ESSAY: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn depicts a boy struggling against the beliefs of a hypocritical society. The author has Huck go through many harsh experiences to develop his theme. Mark Twain's theme of the individual versus society in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is developed through Huck's experiences of imprisonment, cruelty and inhumanity on the shore, which contrast with the freedom Huck has on the river, thereby explaining Huck's difficulty in living with in society of hypocrisy, and final decision to set out for the frontier.
In the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Twain uses Huck's experiences on shore to illustrate society's harshness and also how society contradicts itself. Troughout the book you notice that all of Huck's bad experiences happen on the shore which immediately starts to paint the picture why Huck appreciates being on the river so much more than the shore. The ultimate reason for Huck's preferring the river is because Huck wants the freedom that the river gives him. These thoughts can be seen through contrasting his experiences on shore to his experiences on the river.
The first incident of the shore's harshness, cruelty and inhumanity is when Huck's father returns after abandoning him. You see the only reason his father came back was to collect Huck's money. Huck knowing his father has legal right to his money tries to give it away. Huck's father eventually ends up kidnapping him and almost beating him to death. This incident shows the cruelty of society, for Huck's father being part of society.
Another experience shows Huck the inhumanity of society. This occurs when Huck escapes from his father and carries out a scheme to make it look like he is murdered. The scheme works. After the town finds out he is murdered they put up a reward of two hundred dollars for the murder. Society cares more about Huck's dead body and finding out who may have committed the murder than they did when his father was beating him up.
A powerful scene with the same idea of society's inhumanity happens when Huck protects Jim by telling a group of bounty hunters that he has small pox. "I'll put a twenty dollar gold piece on this boardÃ¢â‚¬Â¦I feel mighty mean to leave you but my kingdom it won't do to fool with small pox, don't you see.", (p.146) stated one of the bounty hunters. This statement proves that instead of helping Huck, the bounty hunters just hand him some money, thinking they have just removed their moral obligation.
An incident where society proves to be insane is during the feud between the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons. The two families kill each over a conflict they do not even remember; it is just for pride. As Buck put it, "by and by everybody's killed off, and there ain't no more feud."(p.167). Huck evaluates the impractical waste of a human life over a stupid feud. Though this incident you clearly see the inhumanity of Huck's society.
The most despicable inhumanities of society occur when the king and the duke sell Jim back into slavery for forty-two dollars. During this event Huck really comes to realize the faults of society. He thinks it is horribly wrong that he had to leave six thousand dollars to escape his father, but the king and duke can sell a human being for forty-two dollars. You also realize Huck's devotion to Jim during this whole ordeal.
With this you knew Huck preferred the peace and freedom of the river. In Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain uses the river as an escape route for Huck and Jim from the society that was so cruel to them. On the river Huck and Jim were free from the problems of the shore. There are plenty of examples that illustrate how Jim and Huck use the river as an escape route from the cruel shore. Also, Huck prefers the peace of the river, as suggested when he says, "It was kind of solemn, drifting down the big still river, laying on our backs looking up at the stars.".(p.119)
The first example of using the river as an escape route to freedom from the shore is when he leaves town. While in town, Huck was being beaten by his father and forced to be civilized by Widow Douglas. He decides to run. As soon as he leaves town, the problems of being civilized or getting beaten up by a drunken father disappear.
In this case the river represents freedom from the shore when Huck leaves the Grangerfords Huck proclaims, " feels free and safe once more."(p.176). This statement is brought on because Huck could no longer deal with the feud between Grangerfords and Shepherdsons, which wasted human lives over pride.
The most obvious experience that bluntly shows the river as a symbol of freedom involves Jim. Jim is using the river as passageway to Cairo where there he is freeman. Also on the shore Jim is a slave with no respect, where as on the river he's free to think what he wants and is respected by Huck.
When you put the river and the shore together you discover they are the two dominant symbols in the book. Through looking at the experiences Huck has had on the two, you come to the conclusion that his feelings of freedom are amplified on the river! The shore represents a society filled with people that contradict their own values. The river is the place where Huck realizes the problems of his society and starts to go by his own values.
The theme of Huck as an individual versus society is developed through the symbolism of the shore and river. Huck experiences internal conflicts between the values of society and his own. An example takes place on the river when Huck thinks that by helping to free Jim, he committed a terrible act according to society. So he slips onto shore to tell, but cannot bring himself to tell on Jim when he meets the bounty hunters. The reason why he could not is because after the horrible experiences he had with society, Huck could not turn Jim in to a society that he himself resented so much. Huck, who thinks that the values of society are ultimately right, and he is wrong, decides to "go to hell"(p.283) because he thinks he is evil for going against the values of society. Only in the terms of society's values has Huck done something wrong and; thus, you can condemn society and embrace Huck's decision. Huck, however, cannot easily resolve the conflict. He does not recognize it. Where Huck might think society's values are right, you the reader realize that society is always contradicting its values.
Twain developed this theme by showing a hypocritical society. This method allows you to see that Huck in the book is doing the right and society is wrong. An example basically, is a society which required its slaves to become practicing Christians is a contradiction of the tenets of Christianity. These contradictions furthermore explain that Huck's society preaches the wrong values while Huck's values, are true and do not contradict themselves.
In conclusion, Twain used the shore and the river as dominant symbols to illustrate what was going on during the book. By using the two symbols he creates the theme of Huck as an individual versus a society that contradicts its own values. Huck can no longer live with a society that does not fit him and his final words are, "But I reckon got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Polly she's going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can't stand it. I been there before."(p.369). Mark Twain's theme of the individual versus society in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is developed through Huck's experiences of imprisonment, cruelty and inhumanity on the shore, which contrast with the freedom Huck has on the river, thereby explaining Huck's difficulty in living with in society of hypocrisy, and final decision to set out for the frontier.