Society has always played a huge role in society and that can be see in the story of ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ written by author Mark Twain. Throughout Huck Finn the main character Huck, undergoes drastic character develop and experiences how much power society holds. He is able to overcome the power that society holds over his morality and develops ideas that fit into moral code. This trend of moral change continues throughout real American history up to the present day. So much so, that in my own life I had never had to experience the moral development at such at a notable level that Huck had to throughout his childhood. When a system of power estates a predetermined notion that is followed by a majority in society it is difficult for individuals to break out those fixed ideas and think and act freely in what lies in contention with their moral code and thoughts.
In ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’, the main character, Huck Finn struggles with finding the balance of adhering to society’s grip and what his own morals are telling him is right. In respect to his family, Huck and his father have none or minimal feelings of love or respect for one another. Huck’s feelings toward his father are a mixture of fear and hatred, all due to the way he is consistently mistreated and beaten by Pap on a regular basis. As slaves were once seen as property by white men, Paps sees Huck the same way, and never conveys or shows feelings of paternal care or love towards his son. The relationship between the two only exists because of blood. It’s essentially one of out of necessity.
Throughout the story, Huck’s perspective and attitude towards Jim drastically changes. At first, he simply thinks of Jim as a piece of property and an ignorant slave. However, that slowly changes into Huck thinking of Jim as a good friend and equal human being. Huck was brought up in a society that oppressed slaves in every form and aspect. Slaves were seen to be property, incapable of thinking for themselves and unable to possess any sort of feelings or individualized thoughts. This can be shown by the numerous times Huck pulled pranks on Jim. These pranks were a reflection of how Huck saw Jim at first. For example, Jim and Huck were separated in the fog and Huck tries to convince Jim that the event had never happened. He tells that Jim he had imagined all of it and to his surprise, Jim calls him out on it and scolds Huck for his lack of sensitivity. Huck says, “It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger; but I done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterwards, neither”(Twain 49). This is a depiction of Huck’s air of superiority around Jim. He clearly thinks that Jim is of a lower status than him. Having to go apologize for his actions was difficult for Huck, he was forced to humble himself. The difficulty for Huck lies within the societal norms that make him think he is superior to Jim. This is a pivotal part of the story that shows development in Huck’s morals and character. Another incident that occurs is when Huck and Jim get into an argument over language and King Solomon. The argument goes on and finally, Huck says, “it warn’t no use wasting words–you can’t learn a nigger to argue. So I quit” (Twain 39). Here he expresses his predisposed idea of slaves. To Huck, Jim is unable to learn, utilize logic, and build an intelligent argument for the sake of conversation. Again this falls back on the ideas society has imposed on Jim due to the color of his skin.
This directly correlates with a reading called ‘The Princess Steel’ written by WEB du Bois in 1905. The story has a standout quote where a white character in the story says, “One would not for a moment have hesitated to call him a gentleman had it not been for his skin color. His voice, his manner, everything showed training and refinement” (Du Bois). The idea that an African American can act in a manner that was seen gentlemen like shocked the white male character in the story. It completely shattered all his stereotypes of African American males in one interaction. Society had made it unheard for him to even fathom the thought of African American males being intelligent enough to have him think he could have been of white ethnicity if not for his skin color. This is an example of society closing one’s mind and indirectly making them restrict their freedom of thought and fall in line with the majority of society’s preconceived thoughts.
Further down the story through all the trials and tribulations Jim and Huck experience together, Huck’s attitude changes. Huck learns to see Jim as an equal to himself and treat him with the respect of a normal human being despite the color of your skin. In the end, he even goes so far to say about Jim, “I know’d he was white inside” (Twain 341). This statement shows how Huck feels that Jim individually is, to an extent, his equal. His attitude towards Jim has changed from his feeling that Jim is below him and less of a human, to becoming an quasi-equal. This point can be furthered with an explanation written by, Cassander Smith, when he explains, “Whether Jim is called a slave or a nigger, Huck is still brought to the central moral dilemma…It is still a realist text centered on a central character’s conflict between his own moral center and social dictates” (Smith).
Huck is able to overcome the idea of what society sees Jim as and put those notions aside so he can use his own judgment to dictate the type of person Jim really is. Society has constructed his idea of being able to judge someone for what they truly are rather than what society says they are. Unknowingly his freedom of thoughts are being twisted and he is able to overcome those boundaries that society has placed upon him.
Another person that appears interacting with Huck is Widow Douglas. She has a predetermined idea of how Huck should be and Huck’s natural ideas of how to act are completely different from hers. This is an example of Huck demonstrating that he has the ability to go against society and stand up for his ideas. It it within and Twain shows that here in this interaction with Widow Douglas. Irony can be seen through their relationship and an example of this is when Huck is told not to smoke by Widow Douglas even though she secretly smokes herself. She is seen as a hypocrite and Huck being a child sees that immediately.
Another interaction Huck has is with Miss Watson, who tries to warn Huck about the consequence of going to hell. This ironic reference is a way of Twain reminding the reader that Huck is still in his childhood and portraying his sense of innocence to his audience. This is an example of Huck being able to think outside of society showing that his morals are flexible and measured to a certain extent.
Huck in the context of natural and domestic environments is clearly portrayed through the story. It lies directly within the main theme of the novel, which is the difference between civilization and freedom. Author Mark Twain suggests that civilization corrupts individuals rather than bettering them. This is clearly shown in the first chapter when Huck is forced to change himself on a fundamental level in order to mold into what Widow Douglas believes he should act. The structure of having to wear new clothes and only eating dinner when the dinner bell rings don’t fit into his normal tendencies as a person. An example of this can be seen when he says “a barrel of odds and ends” and uses this to compare eating dinner off a plate rather than a pig’s slop bucket (Twain 1). This is Twain explaining Hucks earlier life and notes that Huck actually enjoyed eating from a slop bucket rather than a plate that he is forced to eat on. Huck in relation to food can be seen as a notable theme in the story in that his interactions with food is aligned with how he would rather be, in nature and living freely. It is seen throughout the story that Huck is seen to be trapped in a ‘civilized’ world. He values freedom over structure implying that he doesn’t care about what society thinks and that he should be doing as he pleases without any restrictions implemented on to him. This power struggle is something he deals with throughout the novel.
‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ was written immediately after the enforcement of the Jim Crow laws, which were created to directly limit the rights of blacks in various ways that introduced new forms of oppression for African Americans. These new laws directly affected Jim in the novel and were part of the reason society treated blacks so unjustly due to the enforcement of these laws. This also affected Huck in that his upbringing was due the time of these laws and since he was still a child and everyone saw African Americans in such a negative light he just followed suit. Reconstruction and the establishment of white power in the South played a role in the enactment of these new laws. It is within these events that the context of the story was written which were during the year of 1884 by Mark Twain in response to the development of these laws. This furthered in an article written by Anders Schinkel when he voices that, “Writing in the aftermath of the Civil War, surveying all the blood and treasure spent to free slaves, and then Reconstruction collapsing, convict-lease, the rise of the Klan, Jim Crow, lynchings—Mark Twain eventually dedicated Huck Finn to the proposition that, contra Lincoln, there was no birth of freedom” (Schinkel). Ironically enough during a time where there was no true freedom for Africans Americans Huck feels restricted due as well. He struggles with the same problem as the African Americans and Twain depicts the power that society had to restrict individual’s thought process.
I can relate to Huck in that I don’t have the best relationship with my father but it isn’t to the extent of how Pap treats Huck. My father and I don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things but he still does paternal things to help me out as a person. I differ in Huck in that I had a support system with my family even through all the arguments and fights they still supported me financially through my whole life. Without all that financial support I wouldn’t have been able to experience things that have me made into the person I am today. As a person, I had never had any predetermined notions about a certain race or particular ethnicity that wouldn’t allow me to interact and become friends with anyone. Regardless of race, social ranking, or gender I saw everyone as an equal human being standing on this Earth. An example could be seen with middle eastern individuals in that society and media made them into the enemy just because of the actions of terrorist groups that predominantly were of Middle Eastern descent. That didn’t mean that the rest of the innocent Middle Easterners were terrorists but society established that stereotype. I have had Middle Eastern friends throughout my entire life and never once did I think when I meant them for the first time they were what society had made them out to be. I treated them with the respect and common courtesy of anyone I would ever meet. My own thoughts and judgment play more of a role than anything that society could say. I’m a person that isn’t really afraid to stand up for things that are wrong even if they are agreed with a group of people that are in power. I will voice my opinion and follow through with my actions if they aren’t up to par with my moral code. That could be in part of my upbringing in that living in the Bay Area has given me a very open perspective on life. This region of the United States allows for the freedom of new free-flowing ideas and voicing one’s opinion without fear for one’s life unlike back in the times of the Jim Crow laws in the South. During the reconstruction era, going against society was seen as absurd and unheard of. People who stood up for things they felt were unjust faced threats and things such as brutal verbal and physical abuse. The environment I grew up around wasn’t as judgmental as it was back in the late 1800s and could be seen as the complete opposite. There aren’t any laws that oppress a particular race and social groups are always standing up and protesting unjust things that directly affect their lives. The fear of having to succumb to power that society or an individual is almost nonexistent in how individuals have the freedom of having voicing ideas and opinions and not have to suffer in the same ways individuals back in the day had to in order to invoke change. The Jim Crow laws did not affect my race in any way in that the laws were specifically made to target African Americans. There were such a small population of asians living in the South and the very few that resided there were honored with ‘white status’. These families on numerous federal and state records appeared as white. Due to this, they were able to function and live fairly well in society. They did not have to face the poor treatment and segregation that African Americans experienced during the implementation of the Jim Crow laws.
Huck’s development is evident throughout the novel is not drastic but is significant. His shift in character is reflected through other literature about this time period. It is a snapshot of history at a time were freedom was restricted and difficult to break out. Fornetatuly enough character shifts similar to Huckleberry Finn’s occurred so society could be structured differently in the present today. I’m a product of that shift and I am able to use my moral and ethics to judge the world rather than have predetermined stereotypes drive the way I act in society in such a negative way. Not longer do individuals live in a society that suppresses free thinking and restricts standing up against ideas that allow for power to be in an abusive force in the world. Huckleberry Finn is an example that society has the ability to affect your freedom of thoughts and constrict what would be the morally right thing to do.