Huckleberry Finn, the central figure of the novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is compared and contrasted greatly to Tom Sawyer who was the main character in another one of Mark Twain's well written novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The events of Tom Sawyer happen before those of Huck Finn. The story of Tom Sawyer deals with the misadventures, really, of several children in the little Missouri village of St. Petersburg, about thirty years before the Civil War. The story takes place, that is, sometime during the 1830s. In contrast to the story of Huck Finn's which was a series of short adventures that took place on a raft down the Mississippi river.
Huckleberry Finn the son of the town drunkard, is essentially good-hearted, but he is looked down upon by the rest of the village. He dislikes civilized ways because they are personally restrictive and hard. He is generally ignorant of book-learning, but he has a sharpness for understanding many issues.
He is imaginative and clever, and has a sharp eye for detail, though he doesn't always understand everything he sees, or its significance. Huck is essentially a realist, he knows only what he sees and experiences. He doesn't have a great deal of faith in things he reads or hears. He must experiment to find out what is true and what isn't.
In general then, Huck's attitude seems to be that if you let other people alone, they won't come around disturbing your peace and quiet. There doesn't seem to be any percentage in stirring up trouble by getting people all excited. Things won't be changed. An illustration of this is supplied by Dr. Robinson's warning to the Wilks girls that the king and duke are frauds. In spite of this reasonable man's warning, the girls trust the king and duke until the truth becomes painfully obvious to them. They could have spared themselves a great deal of sorrow if they had listened to the voice of reason.
This tells us that Huck enjoys peace and contentment, that he probably has too little of it in his life, and goes to the mighty, sliding river to escape from the harassment of the widow and her sister and the cruelty of his pap.
Huck becomes more mature, more humane, more self-reliant as a result of his experience and his association with Jim. Huck learns what real friendship means, and he grows to value and cherish his friendship with Jim. In the beginning of the novel he joins Tom in playing a joke on Jim. But towards the end, he cries when Jim is sold to the Phelps family by the king and the duke. The turning point in Huck's relationship with Jim came when Huck humbled himself after he played the game on Jim the night they were separated on the foggy river.
As a result of this friendship, Huck comes to place more trust in his experiences, rather than in what he's been taught. What he learns out of books is too far removed from daily life to be of any use to him.
He points out to Tom Sawyer that he's interested in results, not formalities, when it comes to helping Jim escape. This is a change from what he believed when he joined Tom Sawyer's robber gang in the beginning of the book.
According to Walter Blair, Tom Sawyer being Huck's good friend is a boy with a wild imagination who likes to play "games." He reads a lot, mainly romantic and sentimental novels about pirates and robbers and royalty. He seldom understands all he reads, this is obvious when he tries to translate his reading into action, which takes place many times in the novel. For instance he doesn't know what "ransoming" is, and he supposes it to be a way of killing prisoners. He has a great deal of dive, and can get people to do things his way.
Tom is not the "Model Boy" of the village, nor does he want to be. As a matter of fact, Tom seems to enjoy being in trouble. At the beginning of the novel, Tom winds up having to work all day Saturday because he took off from school, and didn't get home until late at night. But Tom doesn't worry over his troubles, he often develops new interests to tide him over periods when he's being punished and life is difficult.
As a punishment, Tom has to whitewash the fence, a chore he finds very distasteful. By pretending the chore is fun, though, Tom persuades his friends, Ben Rogers, Billy Fisher, Johnny Miller, and all the rest to whitewash the fence. Not only that, but by pretending he wants to do all the work himself, Tom gets the boys to trade him odds-and-ends of things for the privilege of doing his work. When the job is done, Aunt Polly also rewards him for doing such good work.
In some ways both Tom as well as Huck are very much alike. They are both two young men exploring there everyday surroundings, getting in to trouble some days and just being kids on other days. There is also an obvious contrast in the character of Tom Sawyer and that of Huck Finn. Tom's ambition is to become famous without counting the cost to himself or others. The adventure is the thing, the hurt and anguish of Aunt Sally, and the pain and discomfort of Jim, never occur to him. But Huck, involved in real adventures, is continually bothered by his conscience. All during the trip down river, he tries to answer the question whether he's doing right by the Widow's sister and by Jim, or not. The preoccupation with justice has him in a stage of dilemma. Whatever he chooses to do, he's wrong. He is wronging Jim if he returns him to slavery, and he is wronging Miss Watson if he helps Jim escape. Huck has no way of knowing what is right. He must follow the dictates of his feelings every step of the way. The only thing he can do is learn by experience, and he does. Generally Huck is involved in real life struggles and events, and Tom is living in a type of fantasy world basing his actions on the romantic novels that he had read as well as the ridiculous things that he had learned throughout both novels. Another contrast that played a major role in both novels and mainly towards the end of The Adventures of Huck Finn, was Hucks views to society and how he though it was a sort of evil thing that wanted to just restrict him and hold him down from being who he was and what he wanted to be. Tom respected society and that is what made Tom and Huck very different people.