The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: A moral memoir

2/10/04
Period 1

A child, when first born into this world, is totally objective and
oblivious to all. A clean blank slab of a blackboard portrays his/her
brain thus far. As time goes on, input is inscribed upon this
“blackboard”. From there conclusions are drawn, inferences are made, and
right and wrong are being defined. Society has everything to do with the
course of this. The main character of Mark Twain’s Adventures of
Huckleberry Finn, Huck, undergoes a total moral transformation upon having
to make life defining decisions throughout his journey for a new life; from
a simple boy living amongst society to a mature human who can think for
himself about the rights and wrongs of humanity. Twain is trying to show
the audience that society has the majority of influence upon the
individual, and will cause the person to conform to the norms of that
society. Huck Finn is a great example of a disciple of society who learns
to think individually and back to the fundamentals of mankind.

Huck emerges into the novel with an inferiority complex caused by living a
double standard life: with a drunken and abusive father and with two old
ladies who would like to raise him properly. It is here that Huck is in
absence of any direction. It is at this point where Huck is first seen
without any concept of morality. Preceding the start of the novel, Miss
Watson and the widow have been granted custody of Huck, an uncivilized boy
who possesses no morals. “They talked it over, and they was going to rule
me out, because they said every boy must have a family or something to
kill, or else it wouldn’t be fair and square for the others. Well, nobody
could think of anything to do- everybody was stumped, and set still. I was
most ready to cry; but all at once I thought of a way, and so I offered
them Miss Watson-they could kill her” (17-18). At this moment, Huck is at
the peak of his immorality. A person with morals would not willingly
sacrifice the life of someone else just in order to be part of a gang.

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Huck’s confusion with society, along with his idolism of Tom Sawyer, caused
him to make such a statement. He wants to escape from his abusive father
and overly-strict guardians, thus he turns to the immorality and childish
way to “get away from it all”. Twain here can easily prove his view upon
society in 1 easy step. He shows the proper/former side of society with
Miss Watson and Widow Douglas. Here he presents the case with the views of
society: racist, biased, and ethnocentric. In many instances Twain
sarcastically will ridicule society for its immoral beliefs by exaggerating
them in the book. The word “nigger” may seem like the proper connotation
in accordance to the dialect of the time, but the way they treated
“niggers” and their attitudes toward them should not have been proper in
any case. The insecure and perplexed Huck was willing to give up a human
life in order to pursue his childish dreams and to escape the pressure
induced by society. Twain points out how society could have hurt a boy
with that example and also talks about one of many of society’s problems.

Huck begins his journey of moral progression after he escapes and decides
to befriend Jim, the runaway slave. He from here learns about the evils
and skewed views of society; little by little, he learns to confront and
decide for himself upon these situations.Huck encounters his first major
dilemma when he comes across the wrecked steamboat and three criminals.

When Jim and Huck take the skiff for themselves, leaving the three robbers
stranded, Huck realizes that he has left them to die. “Now was the first
time that I begun to worry about the men- I reckon I hadn’t time to before.

I begun to think how dreadful it was, even for murderers, to be in such a
fix. I says to myself, there ain’t no telling but I might come to be a
murderer myself yet, and then how would I like it?”(76). This is the first
time that Huck questions the effects of what he has done on other people.

After he realizes that he could now be considered a murderer, he does
something for the better by getting a captain to go investigate the wreck
in order to save the men’s lives. Even though the men he would be saving
are murderers and robbers, he can not justify being responsible for their
death, and makes it a point to correct what he has done wrong. This is the
first major step in Huck’s moral progression. At that point, he establishes
a set of standards that considers leaving the men to die as immoral.

Twain’s point here is that no matter what society looks down upon or shuns
on, the ultimate and fundamental basis is that we are all human, and an act
that is merciless should never be committed. He demonstrates this with the
robbers, and later again profoundly in the Shepherdson/Grangerford dispute.

In Buck Grangerford’s rambling answers we hear Mark Twain’s view of a
southern feuding family, and after Buck finishes his answer, we watch
Huck’s reaction to the true nature of the Grangerfords. Buck details
Twain’s opinion that a feud is not started or continued by thought. The
reasons for the feud have been forgotten, and the Grangerfords do not hate,
but in fact respect, their sworn enemies. They live their lives by
tradition, and the fact that the feud is a tradition justifies its
needless, pointless violence. From the dignified Colonel with “a few buck-
shot in him”(121) to Buck, who is eager for the glory to be gained from
shooting a Shepherdson in the back, the Grangerfords unquestioningly
believe in de-valuing human life because it is a civilized tradition. Huck
begins to decide for himself now, that he is on the river and can think
more freely without the confinements of society. Twain gradually
introduces us into the concepts of a bad society and Huck’s moral
development.

Throughout the book there is the recurring motif of Friend v. Society: a
main moral decision that Huck is forced to make a few times in his journey,
of whether to follow the guidelines set before him or his heart which tells
him what logic should. This is the first time he makes a decision all on
his own based on his own morality. Jim’s capture and consequences represent
Huck’s ultimate realization and rejection of society. To encapsulate Huck’s
total moral progression through his decision to help Jim, Huck states, “All
right then, I’ll go to hell!” (207). The logical consequences of Huck’s
action, rather than the lessons society has taught him, drive Huck. He
decides that going to “hell,” if it means following his gut and not
society’s hypocritical and cruel principles, is a better option than going
to everyone else’s heaven. This moment of decision represents Huck’s true
break with the world around him. At this point, Huck decides to help Jim
escape slavery once and for all. By now his mind is truly made up, the
statement “You can’t pray a lie” (207) being the justification. Twain here
utilizes the climax of the moment to conclude his most important points
about society- in which it is cruel to itself, biased, and selfish. By
using Huck as the breakthrough of the mold, Twain is able to get his point
across to his readers, that society and what it represents is all wrong,
because of the ethnocentric display on life by it. Huck has made up his
mind once and for all, after thoroughly surveying both sides of an ideal-
bound society and a free-going life. Twain contrasts the two and glorifies
the instinct-based life while degrading the society-bound lifestyle.

Huck’s moral progression can be traced throughout the book beginning from
his total lack of morals to being able to make the right decisions on his
own. It is only with the help of Jim as a moral guide that Huck is able to
undergo this moral transformation to use his own judgment and truly
progress.The situation that Huck is encountered with about choosing
friend over society is the main dilemma that pushes Huck to establish his
own standards of morality, rather than accepting those that society has set
forth. Jim acts as the centerpiece where Huck decides whether he should
conform to society about the runaway slave or to use his head and follow
what he believes are the basic rights of being humane. The metamorphosis
Huck went through not only told a story, but, in Twain’s view, told the
life story of his society and those problems. Problems that Huck
confronted. Today, his acts and Mr. Twain’s ingenious are considered to
have bettered the society. There you go, Mr. Twain, you got what you
wanted. Society has been bettered thanks to you.

x

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