In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain develops criticism of society by contrasting Huck and Jim’s life on the river to their dealings with people on land. Twain uses the adventures of Huck and Jim to expose the hypocrisy, racism, and injustices of society.
Throughout the book hypocrisy of society is brought out by Huck’s dealings with people. Miss Watson, the first character, is displayed as a hypocrite by Huck “Pretty soon I wanted to smoke, and asked the widow to let me. But she wouldn’t. …And she took snuff too; of course that was all right because she has done it herself” (Twain 8). Huck did not understand why she does not want him to smoke, “That is just the way with some people. They get down on a thing when they don’t know nothing about it” (Twain 8).
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When Huck encounters the Grangerfords and Shepardsons he describes Colonel Grangerford as, ” …a gentleman, you see. He was a gentleman all over; and so was his family”(Twain 86). On Sunday when Huck goes to church he sees the hypocrisy of the families, “The men took their guns along, …The Shepardsons done the same. It was pretty ornery preaching-all about brotherly love, and such-like…” (Twain 90).
Huck with his anti-society attitude, you would presume that he would have no problem in helping Jim. Yet he fights within himself about turning over Jim to the authorities, by this action within Huck shows that he must have felt that slavery is correct so that the racial bigotry of the time may be seen. This decision for Huck is monumental even though he makes it on the spot. He has in a way decided to turn his back on everything that “home” stands for, this allows us to leave our thought of bigotry behind and begin to see Jim for what he really is a man.
Huck’s attitude toward Jim is racist which is seen when he decides to play a trick on Jim during their voyage. After Huck plays his trick his attitude toward Jim begins to change, “It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger; but I have done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterward, neither” (Twain 72). The dialogue throughout the book between Huck and Jim illustrates that Jim is more than property and that he is a human being with feelings, and hopes for a better future.
The river provides a place for Huck and Jim to escape the harsh society around them and develops into a god. The river provides a pathway for the action to progress, unlike other forms of travel it proceeds to guide the book in one direction down a set path. The god-likeness of the river controls the adventures, “It is the River … that will not let them land at Cairo, where Jim could have reached freedom; it is the Rive that separates them …the River that reunites them, …” (Eliot 333). Society has lost the moral meaning of the river, “… the river was forgotten, and precisely by the “dwellers in cities,” by the “worshippers of the machine” (Trilling 325). It is through the adventure of Huck and Jim that Twain tries to show the power that can only be displayed by the natural force of the river, “…the river was forgotten, and precisely by the “dwellers in cities,” by the ” worshippers of the machine” (Trilling 325).
Whenever Huck goes to shore he eventually seeks the refuge of the raft and the river. The problems of society become apparent to Huck when he goes ashore, while watching the gunfight between the Grangerfords and Shepardsons he becomes ill with the violence between these two families, “I wished I hadn’t ever come ashore that night, to see such things” (Twain 94). The river never deals with the insignificant matters of society and allows Huck the freedom to be himself. The river is freedom, the land is oppression, and that oppression is most evident to Jim. In Huck’s dealings with the society he sees people for who they truly are, “He sees the real world; and he does not judge it-he allows it to judge itself” (Eliot 329).
Huck is rejuvenated by the river, when he goes ashore he faces society and all the injustices that it carries. When he returned to the raft he felt free again, “Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don’t. you feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft” (Twain 96). The river becomes the place where freedom is felt for Huck and Jim on a grand scale.
The end of the novel may appear to distract from the maturing of Huck and seem to regress Huck back to the state he was at the beginning of the novel. When Twain really was just trying to fade Huck out, “Huck Finn must come from nowhere and be bound nowhere” (Eliot 335). The return of Tom, with his elaborate scheme to free Jim is merely to set Huck into the background of the novel again. Tom returns to let the reader see the transformation of Huck, “Mark Twain, …Huck Finn whose fate it must always be to seek a freedom beyond the limits of any civilization, ended his novel by contrasting Tom’s and Huck’s sense of the Territory.” (Pearce 361). The ending simply shows the changes Huck has gone through during his voyage to the boyish attitude he and Tom shared at the beginning of the novel.
Huck and Jim’s adventures allow us the chance to examine the society they live in. It also gives us an opportunity to examine society today along with ourselves. Freedom the one thing that both Huck and Jim are searching for they only find on the river. Twain is showing us in this story that sometimes we must break away from society and what the world views as correct and just. He is showing us that we have the strength inside to stand on our own and make decisions for ourselves. Twain, through Huck, gives us the chance to see all the things in the world as they really are. Not so that we judge the world but so we can stand up for what is right.
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