Huckleberry Finn

Essay by PaperNerd ContributorHigh School, 11th grade April 2001

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They enjoyment of nature, the evils of society, and the story of a runaway boy and a slave can all be found in the book, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. It is about a boy, named Huck Finn, and a runaway slave, named Jim, that escape from Hannibal, MO down the Mississippi River. Then they try to go up the Ohio River to the North to set Jim free. They are both running away from the evils of society to nature on the river. Huck ran away from his adopted mom, the widow and Jim is running away from his mistress, Mrs. Watson. They almost make it to freedom but they miss the Ohio River and float down to Arkansas where Jim is captured. Huck's friend, Tom Sawyer, helped him set Jim free at the end but Miss Watson had already set him free in her will after she died.

In the book Twain makes a contrast between the goodness of the river and the evils of the shore to show how corrupt society is and how nature is naturally good.

Twain uses the metaphor of the river and the shore to show how Huck and the river are naturally good and how the river brings out his goodness. One of the first times Huck exemplifies his good heart is when slave-hunters almost catch Jim but Huck saves him. Jim and Huck were floating down the river and they stopped by a town so that Huck could turn in Jim but he didn't tell Jim that. As Huck was going in towards shore he met some slave-hunters and was about to turn Jim over but he changes his mind because of his good heart. So Huck makes up a lie saying that his dad is on the raft with small pox so that the slave-hunters wouldn't check his raft. The men asked if the man on Huck's raft was white or black but he didn't know what to say, "I didn't answer up prompt. I tried to, but the words wouldn't come. I tried for a second or two to brace up and out with it, but I warn't man enough-hadn't the spunk of a rabbit. I see I was weakening; so I just give up trying."(87) One of the ways that the river is portrayed as a sign of goodness is when Huck says that he never felt safe after he left the Grangerfords until he was far below there and in the middle of the river. He felt this way because he was scared of the killings that he witnessed of the Grangerfords. The river gives him a sense of security where he is safe from society. Huck explains why the river is much better than the shore, "I was powerful glad to get away from the feuds, and so was Jim to get away from the swamp. We said there warn't no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft you don't. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft." (113) The time that Huck shows his good heart the most is when he decides not to rip up the letter he was going to send Mrs. Watson to get Jim free. After Jim is captured at the end of the story Huck thinks about writing a letter to Miss Watson so that she can get him out of jail, but that means he would be a slave again. So he writes a letter to Miss Watson explaining that Jim is in trouble. He knows it is socially right for him to send it because he would be putting a black man back into slavery but deep down he knows its wrong. After he realizes that he shouldn't send it he says, "'All right, then, I'll go to hell'-and tore it up. It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said." (206) Huck has a good heart but doesn't realize he does because he has a distorted conscience.

Huck and Jim experience many acts of cruelty in society on the shore. One time Huck went into a town were the people would send the dogs out after the hogs to kill them. The people would do this on purpose and do it for fun because they enjoyed seeing other animals suffer. They also liked to watch dogs fight and they liked to torture them. Huck tells of the peoples enjoyment in torturing animals for fun, "There couldn't anything wake them up all over, and make them happy all over, like a dog-fight "“unless it might be putting turpentine on a stray dog and setting fire to him, or tying a tin pan to his tail and see him run himself to death." (136) A very cruel act happens at the end of the book when the King and the Duke are tarred and feathered. They were tarred and feathered because they were caught trying to do their "Royal Nunsuch" act again but were found out to be phonies and swindlers. Huck sees them after this happens and thinks that it was cruel even to do it to the King and the Duke. Huck talks about seeing them after they were caught, "Well, it made me sick to see it; and I was sorry for them poor pitiful rascals, it seemed like I couldn't ever feel any hardness against them any more in the world. It was a dreadful thing to see. Human beings can be awful cruel to one another." (222) One of the worse acts of cruelty that Huck experiences is the death of his friend Buck Grangerford and his entire family. Huck meets the Grangerfords on the shore when the steamboat crashes his raft and he goes ashore. They took him in and let him live with them for a while. The Grangerfords were in a big family feud with another family called the Sheperdsons. One day the Sheperdsons decided to finished the feud and kill the entire Grangerford family. Huck hid up in a tree while Buck, the grandson, and Joe, his cousin, tried to swim to safety but was shot and killed. Huck remembers the gruesome cruelty that happened, "The boys jumped for the river-both of them hurt-and as they swum down the current the men run along the bank shooting at them singing out, "˜Kill them, kill them!' It made me so sick I most fell out of the tree." (111-112) All through out the book Huck and Jim see many cruel things done by humans to other humans or animals in society.

In society Huck and Jim runs across many people that are greedy and only care about money. One of the first times Huck sees greed is the steamboat captain that he tries to get help him. Huck makes up a story about how his family is stuck on a wrecked steamboat up the river. He does this because he left some murderers stranded on the boat so they wouldn't get away but he tried to save them anyway. The steamboat captain was going to save them but he didn't want to go because no one was paying him too. Finally, he left to save them because Huck lied and said that a Mr. Hornback, a wealthy man, was his mother's uncle so he went and figured he would get a reward. Here the captain is willing to save the people after he hears he can be paid, "'Great guns! Is he her uncle? Looky here, you break for that light over yonder-way, and turn out west when you git there, and about a quarter of a mile out you'll come to the tavern; tell "˜em to dart you out to Jim Hornback's, and he'll foot the bill." (73) The King and the Duke are some of the greediest people in the story because they cheat people, like when they impersonated Peter Wilks' long lost brothers just so they could get all his money. They hear from the minister in the town that Peter Wilks just died and his long lost brothers are coming from England to claim their inheritance. So the King and the Duke went into town and tried to fool the townspeople and the people fell for it because they were really dumb. What they do is very greedy because they are trying to fool people for a lot of money that isn't even theirs. Huck tells of the King and the Duke trying to come up with a plan, "When I got back with the Duke we hid the canoe, and then they set down on a log, and the king told him everything, just like the young fellow had said it-every last word of it. And all the time he was a-doing it he tried to talk like an Englishman; and he done it pretty well, too, for a slouch." (156) Towards the end of the story the King and the Duke get desperate for some money and sell Jim away for forty dollars because they get greedy. The King goes into a town to trick people out of their money and tells the Duke, Huck, and Jim to stay on the raft until later in the day. Huck later leaves the raft to find the King and while he was away the Duke sold Jim to a man called Mr. Phelps. This is a very dirty trick that makes Huck very angry. Huck talks about the King and the Dukes' greed, "After all this journey, and after all we'd done for them scoundrels, here it was all come to nothing, everything all busted up and ruined, because they could have the heart to serve Him such a trick as that, and make him a slave again all his life, and amongst strangers, too, for forty dirty dollars." (204) Huck and Jim found in society that greed can take people over and make them do things just for money.

From the very beginning to the last part of the book people in society are lying to each other, even Huck, when he is on shore. One of the first times Huck goes ashore is when he goes to the lady's house and pretends to be a little girl so that she wouldn't find out who he was. Huck went ashore to the lady's house to find out who she was and what was going on in town. He pretended to be a girl so that she wouldn't know it was him, because he is supposed to be dead. Huck explains the point of his visit and why he decides to lie to her, "But if this woman had been in such a little town two days she could tell me all I wanted to know; so I knocked at the door, and made up my mind I wouldn't forget I was a girl." (54) Some of the biggest liars in the book are the King and the Duke especially when they pull off their "Royal Nunsuch" play. They made it out to be a big wonderful play but they just had the King run around naked to fool them because there was no real play. They pulled this act off for three nights but finally at the end of the third night the townspeople were going to catch them but they ran away after they collected the money for the night. After the people realize that they have been swindled they yell out, "'What, is it over? Is that all?' The Duke said yes. Then there was a fine time. Everybody sings out, "˜Sold!' and rose up mad, and was a-going for that stage and them tragedians." (146) At the end of the book Huck lies to the Phelps family and says that he is Tom Sawyer. He does this so he can close to Jim to set him free. At first Mrs. Phelps mistakes Huck for someone else. Later he finds out she mistook him for Tom Sawyer because she is Tom's Aunt. She hadn't seen Tom in a long time so she thought that Huck was Tom but Huck went along with it anyway. He lies so much he doesn't even think about it, "She was smiling all over so she could hardly stand-and says: "˜It's you, at last! Ain't it?' I out with a "˜Yes'm' before I thought." (212) Huck comes up with a new lie everytime he comes ashore but he has to because in society there is much mendacity already.

There is much transition between the river and the shore in this book. The goodness of the river where Jim and Huck can be themselves compared to the shore where there is much corruption. The river stands for nature and the shore where people are stands for society. In nature Huck can be his naturally good self but on shore he is forced to lie to people. On shore there were many evils such as cruelty, greed, and mendacity. Twain made a good comparison between the two to show how man is corrupt and nature brings the goodness in people out.