Uncertain Boundaries in Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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Mark Twain`s novel “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” offers the readers an in depth description about the people that lived along the Mississippi river. The action is set in the XIX century in a Southern antebellum society that is hypocrite when it comes to morality and where things like racism, lies or deception happen daily; that is the reason why the novel is regarded by many literary critics as a satire of the American society. The novel is a sequel to one of Mark Twain’s previous works “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”, hence Tom is making an appearance in this books as well.

My main goal when writing this essay is to analyse some of the main themes presented in the book, namely imposture and identity and also distinguish between what is considered fiction and what is reality. As Susan Gillman said “Imposture and identity, fiction and reality are the real dilemmas of Twain`s America.” (Gillman, page 5) But most importantly, I will try to portray the main character, Huckleberry Finn as this book is also a coming of age story about how he matures and learns how to protect himself and the ones in need and how to distinguish between what society taught him that is good and between what is the actual right thing to do. The story is being told from his perspective.

Huckleberry Finn is a thirteen years old boy who made his first appearance is “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer”. He is a poor orphan boy who is more accustomed to sleeping on the streets or in empty barrels and who is almost never sufficiently fed. He wears cast-off adult clothes and would spend most of his days doing what he wanted. He did not have to go to school or church like other children he did not have any sort of responsibility and that is why he was sort of envied by them because they “wished they dared to be like him”. (Twain, page 53)

He is the son of the town`s drunkard, Pap Finn who is anything but a good father to his son: ""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."" (Twain, page 9) He constantly abuses and beats him. Given also the fact that his mother is dead is easy to understand why Huck has no clear idea about what a true family is. And this is why his relationship with Miss Watson and Widow Douglas seems a bit strange.

At the beginning of the novel, Huckleberry gives the readers a little summary of the events that led him to where he is now. After a series of adventures he and his best friend Tom Sawyer found a pretty big sum of money hid by robbers, which they split between them. Huck is being left with six thousand dollars and is adopted by the widow Douglas and her sister Mary Watson. And this is where the beginning of the action in the novel actually starts.

Huckleberry lives with the two sisters who are genuinely kind and want to help get grow up nicely and be an educated boy. But after he has lived all of his life more on the streets he actually feels constrained. They want him to wear nice clothes, to go to school and learn well, to stop smoking often threatening that is he does not obey the rules of the society and those of God he will be punished and go to hell. So, Huck has a long list of rules he has to follow such as:

“Don't put your feet up there, Huckleberry”; and “Don't scrunch up like that, Huckleberry—set up straight”; and pretty soon she would say, “Don't gap and stretch like that, Huckleberry—why don't you try to behave?” (Twain, page 4)

All of this was a lot for him to bear, so when the pressure on him was too much he would run away and sleep on the streets. But Widow Douglas cared for him as if he was her own son so she always managed to convince him to come back.

Just when Huck was getting used to his new life his father comes back to town and kidnaps him. One day he decides to finally escape and fakes his death. Huckleberry`s desire for freedom is most prominent in this part of the novel. He has had enough of people trying to shape his life and wants a life of his own.

On an island he meets Jim, a slave that run away from Miss Watson because she wanted to sell him and that would have meant for him to be separated from his family and go to South where slave’s lives was much worse. He asks Huckleberry to help him and this is the major point where his real dilemmas start to show up. As Harold Bloom and Leslie A. Fiedler said “The moral crisis of the book is created by the constant disjunction in the mind of Huckleberry Finn between what he thinks he ought to do, and what he is aware that he must do”. (Bloom and Fiedler 25-39)

He doesn`t know if he should help Jim or return him to Miss Watson. He doesn`t know in the first place if it is a good idea to help Jim, or if he is being disloyal to Miss Watson since Jim is her „property”. Miss Watson`s action portray perfectly the hypocrisy of the society. She is always talking about following God`s words, yet she`s a slave owner. In the end Huck listens to his reason and takes the right decision to save him.”-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 agoing to tell, and I ain`t agoing back there anyways. So now, le`s know all about it.” (Twain, page 38)

What leads Huck to question the morality of the society he lives in is not only the fact that this society failed to protect him from all the abuse he suffered, hence he saw himself as an outcast. So, this society is not only corrupted, but also deeply hypocrite and abusive.

Huck tells lots of lies in the book, but most of the time he either does it to protect himself or the others like that one time when he lied some slave hunters in order to protect Jim. But still, it is interesting to see that Huck finds comfort in lying, as if telling the truth would attract something negative. One thing that should be taken into consideration is that Huck`s lies are lots of time related to having a family, hence we can conclude that a part of him wants to have a normal life and a loving family.

„I says to myself, I reckon a body that ups and tells the truth when he is in a tight place is taking considerable many resks, though I ain’t had no experience, and can’t say for certain; but it looks so to me, anyway; and yet here’s a case where I’m blest if it don’t look to me like the truth is better and actuly safer than a lie.” (Twain, page 157) Another character who lies for a good cause is Jim. Knowing that the shot man in the cabin was Huckleberry`s father, he chooses to lie and tell him that it is a person they do not know. His motivation is that Huck would most probably suffer even if he did not get on well with Pap Finn.

The King and the Duke are two otherwise unnamed con artists whom Huck and Jim encounter on their trip. They pose as the long-lost Duke of Bridgewater and the long-dead Louis XVII of France; Huck quickly comes to recognize them for what they are, but pretends to accept their claims to avoid conflict. Their lies opposed to those of Huck because they life in order to deceive naïve people and steal their money. In fact Huckleberry and Jim first encounter them while they are being chased by an angry group of people whom they tricked. Moreover, when the Duck and the King first meet they actually try to con each other, but when they realise it they end up becoming a team: “Old man”, said the young one, “I reckon we might double-team it together; what do you think?” (Twain, page 105)

On its surface, the subject of the novel is just a story about a boy and a runaway slave floating down the Mississippi River trying to escape from an oppressive system. However, we can sense that both Huck and Jim share a deep desire for freedom, from the oppression they’re constantly subjected to. Both Jim the slave and Huck, the orphan are prototypes for two categories of people who in the course of history of America have always suffered.

There is an interesting thing regarding what is fiction in the novel. For. Huck`s character was based on one of Mark Twain`s childhood friends named Tom Blankenship, whose father, Woodson Blankenship, was a poor alcoholic and abusive man and most likely the model for Huck`s dad, Pap Finn. “In Huckleberry Finn I have drawn Tom Blankenship exactly as he was,” he wrote in his Autobiography. “He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as ever any boy had.""

In the end Huckleberry decides he had enough of people to „sivilize” him and wants to become the master of his own destiny so he refuses to either come back to Miss Watson or to live with uncle Silas, but prefers to travel to a territory unknown to him, fully aware that this is dangerous, but he had matured enough and he learnt a lot of valuable lessons about life, friendship and honour and he gained experience that will help him protect himself so he does not need others to it for him anymore. Huckleberry Finn`s desire for freedom was too strong and no social norm could keep him away from it.

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Uncertain boundaries in Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. (2019, May 18). Retrieved March 3, 2024 , from

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