Essay, Research Paper
Huckleberry Finn separates himself from the society he grew up in by running away, traveling down the river and spending time with a runaway slave. The morals of society do not sit well with him, although he believes that he should follow society’s rules anyway. His feelings for Jim send his mind into turmoil. Throughout the novel, he reevaluates his actions and thoughts on the matter. This excerpt, occurring nearly halfway through the novel, shows how conflicted he is. It is an important turning point in Huck’s mind and in his move from childhood into adulthood.At first it seems that Huck does not turn Jim in because he had been lonely on the island and is enjoying the company. He tries to justify the situation because he did not have anything to do with Jim’s actual escape. However, he knows that society would not approve the fact that he didn’t turn Jim in. He even tells Jim that, “People would call me a low down Abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum .” (p. 46) After traveling down the river for some time, Jim believes that they are nearing Cairo and starts to imagine his life as a free man. His plans for freeing his family and the nearing of the completion of the “crime” begin eating away at Huck’s conscience. He resolves to go ashore and turn Jim in, which immediately relieves his guilty anguish. As he takes off in the canoe, supposedly to find out if they have reached Cairo, Jim makes an incredibly timely show of his love and trust for Huck, concluding with, “Dah you goes, de ole true Huck; de on’y white genlman dat ever kep’ his promise to ole Jim.” (p. 110) Huck struggles to go through with the choice he has made, but when he has his chance, he does not have the heart to turn Jim in. Huck’s reflection given in the excerpt shows his continued internal conflict between what his heart tells him and what society expects of him. Throughout the book, he shows his discomfort with society. He runs from people who want to “sivilize” him, like Aunt Polly and Aunt Sally. He seems much more comfortable floating down the river or “lighting out” on a new adventure, where he is away from the oppressiveness he feels from society. As readers, we are impressed with this fourteen-year-old boy’s ability to sense the injustice of slavery, even though he can’t seem to fully conceive that society could be wrong about such a thing; he continuously thinks there must be something wrong with himself instead. He grows to care for Jim tremendously and sees him as a person and a friend, despite the ingrained thoughts about blacks in general that come out from time to time. For example, when Aunt Sally asks if anyone had been hurt on an invented boat accident, Huck answers, “No’m. Killed a nigger.” (p. 244)
We forgive Huck for saying things like this partly because of his youth and how he was raised, but more so because we are witnessing a metamorphosis within Huck. In addition to the complicated feelings associated with his friendship with Jim, Huck does not like to see individuals suffering, no matter who they are. He even feels bad for the Duke and the King when they are tarred and feathered and driven out of town. When he becomes an adult, we feel that he may have more humanistic morals that any of the other folks in his society. As Huck debates the evil of his ways concerning Jim, he truly believes that he will go to hell for his sins. Toward the end of the novel, when Huck discovers that the Duke and the King have turned Jim in as a runaway slave, he goes through another moral debate. He believes that, “it would be a thousand times better for Jim to be a slave at home where his family was, as long as he’d got to be a slave.” (p. 235) He writes a letter to Miss Watson letting her know that Jim had been found, but ends up tearing it to bits. In his final decision to remain loyal to Jim no matter what the heavenly cost, he says, “‘All right, then, I’ll go to hell’” (p. 237) and concludes that he would even help Jim escape if necessary. At this point he finally gives up any attempt to cling to society’s viewpoint on the issue. He begins to think more like an adult, letting his own heart be the ruler of his actions.Huck does not have any adults with whom he can discuss his confusion over the situation with Jim. First of all, he would fear that any law-abiding adult would force him to turn Jim in. But secondly, Twain portrays the people in the society along the Mississippi as less moral than Huck. They seem very gullible and not especially bright, therefore not worthy of advising Huck. For example, Huck’s fabricated stories fool just about everyone throughout the novel. The Duke and the King are also capable of duping people, at least until they go too far. Huck is forced to come to his own conclusions about his situation, and this makes his decisions all the more impressive to the reader.In the excerpt, the fact that he feels bad whether he does the right thing or the wrong thing depends completely on society’s skewed moral system at the time of slavery in the south. What he is calling “right,” turning Jim in and obeying the law, does not necessarily seem right to us now. In turn, helping an runaway slave make it to freedom may not have been legal, but certainly does not seem wrong. Huck’s confusion makes him seem like a character ahead of his time, in the sense of his age as well as the age in which he lived.