In ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ by Mark Twain, Huck Finn embarks on a journey of self-discovery and independence from society. The narrative acts as a bildungsroman, a story of maturation, where a series of adventures lead Huck to overcoming and understanding bigotry in society. He shows he is disconnecting from society with his realization that Jim is important to him, despite Jim being a slave. Huck continuously conforms to social pressures, always following the people around him; however, he changes his reason for following the societal norms as he develops his character. His growth as an individual becomes more evident as he makes significant progress when he is alone, uninfluenced by society. Huck Finn remains compliant and submissive to those around him throughout the novel, but he still develops as a person and establishes his own sense of morals, distancing himself from Southern society.
Huck’s realization that Jim is a person, shows individual thinking, separate from the society he grew up in. An example of this is after Huck pulls one of his many pranks on Jim, he apologizes: “It was 15 minutes before I could work myself to go and humble myself […] but I done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterward, neither” (Twain 95). This is significant in his separation from society because black people are seen as subordinate to white people, and apologizing to a black person would not be acceptable. Huck is acting differently in this situation than any other member of Southern society would, proving he is different than those around him. This also plays into his growth and development as a well-rounded individual. Huck follows his own conscience when he has to decide between turning Jim in or continuing to help him and going to Hell: “All right then, I’ll go to hell” (Twain 223). He’s willing to risk eternal suffering to follow his heart and help his friend. Society tells Huck that freeing a slave is an unforgivable sin, but Huck’s conscience guides him to the conclusion that helping Jim is the best thing to do. Huck does not do what society wants of him because it does not feel like the right thing to do, even though he would be in a lot of trouble if he gets caught.
As Huck Finn continues on his adventures, he never stops conforming to societal pressures, but his motive for complying with these pressures changes, as he starts out as self-centered, and develops into a well-rounded character. Huck comes to the realization that he is more logical and mature than Tom after Tom says he believes the stories he reads are true: “So then I judged that all that stuff was only just one of Tom Sawyer’s lies. I reckoned [Tom] believed in the A-rabs and the elephants, but as for me I think different” (Twain 26). Here Huck differentiates himself from Tom, yet he still goes along with what Tom does because he wants to be accepted by him. Later in the novel, his motive for following Tom becomes less about fitting in, and more about doing what he believes is morally correct. Even though Huck continues to follow Tom’s nonsensical ideas, he doesn’t follow along just for fun like he did in earlier chapters; Huck does what Tom wants because he knows that he will need help to accomplish his main goal: release Jim from captivity. Huck knows Tom is going to help him free Jim, but he also knows Tom will only help Jim on his own terms: “It warn’t no use to say any more; because when he said he’d do a thing, he always done it. But I couldn’t make out how he was willing to go into this thing” (Twain 201). Huck knows that Tom is going to help, but he doesn’t understand why Tom would agree to do something like this. It’s out of character for Tom to agree to this, as he consistently only thinks about himself, and freeing a slave in Southern society is a very selfless and dangerous action. Huck doesn’t recognize that Tom isn’t helping him because he wants to free Jim or help his friend, rather he seeks adventure. Huck continuously suggests more rational ideas than Tom, and Tom’s unwillingness to do things the easy way annoys Huck, unlike in earlier chapters. Huck distancing himself from Tom is representative of him distancing himself from society, as he notices the flaws of respectable people.
Huck thrives when he is alone, and is happiest when he is separated from Southern society. Early in the novel, when he first attempts to run away from Widow Douglas’ house, Huck immediately expresses how much he enjoys being away: “I got into my old rags, and my sugar-hogshead again, and was free and satisfied” (Twain 1). Huck relishes in his freedom, however, he quickly returns when Tom asks Huck to join his gang, and Huck obliges because he wants to be included: “But Tom Sawyer, he hunted me up and said he was going to start a band of robbers, and I might join if I would go back to the widow and be respectable. So I went back” (Twain 2). Huck strives to be included by Tom early on, even though it requires him to sacrifice his freedom and happiness. When comparing his independence from the start to the end, he makes tremendous progress. His journey to becoming independent from society is finalized at the end of the novel, when he detests the idea of being ‘sivilized’ once again: “But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can’t stand it. I been there before” (Twain 296). Even though Huck has “been there before”, this does not represent a repetitive cycle for him. Huck is aware that living in society is not the best option for him, so he concludes that running to the Indian territory would be the most beneficial for him. Huck comes to this conclusion by himself, with no one influencing his decision, suggesting that he has learned to think for himself, and is confident in his own decisions.
Throughout the novel, Huck is a follower to whoever he is around, but that does not stop him from growing and developing his individuality and sense of morality. The story of maturation shows Huck’s development of his conscience, and his path to learning right from wrong. As he matures his conscience, he figures out that society is flawed, so straying from societal expectations is not bad. He successfully leaves behind the toxic society that he grew up in, and demonstrates individual thinking with his friendly relationship Jim. As he continues to grow, he realizes he can continue to follow people, and have a greater, more selfless purpose for doing so. Huck shows that even though he didn’t change his ways of being a follower, he was not hindered in his quest for moral greatness.