Adventures of Tom Sawyer
American literature is filled with books that people like to read and ought to read. The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn is one of those rare examples which engulf both categories. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in popular culture might have been more popular as it tackled much lighter issues which did not criticize an entire society and alienated a segment of the population upon its release. People still travel to Hannibal, Missouri to partake in the ceremonial white washing of Aunt Polly’s fence and are drawn to the people and place in which the Adventures of Tom Sawyer took place.
However, as entertaining as that book was to millions of people, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a more important contribution to the literati world as well as the world in which Huck Finn lived as it teaches the reader in ways that other conventional means might have failed, that people must not be judged by the assumptions that are connected with the categories that society placed on a gender, age or race but that the individual must be seen as just that; an individual with human motivations, dreams and pain.
In the 21st century, although this is still not true across the board in America, the belief that African Americans deserve to be treated equally is now seen as self evident. However, in the time in which the story takes place, as well as the time in which it was written, such beliefs were still in their infancy and held only by a relative few who were quickly dismissed as radicals by their society.
The transition that Huck Finn makes in a single book, America needed centuries to repeat and some would argue, we are still in the process of that leap from the oppression of the past to the treating everyone as equal. The central theme of the book is the relation that Huck, a white boy and Jim, a black man and runaway slave have and how through their relationship and shared experiences, Huck is able to see Jim as a friend and finally as an individual.
Any aspect of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn which desires to be understood, the reader first must realize the historical context in which the book was written. This is especially true in the analysis of the relationship between Huck, a young white boy, and Jim, a grown man and runaway slave. On the surface, the friendship seems like an unusual one but through the book, the reader is able to realize that these two characters are not just each other’s only friend, but also their best friends.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was completed in 1884. Mark Twain had started to write the book in 1876 but had placed the story away for five years. During that time, Reconstruction had come to an end having not been able to fully accomplish all that it was designed to achieve. Union occupation of the South ended and Southern officials quickly returned African Americans to a quasi slavery condition through the passage of black codes and Jim Crowe laws.
Even though the setting of the story is twenty years in the past, little had changed from the days of slavery to the early 1880’s during a time in which there was little proof that a civil war had been fought and lost. Also, with America always troubled with the issues of race and equality, such a book, well written with likable and complete characters, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was assured to be well received, not only by its contemporary audience in the North, but for future generations.
The central reason why this book has remained a masterpiece in American literature and why Ernest Hemingway credited the book with starting American literature, is due to the friendship between Jim and Huck and how Huck wrestles with the morals that he was taught and how they strongly contrasted to the morals that, when faced with turning in his friend Jim, seem to come from deep down inside him and tell him that despite the popular notion of the day, some issues hit to the very moral center of a person and cannot be ignored.
This is what is present in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and which continues to be read by millions of people each year. The examination of the friendship between Huck and Jim is the obvious central theme to the book and is the source of the conflict within the lives of these two characters. In the end, it is to the advantage of Huck Finn that he was born on the wrong side of the tracks. This is made more apparent when we see the foil that Tom Sawyer is in comparison to Huck.
Tom is well looked after and taught morality of the day while having his needs and wants met. He is in many ways, a lot like Huck and this likeness was so apparent in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Both like adventure and too easily find themselves in trouble. However, in the Adventures of Huck Finn, the similarities seem to cease. In the end, Tom embodies the role and expectations that his family and society have placed upon him and Tom embodies it: to be a well to do gentleman, a man of leisure who is only to be concerned about him.
Huck seems to have missed this message. His father is a drunk who routinely beats on his son to such a violent degree that Huck runs away from home, both out of anger and fear for his life. His father will leave for months at a time and leaves Huck to fend for himself. This lifestyle has served as an impediment to Huck with regard to how Huck is to have his daily needs met. He does not go to school. He does not remain well kept and lives the life of a boy without structure or any reason to believe that he is wanted by anyone in this world.
However, the great distance that exists between Huck and civilized society, will end up serving to the advantage of Huck, Jim and the millions of readers who have come after the book was first published. Due to the fact that Huck has been cast out from society, Huck is not able to enjoy the benefits of a civilized society but he is also free from the impediments which the popular opinion of the day brought onto the morality of each individual who prescribed to the erroneous notion that one race was better than another and in so believing so, relegating the presumed inferior race to that of a non human.
When Huck runs away and finds Jim, a runaway slave who is in search for both his wife and children, Huck is met with a moral dilemma which to the readers’ eye of the 21st century is self evident but to a boy of the south in the days of slavery, is not so clear.
Huck’s age and social conditions both will work in Jim’s favor but even so, in not turning Jim in, Huck must overcome an entire lifetime, although short, of conditioning from Tom, his father and probably the high majority of adults that he has come in contact with: the idea that the law is all that matters, that it is the absolute authority and should not be questioned nor should it as African Americans were born to be and are content to be slaves. Therefore, it is self evident that the right thing to do when presented with such a problem is to promptly report Jim to the authorities.
If Huck been a member of civilized society, a society which at that time, despite only the richest of the rich being able to afford to own slaves, there is a good chance that Huck would have turned in Jim and the story would have ended there and the book would have been forgotten. If Huck been a man and had the misfortune of being conditions, not for ten years but for thirty or forty years towards the racist attitudes of the antebellum south, there is also a very good chance that the outcome would have been different as well.
In the same way people who are racist as adults, were most likely not racist as small children but who only prescribed to such poison from the encouragement of a society or family, so too would an adult Huck Finn as an adult, if he had never been taught otherwise. However, both Huck Finn and Mark Twain, even in their youths, might not have been able to present a lengthy argument as to the evils and sin of slavery but rather knew that something about this peculiar institution was not right.
It is this inability to pinpoint until the very end of the book, what Huck will do and why; either turn in his friend Jim or say nothing and ignore the law, which creates for the tension of the book as well as creating a window, not only into the mind of Huck but also in the mind and motivation of the society from which he came and how they will become distinct foils of each other. This is the central theme of the book. Huck’s transition cannot occur with the character of Jim. Jim is a runaway slave. His life, no doubt, has been a tough one. His time, body and family is not his own.
However, Jim is able to look past the color of Huck as being the same as those who oppress him and the two become fast and loyal friends. Huck responds to and highly respects the loyalty that Jim has for him. It is this loyalty that prevents Huck from immediately reporting Jim to the authorities. It could be seen that the character of Jim; void of any formal education and the comfort of his family, is the only real and just adult in the story and as a result, without giving any sermons or sustained speeches, is the moral source of the story.
Jim is a man with real feelings and motivations. However, despite the modern criticism that the character of Jim is too passive, Jim knows that the odds are stacked up against him and he has learned to be too trusting of others. He knows that he does not have the authority to say what is on his mind and even though an aspect of his character has been conditioned to take the abuse of others, his single motivating factor is to be reunited with his family and he will do whatever it takes to make that goal come to fruition.
Therefore, he does not need to yell and carry on against Huck when it seems as though Huck might report him to the authorities. There are some people in life who maintain their authority over a situation when it seems on the surface that they are powerless. These strong and silent types command, without saying much, more respect and adoration, especially in the face of circumstances that would crack a lesser individual. This is the character of Jim. Despite the fact that Huck has rejected civilized society because in part, society first rejected him, Huck still feels a loyalty to the establishment.
Upon recognizing the moral dilemma that now faces him as he ponders whether or not he will report Jim to the authorities, Huck comments: “Conscience says to me “what has poor Miss Watson done to you, that you could see her nigger go off right under your eyes and never say one single word? What did that poor old woman do to you, that you could treat her so mean?… I got to feeling so mean and so miserable I most wished I was dead. ” This is a very interesting comment. First, Huck, since the time of his birth has remained on the fringe of society.
He is under no expectation of loyalty from this society. They have had nothing to do with him, made no attempt to protect Huck from his abusive father and therefore, would not miss him if her were to escape from the face of the earth. Huck feels the same for the society which cast him off and the desire to run free and unfettered on the Mississippi River, is as close to heaven as Huck feels he will ever come. However, so powerful is the grip of his environment that Huck cannot escape its poison immediately.
He feels that this self discovery which has been imposed upon him by the present circumstance, is very troubling indeed and one which he would have preferred to have avoided. However, once it is realized that this cannot be avoided, Huck will continue to be unsure of him as to what he will end up doing. In our contemporary society, if the situation was modernized, as it would be hopeful that such questions would no longer be a source of confusion, such questions of morality and right vs. , wrong, lies at the center of many of the choices that we make in life.
This has been one of the aspects of the book which has given it that endearing quality. In our modern and disposable society, it is that much more amazing when something from the past reaches out and teaches us something about ourselves. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn does this to the very end. It does not matter that we later find out that Jim was free all along and is eventually freed because Miss Watson who had died two months earlier, had freed Jim in her will. The fact that both Jim and Huck believe Jim to be a runaway slave is all that needs to be remembered when dealing with the moral conundrum that Huck faces.
In the end however, there is a happy ending. Huck must first realize that Jim is not a piece of property but a man. One night while Jim is crying over the loss of his family, something that it is learned, he does almost every night, a deep understanding hits Huck in “what is the most powerful line in fiction: “ I guess Jim misses his folks the way white folks miss theirs.. It doesn’t seem natural but I guess it is so. ” Towards the end of the story, Huck also comments: “I know he was white inside.
” If Huck, in order to fully understand Jim and what is a most powerful and universal emotion; the heartache that comes from being separated from one’s family, especially one’s small children, must put a white face on Jim, it shows that Huck has not been able to come full circle by 21st century standards but in doing so, Huck has still been able to make a tremendous leap from where he was; an oppressive society which sought to keep the African American in a subservient and most awful social and economic condition as the recognition of something less than human, to a man with the same feelings and emotions, drives and desires that white people have, and which are just as important, is such a genuine and rare achievement, it assures the reader that even though the book ends with Huck going out west as he has had enough of civilized society, he will always end up on his feet.
Despite the fact that most of his contemporaries will be unable to see the forest beyond the trees as Huck at such a tender age was able to achieve, Huck is not one to prescribe to an ideal because it is popular or because it is being imposed on him by others. He does what he wants to do and thinks what he wants to think. This too has been one of the chief motivating factors that have kept millions of children, especially boys who wished that they were as free as Huck was in his own life.
Huck said early in the book when describing the freedom that his lifestyle gave him: “It was kind of lazy and jolly, lying off comfortable all day, smoking and fishing, and no books or study. ” His lifestyle also gave him the ability to see people as the individuals that they are and not the oppressive category which society placed upon them and forced them to adhere to. Huck might not have been able to read and write, but he was smart enough to know the latter was and still is one of the most important and valuable lessons which some of the smartest people who have ever lived, have failed to discover.
Burns, Ken Mark Twain New York: Time Warner & PBS 1997 Clemens, Samuel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn New York: PF Colliers 1942Sample Essay of PapersOwl.com