Mark Twain satirizes controversial topics such as slavery, civilization, women roles by contrasting them to the natural state of people living in harmony without external social constraints as exemplified by the life Huck and Jim lead on the raft going with the flow of nature symbolized by the river.. He accomplished this through the eventful journey of two companions, Huckleberry and Jim. As the world evolves and ideologies change, socially acceptable ideas in the 1830’s and 1840’s that were considered unacceptable, in today’s day and age are. The biggest representation of this is slavery. “By the mid century, slavery had become the defining institution of southern culture and economic life.” This controversial piece of literature became a major role due to the time it was written by Twain, during the peak of slavery. “We never got anything handed to us besides more laws and disappointment.” ( African American Christianity). The abuse of the white folk upon african slaves is being progressively depicted by twain coming from the viewpoint of heavily discriminated slaves and abolitionists. “God almighty has spared us another year of sorrows and tribulation.” The life of a slave was an everlasting circuit of torment reaching the extreme that many couldn’t be entirely grateful to be alive.
Although slavery was one of the most prominent topics throughout the novel, the ideas of civilization and roles of a women were crucial as well. The definition of civilization hasn’t changed. Today, someone “civilized” is considered a well educated, courteous polite person who participates in the economy, and has proper body language. Huckleberry Finn was pressed to become “civilized” by widow Douglas and miss Watson, however ditched his clothes for rags and refuses to “mumble” before eating a meal. Twain’s views on society are revealed as he poked fun at civilized expectations. Another crucial topic emerges from the stereotypical roles that women play during the time. The classic role for a women was primarily conserved for the tasks of; caretaking, maid, and stay at home mom. Twain doesn’t contrast this idea, however throughout Huck and Jim’s journey uses characters in the novel to further satirize women. Although female characters in the novel were a scarcity, the women that did appear made an impact on Huck’s life. “You may say what you want to, but in my opinion the girl had more sand in her than any girl I ever see, in my opinion she was just full of sand.” To explain, Huck had just recently met Mary Jane and was charmed by her appearance but got to realize that her looks only take her so far. And her personality is bland. This shows that one of the roles for women were simply to be silent and look pretty.
Political or social satire is presented through the characters of Huck and Jim to decipher the contrast between the idea of slavery. After Huck realized that fooling Jim and taking advantage of his gullibility was wrong, against the morals he was raised on, Huck apologizes to Jim. “It was 15 minutes before I could wore myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger- but I done it. And I warn’t even sorry for it afterwards.” (Page 87) Due to the social views of society, the simplest form of kindness towards a negro was something frowned upon. In this particular scene, Twain’s view of slavery is unraveled as irony is created through an unheard of situation, by having Huck apologize to Jim. Likewise, another scenario in which we identify the contrast in views of slavery occurs when Jim is captured. “Sold him?”, I say and began to cry. “Why he is my nigger…” “I can walk it in 3 days. And I start this very afternoon.” Thirteen year old Huck refuses to hesitate a single second in finding Jim. Abolitionist views are portrayed strongly as Huck shows his concern and affection to a slave. The satarization of both topics is what allows us to create the idea of Mark Twain’s opinion over society and slavery.
To continue, countless moments are identified in which Twain uses his language to satirize civilized southern behavior. Not only does he poke fun at the guilibale nature of their society, but also exposes hypocrisy and uncivilized behavior. For example, Miss Watson is one of the first southern ladies Twain uses to show hypocrisy. Despite being religious and expecting Huck to conform to religion as well, she owns Jim, a slave. According to Twain, this shows how hypocritical religion can really be. Not only is it ironic to pursue religion so harshly yet own another human, but also the way she attempts to instil religion on Huck. “Then Miss Watson she took me into the closet and prayed, but nothing came of it. She told me to pray every day and whatever I asked for I would get. But it warn’t so. I tried it.” (Page 13) Unable to to see any tangible benefits of religion, Huck can not help but dismiss it. Where the widow tries to portray benevolent views of religion to get Huck to accept it, Miss Watson, in her last resorts attempted to regain her credibility, uses scare tactics. “Sometimes the widow would take me to one side and talk about providence in a manner that would make my mouth water; but the next day Miss Watson would take hold and knock it all down again” (Page 14) Miss Watson in attempts to scare Huck into believing, would tell him he was going to hell, or the “bad place” unless he changed his ways. Another example in which Twain creates satirical situations to make fun of the stupidity and gullibility of the townspeople is when they come together to lynch Mr. Sherburn. On pages 147 and 148, the people march to lynch a man who ends up humiliating them all. “The idea of you lynching anybody! It’s amusing.. the average man’s a coward…you’re afraid to back down-afraid you’ll be found out for what you are- cowards- so drop your tails and go home and crawl in a hole.” The crowd washed back, then broke apart and and went tearing every which way.” (Page 148) Mark Twain is ridiculing not only their gullibility and stupidity, but also their conformity. It took one man to call out an entire crowd and state what was clear but no one accepted.
Through the novel, Huckleberry Finn explored human nature and society. The idea that nature offers freedom is represented greatly by the river. The Mississippi River was huck’s escape ticket from his abusive father, and for Jim the river is the way to freedom from slavery. Huck feels as though he is in prison with all the rules Miss Watson and society place on him, and Jim is a slave with no rights of his own. For this reason, the river becomes a place where they are both able to experience freedom. “ So in two seconds away we went a-sliding down the river, and it did seem so good to be free again and all by ourselves on the big river, and nobody to bother us.” Huck and Jim feel this each time they set off down the river. Here they are able to leave restrictions of life behind them. On the river, they can be friends and enjoy each moment as it comes without the oppression of society and it’s expectations. Mark Twain’s language faces a drastic change as he describes nature, we are able to feel as though we are there walking in the forest or traveling down the river alongside Huck and Jim. Twain’s tone demonstrates his vast appreciation for all that the natural world offers. When speaking about nature his use of language lulls the reader into the rhythms of the trees and river. Thanks to nature Huck and Jim are able to create such adventures and therefore learn about society.
In conclusion, Mark Twain satirizes several topics including slavery,, women roles, and other common social norms.. Huck and Jim’s, friendship is contrasted with socially acceptable views of society and what was considered right and wrong during the post civil war period. This journey is filled with many hardships that challenge Hucks world view and morals. Slavery, a real situation that was accepted during this era was criticized through Twain’s writing. Not only does he ridicule slavery but also many aspects of society and civilization as a whole.
- Irony: Connecting Huck Finn and “The Open Boat” Website title: Mark Twain and Stephen Crane URL: https://twainandcrane.wordpress.com/irony-connecting-huck-finn-and-the-open-boat/
- Slow and Steady: Women’s Changing Roles in 1930s America Website title: ThoughtCo URL: https://www.thoughtco.com/womens-rights-1930s-4141164
- Huckleberry Finn | fictional character Website title: Encyclopedia Britannica URL: https://www.britannica.com/topic/Huckleberry-Finn-fictional-character
- Primary Sources for History & Literature Teachers – America in Class Website title: America in Class URL: http://americainclass.org/primary-sources/
- About this Collection | African American Perspectives: Materials Selected from the Rare Book Collection | Digital Collections | Library of Congress Website title: The Library of Congress URL: https://www.loc.gov/collections/african-american-perspectives-rare-books/about-this-collection/