The Eco-Criticized Huck Finn
Among the many divergent readings of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck himself is often interpreted as an innocent youth more in touch with the natural world than his nineteenth-century culture. Although taught the biases of his age, he ultimately rejected its restrictions (the argument goes) by embracing nature and its liberating ethics. His final statement about "lighting out for the territory" to escape "sivilization offered the quintessential formulation of Huck's desire for freedom away from the constraints and abuses of civilization. The trend is one of the most enduring in Twain criticism and features Huck as the quasi-romantic hero of the realist novel, a child of nature who found independence on the river and in the woods.1
Although reading Huckleberry Finn as a battle for Huck's soul between nature and civilization is a compelling approach to the novel, it simplifies Twain's multiple uses of nature and their implications regarding his characters.
In fact, he did not equate nature exclusively with purity or innocence. His treatment of nature extends well beyond the romantic belief in a benign environment at odds with a corrupt society. Rather, his characterizations of nature range widely-from the pristine and playful to the savage and even sinful. These depictions are relevant to his literary characters, particularly those linked to the natural world.
Writing for a popular audience, Twain was not averse to making use of conventional tropes, and he capitalized often upon the notion of nature as a region of childlike innocenceÃ¢ÂÂ¦..In the early chapters of Roughing It, the open western land was contrasted to the confining city. The passage anticipated Huck's discomfort with the starchy clothes and regulated thoughts imposed upon him by the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson. He, too, ached for-and gloried in-the freedom of life away from...