Themes Huck Finn
From the beginning of the novel, Jim lives his life as a slave. He is fairly content until one day, when he overhears his owner, Mrs. Watson, talking about selling him to New Orleans. Jim becomes terrified and runs from Mrs. Watson. From that point on in the novel, Jim turns into a runaway slave. His journey with Huck down the Mississippi river begins with only the fear of being caught as a runaway slave. Later in the journey, Jim starts to yearn for freedom from slavery. This is manifested in this quote when Huck describes Jim’s reactions about being free in Cairo, “Jim said it made him all over trembly and feverish to be so close to freedom” (97). Jim’s excitement is also demonstrated in more actions about Cairo as Huck describes more, “Jim was fidgeting up and down past me. We neither of us could keep still. Every time he danced around and says, “Dah’s Cairo!”” (97) Jim’s excitement for freedom is obvious. Slavery sets social chains on Jim’s life and hinders his happiness and his goals in life. The only way Jim can achieve his happiness is through freedom. Freedom for Jim means escape from slavery and a release from the social chains.
Huck makes a clear point about his perspective about living in the Widow’s civilized home when he states, “But it was rough living in a house all the time…and so when I couldn’t stand it no longer, I lit out. I got into my old rags, and my sugar-hogshead again, and was free and satisfied” (1). Huck keeps this outlook on being restricted throughout the novel. Huck’s journey with Jim on the raft is so Huck can flee from the confines of his Father and the Widow. He depicts his satisfaction and freedom on the raft when he states, “Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don’t. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft” (128). In these statements from Huck, the portrayal of freedom for him is the flight from the home and civilized life. As an adventurous boy, the house just serves as a jail to Huck’s way of life. Huck’s goals are to get away from that confining life and lead an existence of an unrestricted life. All of the events and goals that Huck accomplishes are for his happiness. In leading the happy life, Huck must obtain the freedom of an unrestricting, uncivilized life. That is what freedom means to Huck.
Similarities appear in each of Huck’s and Jim’s portrayal of freedom. One important similarity is both of their visions of freedom are intertwined with their escaping from society. Miss Watson’s attempts at civilizing Huck are shown when she orders Huck, “Don’t put your feet up there, Huckleberry; and don’t scrunch up like that, Huckleberry, set up straight” (2). This civilization and becoming one with society becomes bad experiences for Huck, causing his desire for an unrestricted life. Jim’s unhappy experiences from society also result to Jim’s portrayal of freedom. As a slave, he is not treated as equally by society as white people are. His unequal treatment from society causes his wish for escaping from slavery, as Huck’s bad experiences from society cause his hope for an unrestricted life. Another similarity is that both wish to obtain freedom for their happiness and comfort. As shown in Cairo and raft quotes earlier, freedom is something that can make their life happy and more comfortable.
Freedom is an important concept. It serves as a common goal, something to obtain. For Jim and Huck, freedom meant happiness, a happiness away from the binds of society and into a world of freedom. In the end, this is what freedom meant to them and is what they strived for.
When on the road to freedom, Huck says “Then the duke took and wrote out a sign on a shingle so- Sick Arab-but harmless when not out of his head” (Twain 143-144).
…a person does a low-down thing, and then he don’t want to take no consequences of it… The more I studied about this the more my conscience went to grinding me, and the more wicked and low-down and ornery I got to feeling.
…at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had small-pox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the ONLY one he’s got now…
(Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, gutenberg.org)
Here, Huck’s conscience fights him on two counts: first, he is convinced that his place in society, and the ill-will he will receive from his friends and neighbors, is worth betraying Jim’s trust for. He believes that he is morally required to betray Jim because that is what society expects of him. However, he then goes on to remember how deep his friendship with Jim actually went; Jim, used to being treated like property, was grateful to Huck for simply treating him like a human being, and so Huck begins to feel even worse about going back to that original expectation. Throughout the book, Huck’s conscience tells him different things about his actions, and he makes his decisions based on the best information he knows at the time.
The widow rung a bell for supper, and you had to come to time. When you got to the table you couldn’t go right to eating, but you had to wait for the widow to tuck down her head and grumble a little over the victuals, though there warn’t really anything the matter with them (1.3)
Huck finds the rules of civilization to be petty and useless.
So Tom got out a sheet of paper that he had wrote the oath on, and read it. It swore every boy to stick to the band, and never tell any of the secrets; and if anybody done anything to any boy in the band, whichever boy was ordered to kill that person and his must do it, and he mustn’t eat and he mustn’t sleep till he had killed them and hacked a cross in their breasts, which was the sign of the band. And nobody that didn’t belong to the band could use that mark, and if he did he must be sued; and if he done it again he must be killed. And if anybody that belonged to the band told the secrets, he must have his throat cut, and then have his carcass burnt up and the ashes scattered all around, and his name blotted off of the list with blood and never mentioned again by the gang, but have a curse put on it and be forgot forever. (2.10)
Although Tom’s rules are just as ridiculous as the widow’s, Huck initially fails to find fault with them.
In the novel, Huck says “After supper she got out her book and learned me about Moses and the Bulrushers, and I was in a sweat to find out all about him; but by and by she let it out that Moses had been dead a considerable long time; so then I didn’t care no more about him because I don’t take no stock in dead people” (Twain 6).
Huck says “I set down one time back in the woods, and had a long think about it. I says to myself, if a body can get anything they pray for, why don’t Deacon Winn get back the money he lost on pork? Why can’t the widow get back her silver snuffbox that was stole? Why can’t Miss Watson fat up? No, says I to my self, there ain’t nothing in it. I went and told the widow about it, and she said the thing a body could get by praying for it was “spiritual gifts” (Twain 13-14).
When the boys are deciding when they can commit crimes as robbers, Huck explains “Ben Rogers said he couldn’t get out much, only Sundays, and so he wanted to begin next Sunday; but all the boys said it would be wicked to do it on Sunday, and that settled the thing” (Twain 13).
“All right, then, I’ll go to hell.” — mid chapter 31
PRANK ON JIM IN BEGINING AND THE PLAN TO GET JIM OUT
It’s lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made or only just happened.—— begining of 19
Although Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn two decades after the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War, America—and especially the South—was still struggling with racism and the aftereffects of slavery. By the early 1880s, Reconstruction, the plan to put the United States back together after the war and integrate freed slaves into society, had hit shaky ground, although it had not yet failed outright. As Twain worked on his novel, race relations, which seemed to be on a positive path in the years following the Civil War, once again became strained. The imposition of Jim Crow laws, designed to limit the power of blacks in the South in a variety of indirect ways, brought the beginning of a new, insidious effort to oppress. The new racism of the South, less institutionalized and monolithic, was also more difficult to combat. Slavery could be outlawed, but when white Southerners enacted racist laws or policies under a professed motive of self-defense against newly freed blacks, far fewer people, Northern or Southern, saw the act as immoral and rushed to combat it.
Although Twain wrote the novel after slavery was abolished, he set it several decades earlier, when slavery was still a fact of life. But even by Twain’s time, things had not necessarily gotten much better for blacks in the South. In this light, we might read Twain’s depiction of slavery as an allegorical representation of the condition of blacks in the United States even after the abolition of slavery. Just as slavery places the noble and moral Jim under the control of white society, no matter how degraded that white society may be, so too did the insidious racism that arose near the end of Reconstruction oppress black men for illogical and hypocritical reasons. In Huckleberry Finn, Twain, by exposing the hypocrisy of slavery, demonstrates how racism distorts the oppressors as much as it does those who are oppressed. The result is a world of moral confusion, in which seemingly “good” white people such as Miss Watson and Sally Phelps express no concern about the injustice of slavery or the cruelty of separating Jim from his family.
It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a n*gger; but I done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterwards, neither. I didn’t do him no more mean tricks, and I wouldn’t done that one if I’d a knowed it would make him feel that way. —– PAGE 81
One morning I happened to turn over the salt-cellar at breakfast. I reached for some of it as quick as I could to throw over my left shoulder and keep off the bad luck, but Miss Watson was in ahead of me, and crossed me off. She says, “Take your hands away, Huckleberry; what a mess you are always making!” The widow put in a good word for me, but that warn’t going to keep off the bad luck, I knowed that well enough. I started out, after breakfast, feeling worried and shaky, and wondering where it was going to fall on me, and what it was going to be. There is ways to keep off some kinds of bad luck, but this wasn’t one of them kind; so I never tried to do anything, but just poked along low-spirited and on the watch-out. (4.3)
Huck’s superstitious beliefs seem to revolve around bad luck rather than good. He follows his superstitions as a sort of precaution against certain bad events. We see it as Huck’s desire to blame bad happenings on bad luck, whereas he thinks good things are natural or have been earned in some way. Since Huck doesn’t trust in religion to explain life’s negative moments, he uses superstitions instead.
The widow she cried over me, and called me a poor lost lamb, and she called me a lot of other names, too, but she never meant no harm by it. (1.3)
At the outset of the story, the widow is Huck’s primary family.
Some thought it would be good to kill the FAMILIES of boys that told the secrets. Tom said it was a good idea, so he took a pencil and wrote it in. (2.12)
The boys’ notions of family provide comic relief.
“Yes, he’s got a father, but you can’t never find him these days. He used to lay drunk with the hogs in the tanyard, but he hain’t been seen in these parts for a year or more.” (2.13)
Huck’s estranged father stands in contrast to the widow, demonstrating that blood family isn’t always real family in this novel.
“Yes, he’s got a father, but you can’t never find him these days. He used to lay drunk with the hogs in the tanyard, but he hain’t been seen in these parts for a year or more.” (2.16)
Pap’s alcoholism is no secret to the community. It explains others’ willingness and insistence at helping Huck all the time.
Next day he was drunk, and he went to Judge Thatcher’s and bullyragged him, and tried to make him give up the money; but he couldn’t, and then he swore he’d make the law force him. (5.29)
Pap is belligerent and insistent when drunk.
When Jim explains what he is doing on the island Huck is on, he says “Well, I b’lieve you, Huck. I-I run off” (Twain 42).
In response to Jim fearing Huck will tell on him, Huck says “Well, I did. I said I wouldn’t, and I’ll stick to it. Honest INJUN, I will. People would call me a low-down Abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum–but that don’t make no difference. I ain’t a-going to tell, and I ain’t a-going back there, anyways. So, now, le’s know all about it” (Twain 42).
When Huck goes to give his money away, he says “‘Please take it’ says I, ‘and don’t ask me nothing – then I won’t have to tell no lies'” (Twain 19).