As a preface to “Huckleberry Finn,” Mark Twain wrote the following words:” Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.” (Twain, 7) Nevertheless, since the time of its publication, this novel has always been a subject of literary analysis and discussion. In the twentieth century,” The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” has become world-known not only because it was arguably one of the best Mark of Twain’s books but also due to its controversial nature. Many scholars focused their attention on Mark Twain’s treatment of racial issues.
Some of them believe that the book shows that slavery is entirely abhorrent to human nature and that it was the main scourge of the then-American society. However, others say that the author did not manage to show that. Professor Stephen Railton is firmly convinced that Twain did not break down those deep-rooted racial prejudices that existed in American society at the end of the nineteenth century (Berkovitch, 14). He believes that the author put on a so-called minstrel show that produces some derogatory image of African-Americans (Arac, 103).
It should also be taken into account that Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the most challenged books in the United States. Partly because of its controversial nature and also due to the frequent use of the N-word. People often forget that in those times, this word did not have an offensive connotation.
Nonetheless, “Huck Finn” remains one of the most widely read books all over the world. Mark Twain’s inimitable humor and subtle irony make this thought-provoking book even more fascinating. The problems that Mark Twain discussed in his novel remain very acute.
The key issue of the book is the confrontation of “civilized life” and “natural life.” (Twain, 14) The main character of the novel, Huck, is a representative of natural life due to his free spirit, uncivilized ways, and his desire to release himself from the chains of civilization, in other words, prejudices and stereotypes. He was brought up with no rules or discipline, and he opposes everything that in any way can “civilize” him. This confrontation is eloquently described at the beginning of the novel. Widow Douglas tries to make Huck wear new clothes, quit smoking, and learn the Bible.
Overall, it is quite possible to say that the author tried to prove that civilization can also do harm to an individual because rules can be enforced by people that are morally corrupted.
Another age-old question that Mark Twain brings up is the constant conflict between the existing law and honor or, as some may call it, personal moral code. These two notions do not always coincide. For instance, Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn decided to steal Jim from the bonds of slavery. On the one hand, they broke the law, but on the other, it was a highly moral deed. There is a constant inner struggle in Huck between the values of society and his own values.
Mark Twain, in one of his lectures, says, “A sound heart is a surer guide than an ill-trained conscience,” and describes this novel as “…a book of mine where a sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision, and conscience suffers defeat” (Arac, 106).
Mark Twain has always been notorious for his slightly ironic attitude to religion or perhaps to church. However, generally speaking, people should not be too critical of the author. If we read between the lines, we can easily understand that it was not the religion that Mark Twain derided. It was the hypocrisy of people who claimed to be good Christians and at the same time said that such a phenomenon as, for example, slavery was quite acceptable.
Now we can proceed to the main theme of the novel, the problem of slavery. Since the time” Huckleberry Finn” was published, Twain’s attitude towards slavery and thoughts about racism has always been a subject of heated debate. First, it should be mentioned that Mark Twain always cried against slavery and believed that it might eventually bring American society to its destruction. Considering these facts, it is quite possible to arrive at the conclusion that his “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” shows all the fallacies of such a social phenomenon as slavery.
Jim, one of the main characters and a slave, represents the whole of humanity people who are deprived of their freedom. He shows the complex emotions and some inner struggle, which certainly has nothing to do with servitude. To avoid being purchased as some commodity and separated from his own family, he escapes from his owner, Miss Watson, and does his best to obtain freedom so that he could buy his family’s out.
Throughout the novel, Jim takes care of Huck, not as a slave, but as a devoted friend. Therefore, the author tries to make the reader feel compassion for Jim and indignation with the society that has yoked this man. Nevertheless, despite the fact that Twain condemns slavery through Jim, he never directly touches upon this issue. Huck and Jim never dispute the problem of slavery. Only at the end, Huck understands that it is his moral duty to free Jim. The author dispels all doubts of the reader by making Jim a rich man and, what is more important, a free man.
The concept of money runs through the entire book. The author showed that the yawning gap is existing between the rich and poor. Huck assumes a somewhat indifferent attitude towards money, partly because he has always had it; he does not consider money as a necessity; for him, it is not a matter of life and death. Huck’s views as to wealth and money clearly are in contrast with Jim’s. For Jim, who is desperately trying to buy his family out of slavery, money means freedom. Besides, wealth would enable him to achieve status in society. Thus, Jim is in a constant search for wealth, whereas Huck remains slightly indifferent.
Naturally, we have not managed to discuss all the issues that Mark Twain touched upon in his brilliant novel, but it is quite possible for us to arrive at a conclusion that “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is one of the best piece of American literature. Being clever, humorous, and humanistic, this immortal novel will always remain one of the best paragons of satirical prose. It should also be mentioned that those people who accuse Twain of racism or something like that simply cannot read between the lines.
Jonathan Arac. Nation, Race, and Beyond in Reading Huckleberry Finn.
American Literary History 8.1 (2001): 100-1007.
Mark Twain. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Penguin; 1990.
Sacvan Bercovitch. What’s Funny about Huckleberry Finn. New England Review 20.1(1999): 10-20.