Dramatic Foils In Huckleberry Finn Essay, Research Paper
Huckleberry Finn is by many accounts, one of Mark Twain s best works. The novel addresses many issues that existed in society during Twain s time and still present today in doses large enough to make us cringe. To drive his points deeper into the reader s mind, Twain uses a plethora of literary devices. Some, such as his often-sarcastic view of human emotions, fall under the category of satire. Other devices are used frequently as well such as displaying a character s traits through the actions of another person. Dramatic foils play a premier role in Huckleberry Finn.
Jim, the runaway slave and moral center of the novel, fills the void in Huck s life left by Pap Finn. Pap Finn, Huck s biological father, mistreats Huck terribly at the beginning of the novel, going so far as to lock Huck into a cabin for days at a time while this father figure goes to the nearby town to engage in activities leading to inebriation. Jim contrasts perfectly from the start, looking out for Huck, sharing his knowledge with the boy, and protecting the child to the best of a runaway slave s ability. The distinct difference in the two men is illustrated by their interactions with Huck. Pap is thoroughly intoxicated and begins to hallucinate. He chases Huck around a small cabin calling the boy the (p.29) Angel of Death. Jim, by contrast, risks his own life and freedom on many occasions for the sake of Huck. For instance, Jim could have left at any time during Huck s stay with the Grangerfords. However, Jim remains true to Huck, telling the frightened child (p.113), I s mighty glad to git you back ag in, honey.
After Pap Finn is disposed of, Jim is left without a foil. Twain solves this problem by introducing us to two swindlers who refer to themselves as royalty. One says he is the Duke of Bridgewater while the other claims his birthright stems from being the lost child of Louis XVI, the Dauphin, and the rightful King of France. These two men represent between them enough morals to fill a thimble. They have no issues with lying to honest, decent people to achieve their own means. The King even went so far as to claim to a church revival that he was a reformed pirate and therefore should be given money to go reform other pirates (p.128). It is about this time that Twain delves deeper into Jim s paternal side, illustrating to us his great desire to see his family again. Huck tells us that Jim would often moan for his family at night, saying, (p150) Po’ little ‘Lizabeth! po’ little Johnny! it’s mighty hard; I spec’ I ain’t ever gwyne to see you no mo’, no mo’!” Jim s devotion to his family and courage to seek the freedom necessary to relieve them of their enslavement stands in stark difference with the King and Duke who have no devotion, even to one another, as shown by their mistrust over the missing money during the Wilkes Affair (p.200).
Perhaps one of the most striking contrasts of the novel occurs between Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer. Throughout the novel, Huck bemoans not having Tom along. When Huck and Jim happen upon the wreck of the steamship Walter Scott, Huck argues in favor of exploring the wreck using Tom as a major justification. Do you reckon Tom Sawyer would ever go by this thing? Huck says (p.65). Much later in the novel, Huck s wish is granted and he and Tom are reunited. It is at this point that Tom becomes a true dramatic foil to Huck. Having lived most of his life as a street urchin, Huck is a realist. Huck has far fewer romantic tendencies than Tom. Sleeping in a hogshead tends to remove from one the sense of grandeur that Tom enjoys. Once the two boys decide to attempt to free Jim, Huck proposes feasible plan after plan. It is Tom who is the dominant personality, though, and his ideas win through. After one of Huck s many attempts to simplify the escape process for Jim, Tom says, Well, if that ain’t just like you, Huck Finn. You can get up the infant-schooliest ways of going at a thing. Why, hain’t you ever read any books at all? — Baron Trenck, nor Casanova, nor Benvenuto Chelleeny, nor Henri IV, nor none of them heroes? Who ever heard of getting a prisoner loose in such an old-maidy way as that? Huck has treated Jim almost as an equal for some time by this point in the novel, yet Tom treats the slave as nothing more than a plaything. Knowing of Jim s freedom, Tom continues to orchestrate his escape plans merely for his own entertainment.
Mark Twain is America s preeminent Realist. His works are known the World over. His use of the dramatic foils in this novel demonstrates his realistic tendencies. Were it not for the sharply contrasting characters, the main traits of Huck and Jim would require much more flamboyance to be seen clearly. Had Pap Finn not been such a terrible father, Jim would not have seemed as good a replacement. Had Tom not been so cruel in his treatment of Jim, Huck s occasional abasing comments concerning the black race as a whole would have been far more poignant and the true kindness of the boy s heart would have been lost.