Huck Finn Essay

Huck Finn Essay

Red: change according to the question Purple: episodes Blue: techniques “In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain constructs a journey in which Huck Finn learns many lessons about himself and the society in which he lives. Discuss in reference to 4 key episodes. ” Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a schematic, satirical novel based on the physical, emotional and spiritual journey of the “rogue hero” Huck Finn.

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In the novel, Twain reveals what he believed were the inadequacies of the society at the time and creates an individual who resisted its flaws. In doing so, Twain exposes many aspects of the physical journey, one of which is the ability to learn. The physical journey down the Mississippi river is a catalyst for development, revelations and learning. Huck Finn is taught many valuable lessons about himself, his relationship with society and the nature of the society in the southern states of America in the nineteenth century.

Many critics have been lead to believe that through this learning journey, Twain is countenancing a positive model for social reform through an increased sense of individual moral autonomy and a breakdown of the dichotomies in society, namely the racism involved with slavery and the hypocrisy created by artificial class structures. The most significant of the lessons learnt, occur as Huck juxtaposes what he feels is right (through a practical application of his ethics), against the moral values held by society in general.

When he does this, he is not lead by the example society sets for him, he formulates his own moral conscience and stakes his true and genuine individualism. Examples of these situations are; during the feud between the Grangerfords and the Shepardsons, during the “mob scene” in a town in Arkansaw, during the Duke and King’s attempt to exploit the Wilks girls and also when Jim is found and captured again.

Twain’s continual usage of irony, satire, southern vernacular and the “innocent” narrator highlights the paradoxes present, the differing perspectives on the physical journey and the lessons learnt by society and the central characters to the readers, both contextually and also for the contemporary audience. The first of the above mentioned episodes occurs during Huck’s visit to the Southern aristocratic family- the Grangerfords. The family emblematise the southern aristocratic values, not only through their wealth but through their hypocrisy.

The facade of the Southern gentility, the class hierarchy, sentimentalism as well as inhumane activity are critiqued throughout Huck’s observation of the family. The schematic structure of the novel allows for each stage to represent a stage in the development in Huck’s morality. Throughout the episode, Twain positions Huck and the reader in order so that they will learn from the hypocrisy and the cruelty of this echelon of society.

These lessons are couched within the recurring motif of social reform through individual experience and the development of responsibility, compassion, and moral autonomy. These lessons are simultaneously learnt by Huck in response to the Grangerford family and their violent, historically founded feud. Huck eventually comes to have a stronger appreciation of human life, human feeling, sincerity and realism.

Simultaneously, the physical journey is represented as a unique learning experience where obstacles and difficulties may be placed in front of you, however due to the ability of every human to question and make choices, lessons can be learnt from every situation. When these lessons are learnt practically, as one must do during a physical journey, the lessons are able to be internalised and acted upon. The facade of the family is constructed from the outset as Huck observes their possessions and their class. This can be seen through Huck’s comment, “Col.

Grangerford was a gentleman, you see. He was a gentleman all over; and so was his family. He was well born… and that’s as much as it is in a man as it is in a horse. ” The technique of deflation is used in this example to indicate the irony and the paradox of a man who is “gentlemanly” by class but not by behaviour juxtaposed against Huck who is of no “class” but has clearly defined to the reader through his treatment of Jim, his moral worth which guides his behaviour and is far more ethical than the “gentleman”.

This facade of gentility and religiosity is emphasised also through the “innocent” narrator as Huck observes, “There was some books too, piled up perfectly exact, on each corner of the table. One was a big family Bible. ” There are two paradoxes that emerge through this statement. Firstly, the image of neatness of the placing of the book that is supposed to guide the family morally suggests that their religiosity is purely a facade.

Due to the violence and cruelty that Huck is exposed to throughout the episode, Huck learns to devalue the importance of appearances in judging people’s worth and develops his notion of the impracticality of violence and also the emergence of the intolerance to this cruelty which eventually leads him to “take out” and start another journey at the conclusion of the novel. The second paradox evident in the above passage is clearly Twain’s criticism of “bookish” knowledge as opposed to knowledge gained practically and then acted upon.

Whilst Huck Finn is learning practically through his physical journey, the journey itself is a construction, produced by Twain to espouse his moral values. The paradox is furthered by the fictional characters’ awareness of his fictionality. When Huck directly addresses the reader by saying, “You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer “, this fictionality is highlighted. This creates a tone of realism in the novel which is important as Twain is attempting to portray society as he saw it.

The realism of the novel is highlighted also due to the intertextuality displayed as Twain refers to “Pilgrim’s Progress” and critiques sentimentalism through the sinking of the ferry “The Walter Scott”. ] Similarly, Twain uses the technique of de-humanisation, deflation and metaphor to parody the supposed religious nature of the family in two ways. The first way in which it is parodied is through Huck’s description of the family going to Church, “Next Sunday we all went to Church…the men took their guns along…and kept them between their knees or handy against the wall”.

This comment suggests that the irony of bringing a gun to church to protect oneself can not be masked by a facade of class as their irreligious situation and values are too extreme to be concealed. Similarly, Huck’s remark that “there warn’t nobody at the church, except maybe a hog or two” deflates the impact of the church and dehumanises those who attend it as the hogs go there willingly and do not create a facade about why they choose to go.

The second episode in which Huck’s moral conscience and values are challenged and valuable lessons are learnt by both the individual and society is the “mob” scene. This episode occurs in a small, run down town on the banks of the Mississippi river and provides yet another contrast to the idealised life that Huck and Jim experience on the raft. Twain shows the reader rather than explicitly declares an appropriate reaction to the cruelty inflicted by that part of society on a fellow human being, through Huck.

Huck is constructed in this way to show the audience the immorality of their actions. Therefore, in order for this to be achieved, Huck must observe and learn from the episode. Huck further develops his sense of what is right and wrong as he watches the arbitrary power of the “mob” that have by definition lost all sense of moral autonomy or individual responsibility and the ruthless effects of extreme individualism. The “mob” is dehumanised as Huck describes the collective as a “wave” which “swarms”.

This imagery is effective because of the connotations of a concentration of collective and destructive energy. The mass hysteria that was first encountered on Huck’s observation of a revivalist meeting is replicated with similar assumptions about the nature of the individuals. That is, they are gullible, over-emotional, cowardly (as they hide behind facades and don’t accept their individualism), irrational and dangerous. The use of long sentences increases the suspense of the writing and adds to the accumulation of images which creates a scene of movement and hysteria.

Twain demonstrates a hierarchy of individualism as the extreme individualism of Sherburn is juxtaposed with Huck’s individualism which is moderated by his moral code. The scene is constructed ironically as Twain positions Huck and the reader to view the “mob” and Sherburn as similarly destructive and dangerous forces within society. The “innocence” of the child is also parodied as his cuttingly truthful analysis of the scene reveals the irony of the discourse he is watching and reveals himself to be wiser than all of the townspeople as he is not influenced by their commotion.

Huck asserts this difference and his autonomy as he states, “I could a staid, if I’d a wanted to, but I didn’t want to. ” Therefore, through this episode Huck “inadvertently” learns the importance of individualism that is guided by a moral code, despite the fact that he is still unable to recognise this in himself, this is displayed through his discourse. Similarly, Huck learns about the violence and vulgarity of this segment of society and shows the audience the importance of reform achieved by the even distribution of responsibility and conscience as a result.

The third episode in which Huck learns about himself and society occurs during his stay in the home of the Wilks girls during which time the Duke and the King attempt to exploit them and sell all their possessions for profit. Huck learns the value of honesty and integrity and he also further displays his ability to show compassion. This is emphasised as Huck exclaims, “Miss Mary Jane, you can’t bear to see people in trouble, and I can’t- most always. Tell me about it. Huck’s trustworthiness is a recurring motif throughout the novel and not surprisingly it is the women in the story who are able to see his inner worth. It is ironic that this caricature of women at this time is so idealised, domesticated and stereotypical. A post modern viewing of the text reveals that whilst Twain is able to see the ironies within his society in relation to slavery and human cruelty, he is still a product of his society as the Southern values which were largely devoid of considerations of gender equality were inscribed into Twain too.

Twain makes a satirical comment on society when Huck sets down to contemplate the relative benefits of telling the truth. Whilst it can be argued that contemporary society places more of a philosophical emphasis on the importance of truth rather than a practical emphasis, it is particularly true of American society in the 19th Century. Huck comes to the realisation that, “a body that ups and tells the truth when he is in a tight place, is taking considerable many resks.. ; and yet here’s a case where I’m blest if it don’t look to me like the truth is better, and actually safer, than a lie. A society that can’t handle the truth and that doesn’t teach its children the benefits of personal integrity and honesty is clearly shown by Twain to be in need of reform. The Duke and the King who are in themselves symbolic of the ineffectiveness of monarchy and class hierarchy represent the corrupt and hypocritical portion of society. This is easily demonstrated by the ease in which their morally devoid consciences allow them to exploit the girls in the worst possible manner. Huck learns to mistrust these characters, a view which he arrives at because of the application of his compassion for others which guides his actions.

The physical journey is then represented as a challenge in which one must challenge oneself and learn how to become a good person. The final episode on the physical journey which highlights an important stage in Huck’s growth as an individual and contrasts this against the irreligious and immoral nature of society occurs as Huck is forced to recognise God’s presence and make a choice between what he sees as saving his friend or going to heaven. Whilst Huck is unmoved by organised religion he is seen to be a truly religious person as he does not use it as a facade but rather to guide his actions.

Huck learns through the King and the Duke not to tolerate such cruelty of treatment as they were capable of inflicting, this is shown through Huck’s words, “we made up an agreement that we wouldn’t have nothing in the world to do with such actions,.. ” Whilst Huck is able to distance himself from the actions of the Duke and King it is clear that many of his ideologies are still shaped by his society in that he believes he is committing an illegal and immoral action by helping Jim to run away and worse to steal him back again.

Huck juggles with the values that society has imposed on him in the one hand and his genuine and sincere feelings for Jim in the other. Therefore Twain is positioning the reader to see the difficulties that Huck faces on this journey to freedom and what an arduous task it is for an individual to break free of their social conditioning. However the ironic tone that is used throughout the episode helps the reader to see that the social values instilled in society are morally wrong and therefore need to be broken away from.

Huck’s repetition of the word ‘feel’ is used by Twain to indicate the level of empathy and love that Huck has developed for Jim. Twain also makes constant reference to Huck’s conscience. Huck says, “That’s just the way: a person does a low-down thing….. the more my conscience went to grinding me, and the more wicked and low down and ornery I got to feeling. ” Huck’s individualism is guided by his conscience however there is an irony for the modern day audience as they are guided by contemporary moral standards and see that slavery is wrong and that Huck is chastising himself wrongly.

A recurring motif throughout the novel appears to be Twain’s approval of traditional concepts such as religion and individualism but a critical view of the way people are applying them. This is emphasised both through the mob scene and also when Huck encounters the gullibility, over-emotionalism and hysteria of the evangelist meeting. Irony, juxtaposition and listing are used by Twain to emphasise the uniqueness of Huck’s religiousness in comparison with previous episodes.

He is aware of the omniscience of God and one’s inability to lie to oneself and God. Huck expresses this when he says, “I knowed it was a lie- and He knowed it. You can’t pray a lie- I found that out. ” Huck is represented as the character closest to God in this novel. In so doing, Twain promotes the traditional Christian values that make humans accountable to God for their actions which forms another aspect of Twain’s model of reform where society is made up of individual’s like Huck who are guided by their feelings and their genuine beliefs.

In conclusion, the lessons that Huck learns throughout the physical journey are emblematic of the areas of society in which Twain sees the most deficiencies. Therefore, Huck is positioned to learn about himself (in relation to the development of his moral code) so as to espouse the importance of individual responsibility and moral values based on compassion for others and to highlight the areas in which these qualities are most needed in his model for social reform.

In so doing, Twain reveals many fundamental aspects of a physical journey- most importantly that outward journeys cannot be separated from those people are forced to take within themselves during the journey, also that it is the process of the journey rather than the result that is important because of the lessons one learns along the way. In relation to Huck Finn, his inward journey allows him to see past the facade of society which causes him to “light out” at the end of the novel because he is not yet ready to face the challenge of reforming society with all its flaws.


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