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Saturday, September 17, 2011

Essay on "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"

            The novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn refers to the adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Huck) as he attempts to escape the conventional life of civilization.  It starts by giving a brief background, where the two friends Huck and Tom Sawyer (Tom) discovered a treasure in the amount of $12,000.  They sought the help of Judge Thatcher who invested the money for them.  In the meantime, Widow Douglas and Miss Watson adopted Huck who tried to raise him properly.  She gave him new clothes, stopped him from smoking and encouraged him to read the bible.   Soon, however, Huck became bored with his new life and tried run away to join Tom Sawyer’s make-believe battles. However, this too soon bored Huck. 

            Subsequently, Huck learned that his father Pap Finn has returned to town.  Huck immediately was worried since his father had a history of drunkenness and violence.  He thought that his father who met with him and tried to convince him to quit school could be after his treasure.  Soon, his fears became a reality.  Huck was kidnapped by his father who took him across the Mississippi River to a small cabin on the Illinois shore.  Pap Finn once again started beating him.  When he was fed up with the beatings and his confinement, Huck escaped from Pap and faked his own death by killing a pig and spreading its blood all over the cabin.  He hid in Jackson’s island in the middle of Mississippi River where he met Jim, one of Miss Watson’s slaves, who also run away for fear that he will be sold down the river and treated horribly by his new owner.  Jim escaped so that he could earn enough money to buy his family and give them freedom.

            Huck and Jim soon became friends despite his uncertainty about the legality and morality of helping a run away slave.  Mississippi was soon flooded because of a storm. They also found out that people may try to search the island since the townspeople saw a smoke in the island and they believed that Jim may be hiding there.  Consequently, Huck and Finn used a raft which they found to go down the river and escape.  They plan to escape to the states where slavery is prohibited.  However, while they were travelling, Huck continued to struggle about the morality of his actions.  While he has done a lot of bad things in the past, he was very troubled about whether his act of helping a slave runaway was right. 

            During their escape, they encountered a band of robbers aboard a wrecked steamboat.   They managed to escape the robbers and take their loot.  Soon, they also encountered a group of men looking for the escaped slave.  Morally, Huck was confused about whether to return a stolen property to its owner.  However, he made the decision to lie to the men and told them that he was with his father who was suffering from chicken pox.  Terrified, the men gave Huck money and left. 

            They got separated however when their raft slammed into a steamboat.  Huck ends up in the home of the Grangerfords, a family of Southern aristocrats who were locked in a feud with a neighboring clan, the Shepherdsons.  Gun battle ensues between the two feuding families when they discovered that the daughter of a Grangerford eloped with the son of a Shepherdsons.  Huck was able to escape when Jim showed up and they continued down the river.

            As they cruise down the river, Huck and Jim encountered two mean who were being pursued by armed bandits.  Huck and Jim let the two men ride on their raft.  They soon learned that the two men were con artists who tried to pull several scams in the small towns along the river.  Huck thought that the scams they played were harmless until the con artists found out about the death of a wealthy man named Peter Wilks who left his inheritance to his two brothers who were about to arrive in town. The con artists pretended to be the two brothers in an attempt to steal the family treasures.  However, the con was discovered when the real brothers arrived.  In the ensuring commotion, Huck and Jim was able to escape together with the con artists who managed to join them just as soon as they were leaving.

            Soon, the con artists however became weary about their lack of income.  They decided to betray Huck and Jim and sell Jim back to slavery.  Huck decided to help Jim escape.  At the house where Jim was a prisoner, the woman greeted Huck and called him “Tom.” Huck realized that the people who held Jim captive were the Tom Sawyer’s aunt and uncle.  So he pretended as Tom.  However, Tom soon arrived in his aunt and uncle’s house.  Huck explained to Tom about Jim’s captivity.  Tom concocted an elaborate plan to help Jim escape.  Though Huck thought that plan may get both of them killed, he followed Tom’s plan anyway and proceeded to execute the plan.  As they were escaping, however, a farmer who was pursuing them, shot Tom.  Because Jim refused to leave Tom, he was recaptured and taken back to the Phelps’ farm.  The next day, Tom revealed to Huck that Jim had actually been a free man since Miss Watson has stated in her will to free Jim.  Jim is finally set free while Huck thinks about his next adventure.

Critical Analysis
            One of the most prominent themes in the story is the theme of slavery.  The novel revealed that Huck was never much of a saint.  He was an adventurous boy who had loose morals.  In the past, he had taken properties which did not belong to him. He had also lied.  However, these acts never bothered him.  For Huck, that was the life that he had come to know. 

What bothered him the most was when he became friends with Jim, a slave owned by Miss Watson.  Though Huck sympathized with Jim, he was morally confused about helping him.  Should he help a slave escape from his master? He may have thought that helping a slave escape could be the worst act he could commit. 

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At the time, the society institutionalized slavery.  Wealthy individuals were given the right to own slaves as their properties.  In fact, the wealth of individuals was measured in terms of the number of slaves they owned.  The slaves had no right.  They could be sold to another.  They could be tortured, beaten up and even shot by their owners for the flimsiest of reasons.  Anybody can commit any kind of atrocities against the slaves without being punished for his action.  Nobody will complain since it had been the norm that slaves were second-class citizens and that they were entitled to lesser rights. 

This was the kind of society where Huck grew up.  He also believed that slavery was moral.  He considered slavery as part of the civilization that he came to know.  When he met Jim, he realized that there was something wrong about this norm.  He felt sympathy for Jim whom he helped escape.  As he was trying to help Jim, he was constantly questioning his actions whether it was the right thing to do. 

            It was quite surprising though that Mark Twain did not directly deal with the issue of slavery.  He did not engage in a debate with Jim or Huck about slavery.  Though Twain did not directly express his position on this issue, he clearly wanted his readers to sympathize with the plight of Jim.  First, Jim escaped to avoid working in a plantation and to earn enough money so that he could buy the freedom of his family and they could be together. 

            The Mississippi River symbolized the search for freedom for both Huck and Jim.  Huck wanted to get away from the civilization that he knew.  He was tired of being boring, clean and orderly.  He also wanted to escape his abusive and violent father.  He wanted a life of adventure and freedom.  Jim wanted to escape the bondage of slavery.  He too wanted freedom.  He thought that his master will sell him to a plantation where he will toil day and night.  He did not want to be separated from his family.  In an effort to escape the possibility of being sold, he escaped from his master so that one day he could see his family again. 

            Both Huck and Jim discovered freedom in the Mississippi River.  As Huck cruises down the river, he no longer had to worry about his abusive and violent father.  He did not have to worry about being beaten up by his father.  He also escapes the monotonous life of the civilization.  Jim also found solace at the Mississippi River.  As he cruises down the river, he is his own master.  He is not a slave who needs to obey the wishes of his master. 

            It is worth stressing that Twain made it appear in the novel that there was an apparent conflict between civilized life and the natural life.  Huck was the kind of person who was raised not in accordance with the rules of the society.  He was undisciplined.  He wore disheveled clothes. He smoked. He lied. He takes things which do not belong to him.  In all standards of the society, he was uncivilized.  Yet, Huck preferred his uncivilized life over his civilized life.  When he was adopted, he longed to go back to his usual ways.  He did not like wearing new clothes.  He did not want to give up smoking.  He was happier living his old life.  Mark Twain seemed to suggest that there are certain situations when the uncivilized life may be superior to the civilized life.  For instance, stealing and lying are against the norms of the society.    These acts are not only considered as sins.  In fact, thievery can be considered as a crime. 

When Huck encountered people who were pursuing Jim in the Mississippi River and told them that the person he was with was his ailing father, he lied to them.  Yet, he lied to them to save a fiend in Jim.  He lied to them because he sympathized with the plight of Jim.  When Jim was sold to a new master, Huck attempted to steal him from his new masters.  Stealing is a crime and is against all social norms.  Yet, there was nothing morally wrong with attempting to free a slave from his masters so that he could live a life of freedom.  Lying and thievery were against social norms yet Twain emphasized that there could be situations when doing these actions may be a good thing to do.  

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