Why Huckleberry Finn Crossed the River
During the latter part of the 19th century, the American public was still engrossed with the seemingly innocent ideals of romantic novels. Particularly in the South, where chivalrous acts were still commonplace, children and adults alike enjoyed reading the exciting exploits of such stories as Ivanhoe by Walter Scott. Despite its popularity, romantic literature was deemed worthless by many authors like Mark Twain who decided that it was not only useless in modern society, but also harmful and dangerous. Consequently, Twain wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in a very realistic fashion with even the dialogue between characters matching the intended historical period. However, despite his realist biases, Twain allows the novel to develop romantic aspects by exposing the natural and uncivilized tendencies of the main character, Huckleberry Finn, in order to eventually show the folly in exclusively adhering to a romantic style of writing and living.
Immediately introducing the reader to the most natural and unaffected persona in the entire novel, Twain establishes his intent of trying to present a reality that is predominantly realistic but unavoidably romantic. After cleverly escaping from his abusive father and the choking etiquette of the Widow Douglas, Huckleberry Finn, the young protagonist in the novel, spends the morning relaxing in the grass and the cool shade thinking about things, and feeling rested and ruther comfortable and satisfied with his decision to run away (36). Entirely intentional, Twain juxtaposes Hucks dissatisfaction with society with his intrinsic connection to a cool summer morning. Hucks romanticized return to nature is almost like a biblical migration to the Promised Land, with society representing Egypt and Jackson Island the land of milk and honey. Interestingly enough, it almost seems as though Huck, in declaring that he does not want to be nowhere else than the island, has reversed the detrimental aging process that threatens to sivilize him, erasing all the innocence and goodness that naturally comes with childhood (49,1). His vehement desire to feel lazy and comfortable and very well satisfied combined with his longing for the past and preference for the uncivilized perfectly parallels that of the Romantic Movement (36,37).
Furthering his use of society as a disservice to human nature while still adhering to the realist boundaries of a young boy, Twain supplements Hucks metaphorical rebirth with a more specific and physical manifestation of freedom. While living in a house and sleeping in a bed, Huck is forced to wear them new clothes again, and he can not do nothing but sweat and sweat, and feel all cramped up like a prisoner in jail (15,1). Confined in societys chains, Huck feels compelled to cast off his bondage and return to a more natural and uncivilized existence. Ultimately finding this romantic solace while he and Jim float down the river, he remarks that he feels mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft (116). Although the river itself is confined by its banks, it serves as a modern Eden for Huck, who is always naked, day and night (118) and finds the lonesomeness of the river to be kind of lazy (118) and unfettered by rigid societal institutions. Thus, Twain uses Hucks primitive shedding of clothing to symbolize the romantics revolt against the austerities of modern society. In doing so, he juxtaposes the realism of a young boys natural urges with the romanticism of the river to develop a permissible combination of the two most influential schools of literature during the 19th century without compromising his own realist values.
Contrary to the literary style that he himself is credited with establishing, Mark Twain allows the novel to develop particular romantic elements, which contrast with the characters ordinary and realist qualities. By successfully integrating two seemingly opposite styles of writing, he not only disproves the impossibility of achieving success with such an unlikely pairing, but also arouses the curiosity of the reader into why a novel with such a dualistic nature was written. Perhaps to show that realism can not exist without a certain amount of romanticism or that romantic traits are inherent to the human spirit, Twain does at least illuminate his obvious disgust with romanticized adventure novels. He is clearly satirizing the more extreme forms of romanticism when he includes the image of the sinking ferryboat that is appropriately named the Walter Scott or when he mocks the institution of Southern chivalry by explicitly illustrating the harm and danger that may arise from asinine tradition like the feud between the Grangerfords and Shepardsons. But his satire reaches its climax when he describes Tom Sawyers nave conformity to romantic novels that ultimately causes agony and pain for Jim. However, it seems as though Twain, by giving Huck a somewhat romantic personality, tries to convey that a happy medium may be reached where the necessary realism that a novel must contain can pleasantly blend with a moderate amount of romanticism.