In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain develops the plot into Huck and Jim’s adventures allowing him to weave in his criticism of society. The two main characters, Huck and Jim, both run from social injustice and both are distrustful of the civilization around them. Huck is considered an uneducated backward boy, constantly under pressure to conform to the “humanized” surroundings of society. Jim a slave is not even considered as a real person, but as property. As they run from civilization and are on the river, they ponder the social injustices forced upon them when they are on land.
These social injustices are even more evident when Huck and Jim have to make landfall, and this provides the author with the chance to satirize the socially correct injustices that Huck and Jim encounter on land. The satire that Twain uses to expose the hypocrisy, racism, greed and injustice of society develops along with the adventures that Huck and Jim have. The ugly reflection of society we see should make us question the world we live in, and only the journey down the river provides us with that chance. Throughout the adventure, Huck sees the hypocrisy of society.
Huck’s recognition of these hypocrisies and absurdities of the society represented by the Widow and Miss Watson, and his preference for nature and his own natural impulses, bring out the novel’s notion of how society tends to corrupt true morality, freedom, and justice, which exist in nature, and how the individual must follow his or her own conscience.
The first character we come across with that trait is Miss Watson and the Widow Douglas. Miss Watson constantly corrects Huck for his unacceptable behavior, but Huck doesn’t understand why, “That is just the way with some people. They get down on a thing when they don’t know nothing about it”(15). The widow Douglas adopted and tried to “civilize” Huck. The two sisters’, one redeeming quality is their concern for Huck, which, though it possesses moralistic overtones, includes an element of sincerity, giving them some patience in dealing with the “uncivilized” Huck. Other than this, the sisters’ role is to represent the artificial, empty civilization to which Huck rejects. As much as the widow Douglass tries to adopt conventional religion upon Huck, he continues to reject it. Before every meal the widow told Huck he had to say grace. Huck referred to this as having to “grumble” over the food before they could eat it (14).
She tried to teach him about Moses, until Huck found out Moses was dead and lost interest. The comments made by Huck clearly show both women as hypocrites, scolding Huck for wanting to smoke and then using snuff herself and firmly believing that she would be in heaven:
Here she was bothering me about Moses, which was no kin to her, and no use to anybody, being gone, yet finding fault with me for doing a thing that had some good in it. And she took snuff too; of course that was all right, she done it herself (15).
Huck shows his anger and dislike for the values that were constantly placed on him by the Widow Douglas and her sister, Miss Watson. They both try to socialize Huck into a good boy. Huck was going stir-crazy, made especially restless by the sisters’ constant reminders to improve his behavior. When Miss Watson told him about the “bad place,” he burst out that he would like to go there, as a change of scenery.
Secretly, Huck really does not see the point in going to “the good place” and resolved then not to bother trying to get there. When Huck asked, Miss Watson told him there was no chance Tom Sawyer would end up in Heaven. Huck was glad “because I wanted him and me to be together”(16). Huck ran away but he went back when Tom Sawyer told him he could join his new band of robbers if he would return to the Widow “and be respectable.” The Widow Douglas and her sister Miss Watson, are the representatives of the society Huck rejects. They both immerse themselves in the values of “civilization,”
This is not just a boy running away from home. It is someone who has decided to turn his back on everything “home” stands for, even one of its most cherished beliefs. Huck’s adventure began because he was rebelling; he pushed aside all those values that everyone else wanted him to have. Huck’s views are all completely naturalistic; free of any of the pretensions toward refinement that marks the Widow Douglas and her sister Miss Watson. Huckleberry is rough, rustic–a truly “uncivilized” boy. He rebels against the restraints of “civilization” artificial, middle-class society and its delusions, represented by “cramped” clothing and religion, respectively. Huck’s complete sincerity, which leads to his dislike for hypocritical “civilization,” is his defining quality.
He was running away from what everyone else believed. He in a way refused not to conform and be bound by the limitations of American Civilization. He was running to freedom of the river. The river never cares how saintly you are, how rich you are, or what society thinks you are. The river allows Huck the one thing that Huck wants to be, and that is Huck. The river constitutes freedom from the land of oppression, and that oppression is no more evident than it is to Jim.
It is somewhat surprising that Huck’s traveling companion is Jim. In this irony both Jim and Huck have that in common, feeling oppressed. However there is the difference of being oppressed physically as Jim and mentally oppressed as Huck is. As anti-society that Huck is, you would think that he would have no qualms about helping Jim.
Huck and Jim’s journey begins as Huck fights within himself about turning Jim over to the authorities. Finally he decides not to turn Jim in. This is a monumental decision for Huck to make, even though he makes it on the spot. . In this way this allows Huck to leave his thoughts of bigotry behind and start to see Jim for who he really is, a man. Even though Huck has made his decision about Jim, early in the voyage we see Huck’s attitude towards Jim as racist.
Eventually Huck plays a mean trick on Jim and we see Huck begin to change his attitude, “It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger; but I done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterward, neither” (86). Later on in the story Huck becomes very caring and protective for Jim, where this reaches a climax at the point where Huck saves Jim from two slave catchers by tricking them to think Jim is was Huck’s small pox ridden father.
The dialogue between Huck and Jim also illustrates that Jim is more than someone’s property. He is a human being with feelings, and hopes for a better future. He is not some ignorant, uncaring sub-human, but plainly the opposite. Huck and Jim’s adventures give us a chance to examine the society they live in. It also gives us a chance to examine ourselves as well as the society today.
The story is over a hundred years old, but many of the social vices then, sadly, pertain to our society now. There is cruelty, greed, murder, trickery, hypocrisy, racism, and a general lack of morality, all the ingredients of society. All through the adventure you have Huck and Jim trying to find the one thing they can only find on the river, freedom, but a person can only stay on the river for so long, and so you have to go on land to face the injustices of society.
Quite a contrast, the freedom of being without authority, being able to think for yourself, running right next to the constraints made upon you by society. Somewhere deep within the novel, the author is making a powerful statement, a wish for all humanity, that we can be brave enough to break with what others assume is correct and just, and make decisions for ourselves and the ability to stand on our own and do something about it. Somewhere along the line we must become I, someone has to have the courage to stand up for what is right, to be what most would call a real man. Huck gives us that chance, that ability to see things for what they are.
His adventures give us that realization that Jim was just about Huck’s only friend, yet Jim was black. Jim looks out for Huck like a father would. As they were escaping from the civilized world, they take refuge in the Jackson’s Island, on the Mississippi River. Huck is running away from a bad father and Jim has left Miss Watson. Huck and Jim’s sacrifices for each other, however different, also present many similarities. For example, Huck and Jim both think they are sacrificing themselves for a friend.
Huck sacrifices himself for a black friend he has come to love as an equal. Similarly, Jim sacrifices himself for a friend, when in reality, he is risking his freedom to save the life of a racial bigot, Tom. In addition, both sacrifices have as a consequence a life of everlasting hell. When Huck sacrifices himself for Jim, he accepts a literal hell (that is truly the path to heaven). Jim, on the other hand, accepts a life of figurative hell in slavery, when he is in fact free all along.
Huck is unaware that his decision of accepting “hell” will actually lead to his salvation and ironically decides on doing what the thinks is “wrong.” Likewise, Jim is unaware that he is free, and is not risking his freedom in saving Tom. In making these two brave sacrifices, Huck and Jim achieve a higher character than if they had chosen easier paths. Huck’s willingness to face hell to protect Jim and Jim’s willingness to face capture and slavery to save Tom, both contribute to the overall theme of racial equality/inequality present throughout the book. Huck and Jim’s journey down the Mississippi River has led them to look past color boundaries, and discover that “all men are created equal.”