The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a novel by Mark Twain, who also authored The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, is a work that profoundly influenced American literature, society and thinking after its publication and the novel is considered to be the greatest masterpiece written by the author. The novel is about a journey that Huckleberry Finn or Huck and his friend Jim, a runaway slave, undertake together along the Mississippi. The main character of the novel is Huckleberry Finn and it is through his eyes that the world is viewed and the values held by the South are revealed and judged. This work by Mark Twain greatly assisted in the emancipation of men and women with the degrading of slavery as an institution and the understanding of their condition at a time when the views held by the Southerners were very much opposed to the views of the Union. [Sprint Notes 2004]
Mark Twain was christened Samuel Langhorne Clemens and was born on November 30, 1835 in the small river town of Florida, Missouri.
. Both his parents originated from Virginia and his family relocated to Hannibal, a small town on the Mississippi delta that provided rugged frontier life, a contact with Southern tradition and slavery which obviously provided at least some of the experiences that helped in writing the book. Mark Twain wrote several books including A Tramp Abroad (1880), Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc (1896), Life on the Mississippi (1883) and several others. He was honored by Yale, the University of Missouri, and Oxford with literary degrees. [GradeSaver 2003]
In this paper, we examine the theme of slavery in the novel Huckleberry Finn.
The theme of slavery in Huckleberry Finn
Slavery is one of the main themes that run in the novel along with other themes including superstition, mockery of religion, food, honor and the conflict between civilization and "natural life.
" [GradeSaver 2003]
At the time of its writing, the American Civil War had been over but America was still struggling with the aftereffects of slavery, racism and the war. The tale narrated in the novel Huckleberry Finn was set by the author to be several decades earlier when slavery was still a fact of life. The novel portrays the continually bad conditions of the blacks in the American society in spite of the abolition of slavery. Racism is discussed in the novel and the tale presents the distortion of the oppressor as well as the oppressed as a result of the practice of slavery. Jim, a runaway slave is used in the novel to expose the human side of a slave and his presentations in the novel involve emotions. The reason why Jim ran away was because he was going to be sold to the Southerners as a slave by his owner Miss Watson and this would have separated him from his family.
The dream that Jim has had since running away is to earn, save money and free his family. The caring and human emotions of the slave are portrayed by the love that he experiences for his family and the maternalistic manner of care that he bestows on Huck on their journey. On the other hand, good white people such as Miss Watson and Sally Phelps who have been using Jim, express no concern about the injustice of slavery or the effects and consequences of separating the slave from his family by selling him to strangers.
This results in moral confusion and questions in the mind of the readers about what the nature of slaves is and how different or similar they are to other free men in feelings and emotions. The moral confusion results in knowledge and the moral education that slaves are no different from other human beings with the realization that slavery is a disgusting and pathetic institution that should have been abolished as being contrary to the dignity of man and his nature. The coming together of Huck and Jim educates Huck who is a poor, uneducated boy who has on several occasions "gone to hell" rather then go along with the rules and follow what he has been taught. Some of what was taught obviously turned out to be nonsense.
[Sprint Notes 2004]
Slavery is never openly debated in the novel between Huck and Jim but both the individuals who later became closer as a result of the shared experiences were the bottom rungs of their society. Huck being a poor white boy quite used to being abused by the society and the rich in every way possible, even though he is free and Jim the born slave who was born for servitude. Perhaps this is what brought the two towards an understanding of each other's situation. [Sprint Notes 2004]
Other slaves are mentioned in the novel, but their role is relatively minor one with no great contribution to the theme in the novel. Most of the novel is spent in Huck and Jim exploring each other and attempting to form a mental understanding. It is only at the end of the novel that Huck is faced with the dilemma about slavery.
Should Huck free Jim and condemn himself to hell? Huck has to reject everything that the society in which he lived in taught him in order to come to newer understandings and values. Thankfully, the education and understanding developed as a result of the journey with the runaway slave was sufficient to change the mind frame and Huck decides to let Jim go free based on his experiences which were open to new challenges opposed to established values of his time. Perhaps this is what contributed to the establishment in the United States of America, a society that finally put away its divisions on the values of free men and slaves and moved on to harmony. The role played by a writer in bringing about such an understanding and contributing to the cohesion and healing is indeed praiseworthy. [Sprint Notes 2004]
The character traits to be found in Jim are not supportive of the pictures painted by the selfish whites who do so with a view to protect their own interests. The scriptures have been twisted many a times, not just by the whites, in order to serve vested interests.
Jim is supposed to be an unfeeling slave, yet he exhibits many emotions typically restricted to whites at the time as he cares for his wife and children and he also gets angry with Huck for false pretensions. Huck on the other hand has his own brand of morality that he exhibits when he didn't tell on Jim when he ran away and when he tried to return money stolen from girls while he exhibits a youthful ingenuity and dash by escaping from pap on a canoe and making it look like murder. It is indeed in the innocence of youth that lies the salvation and the story narrated brings together the youth and innocent of both segments of the American society, a black slave and a poor white who would normally have defended his society and its values to the hilt, in a rare human interaction that builds the foundations for a better future. [GradeSaver 2003]
"How is servants treated in England? Do they treat them better then we treat our niggers?"
"No! A servant ain't nobody there. They treat them worse than dogs.
"Don't they give them holidays, the way we do, Christmas and New Year's Week, and the Fourth of July?" [Between Huck and a Wilkes girl in Huckleberry Finn]
It is indeed rare that an author so keenly observes human nature and brings these feelings and interactions to light in so much detail that the emotions and feelings as well as the aspirations of tiny people impact on the hearts of many to help change their attitudes. Perhaps this is why Mark Twain was awarded the degrees in literature by those amongst the most distinguished and learned of his time. Steinbeck was also very similar.
Ernest Berstein is an associate staff writer. Upon graduation, he started a career in research paper writing and has been providing quality research papers. His specialty subject is poetry essays