Huckleberry Finn And The Villa Essay, Research Paper
Huckleberry Finn and the Village Mores
Since time immemorial, human beings have bonded together, forming societies and institutions that no one can escape. Religions and governments have developed and changed throughout the centuries. The population of the time invariably conforms to the image of its society, but there is always an outsider, a freethinker. A revolutionary figure consistently rises from the status quo and contests the beliefs and moral codes of the society to which he belongs. Every era has had its Abraham, Socrates, or Thoreau, and post-civil war America boasts Mark Twain, or more appropriately, Huckleberry Finn. Vernon L. Parrington once said of Mark Twain s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, It is a drama of the struggle between the individual and the village mores. The book, although satirical at times, is certainly considered a dramatic epic describing American society and the conflicting views of the time. Huck is an unlettered, street-smart realist. Throughout the book, he is forced to make decisions that conflict with the conventions of his world, such as old-time religion, slavery, and even basic ideals like the treatment of other people.
In order to understand the struggle that commences in the book, one must understand the character of Huck. This young boy of Hannibal, Missouri, is the son of the town drunkard. He nearly raised himself, living off the land and on the streets most of his life, while occasionally receiving a beating from his ignorant, ruthless father. The world forces Huck to look at life from a different perspective than the average boy, such as Tom Sawyer. He has seen the bane of human existence, but still seems to see the good in people, along with the bad. Huck s instincts developed independently, rather than societal institutions such as church, family, or school molding it. Yet he does not remain separate from society; he grows up believing he is somehow inferior to the learned children. He often comments that his friend Tom could carry out his plots better than he could, and frequently takes on a subservient role. Despite all this, Huck is practical, a realist. He looks at a problem and logically finds the most intelligent solution. Henry Nash Smith describes Huck as having a sound heart, but a deformed conscience, meaning that his environment has instilled the traditional values of the era in Huck s mind, but his heart does not follow these often warped beliefs.
Religion is one of the binding forces in human society, from Hindu-based India to the Roman Catholic Vatican, it ties people together, gives them meaning and purpose. In the Deep South during the mid-1800 s, Protestant Christianity ruled supreme. In the book, this institution is constantly affecting Huck. At the story s inception, we find Huck living with the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson. They insist on performing rituals that seem inane to Huck, like praying over their food and learning about men who have been dead a considerable long time (8). To Huck s simple mind, stating that he would like to go to hell is a simple declaration of boredom; he wants to be somewhere else. However, to the Widow and Miss Watson, Huck is renouncing the very thing around which they revolve their lives. Huck sees all these rituals as superficial, for his world has no room for things that don t make no sense (8). He also recognizes the futility of reforming people. The new judge in town tries piously to get Pap Finn to mend his ways, and for a few short hours, his ploys work, but Pap inevitably relapsed. Huck can see that it is not religion that makes a person good, but that what one does and how he lives is what really matters.
One of the most prominent binding elements in the book is slavery, whether a slave to another person or a slave to society. This peculiar institution is one that caused much strife between different factions of the United States in the 1800 s, and one about which Twain felt strongly. His commentary on the time was radical, yet filled with truth. The main plot consists of Huck and Jim escaping down the Mississippi River to freedom, Huck from society and Jim from slavery. Twain faces Huck with an ultimate decision: personal freedom or the freedom of another. Everything Huck has ever learned is telling him that if he does not return Jim, a fugitive slave, and yet a person that he has grown to love and admire, to his rightful owner that he will go to hell and be ostracized from his community. Yet, his heart tells him that the enslavement of his friend is wrong. He struggles, trying to appease his guilty conscience by writing a letter to the Widow Douglas explaining where Jim is, but ultimately, his heart is victorious over the world-conformed conscience that plagues him. His victory over society is not complete, however. The lingering effects of the slavery mind-set are apparent when he tells Aunt Sally that no one was hurt in a boat accident, but that it just killed a nigger (175).
Another element of society that Huck is trying to escape is the way humans treat one another. He observes some very cruel actions throughout the novel, not to mention his life. In response to the Shepherdson-Grangerford feud, and more specifically the death of his friend Buck, he says, It made me so sick I most fell out of the tree I wished I hadn t ever come ashore that night, to see such things. I ain t ever going to get shut of them (94). The feud makes perfect sense to young Buck Grangerford, to whom it is a natural part of life to carry guns to church and have dreams of killing men, but Huck s good heart doesn t understand this mentality because it is based in senseless brutality. Likewise, when the Duke and the Dauphin are conning the Wilks girls, Huck feels the inherent fault in what he is helping to accomplish. So he takes steps to solve the problem, and stops the illegal activity. He can not stand to see three innocent girls lives ruined by some selfish old men. Despite his good heart, Huck is not always victorious in his battles against society, as when he breaks laws unnecessarily. For instance, he admits to stealing chickens, citing his father s old excuses as his reasoning. Huck may be good at heart, but he is not infallible.
Huck s struggle encompasses many aspects of the society in which he lives. New situations continually make him question his values and his knowledge. So often, society wins, by rationalization, manipulation, however it wishes. Often, people need only a little shove to conform to the wishes of the general public. Huckleberry Finn is a revolutionary character because he is the embodiment of rebellion against such conformity. His complex character and individuality are tested repeatedly; giving hope to every person whom has ever faced similar trials. The person who wants to learn how to defeat the village mores needs to look at the world through the eyes of Huckleberry Finn, and realize that life is not about the rituals performed or the achievements made, but about people and how one affects the lives of those people.