim had run a thousand miles down the river and ended up where they had started.
From the above examples, one can see some of the author’s points in producing Huck Finn. It is apparent that Mark Twain wishes society would realize its shortcomings and the limitations imposed by human nature. He realizes that people will not change, but feels that they should be aware of who they are, and of what comes with this thing we call humanity. Twin has pointed out all of society’s flaws with the individual character’s personalities and their path in life and wishes that society would realize their problems to become tranquil.
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