Introduction and Problem Statement
Since time immemorial, freedom has been a fundamental concept that defines the most sacred rights of life and liberty. The concept proclaims that every human being should have the power to think, speak, and act without any form of restraint. Freedom as a concept has been the heart of the American Bill of Rights since independence when the Declaration of Independence which established equality among all men. It also provided that “they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness” (National Archives).
Despite the efforts of society to fulfill these fundamental rights, freedom remains alienable. Matias and Newlove note that despite proclaiming itself as a land of freedom and opportunity, the US is tainted with numerous historical instances of hypocrisy, amnesia, and inhumanity (1). The historic African American slavery, racial discrimination, and gender discrimination generate a central concern as to whether Americans truly have freedom or it is illusionary. Finding an answer to this complex concern demands an assessment of what differentiates genuine and false freedom. Examining freedom as portrayed in Mark Twain’s The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn would help in shedding some light on the idiosyncratic meaning of freedom And whether it is factual or just an illusion. From the relationship between Jim and Huck, what it means to be free can never be generalized and instead is deeply engraved on a person’s perception of what it entails. Freedom is indeed a complex concept that is best understood at an individual level and the efforts of society to define it makes it more illusionary.
Significance of the Study
Human beings have inherent rights to live, be liberal, and seek happiness. However, how they achieve such unassailable rights vary greatly. While some people tend to believe that the government has a central role of defining what freedom constitutes, others are convinced that it is a gift of nature and that the efforts by external forces to control it would eventually lead to slavery. This study is significant since it attempts to solve the contention by exploring the concept of freedom.
The study takes a qualitative content analysis approach by delving into the theme of freedom, as presented in Mark Twain's novel. It begins by reviewing existing pieces of literature on freedom and what it looks like. The literature review provides a basis for understanding various arguments on freedom, as presented in the novel. The review is then followed by an extensive examination of the theme in line with the research questions. The examination begins by establishing a solid background of the novel.
Various researchers have indeed committed efforts in examining the concept of freedom and how it contributes to human fulfillment. Daly identifies it as the absence of interference in which people are free to think, feel, and act within the constrained of their own abilities (290). In the light of Daly’s argument, it can be argued that the constitution, as well as political, executive, and legislative powers, retrains the true meaning of freedom. Instead of depending on the constitutional bill of rights, Daly’s definition calls for the creation of a natural setting where social, political, and economic resources are accessible to all without limitations. Adam Okulicz-Kozaryn (1011) argues that being free is critical in attaining progress and development in contemporary civilization. Through it, people strive to attain what is good to them, which might include power, affection, respect, wealth, and enlightenment.
However, absolute democracy is difficult to attain, given the dominance of governments and the need to ensure that the scarce economic and social resources are 'equally' and effectively distributed among people without any form of discrimination. Matias and Newlove eventually see ideal freedom as a seductive concept (327). He argues that failure to control human behavior and giving everyone an absolute freedom of choice would most likely transform into a tyranny of choices leading to greater human problems. The problem related to absolute freedom is why the two researchers emphasize Dewey’s argument that “the only freedom that is of enduring importance is the freedom of intelligence,” (Matias and Newlove 316). In this sense, people must learn to discern what freedom is and what it is not so as to make decisions and act in a manner that would maximize their right to life, liberty, and happiness.
Unfortunately, people rarely recognize the freedom of intelligence, and unconsciously become slaves of their own making. An ideal example is a concept of whiteness, where people of color hold a prejudiced belief that white people are naturally considered supreme and have greater access to social, political, and economic resources (Matias and Newlove 318). Holding the misinformed perception has made many people of color feel inferior and unable to achieve their freedom, thereby enslaving themselves. The concept of freedom, both as the absence of interference and intellectually perceived concept, is well played out in the Adventure of Huckleberry Finn.
The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn is a novel by Mark Twain published in the United States in 1885 (Smith 2). Considered as the greatest masterpiece ever written by Twain, the book blends various comic elements to present the life of Huck Finn, the main character in the novel. It begins with Huck narrating his story about his experience as presented by the author in a previous novel, The Adventure of Tom Sawyer. Huck, a 13-year-old boy, is living with the Window Douglas in St. Petersburg. Douglas is trying to 'sivilize' him by teaching him proper manners, how to dress, and how to live a religious life, something which he disapproves and consider constraining (Twain 2). He later escapes in search of a more free land where slavery is outlawed. With his companion, Jim, who is a runaway slave, he journeys along Mississippi on a raft (Twain 34). Throughout the journey, he encounters numerous instances of racial prejudice and human cruelty. The book was written just a few years after the Civil War of 1865 when intense racism and racial segregation befell the American South (Smith 4)
The Theme of Freedom Presented in Mark Twain’s “The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn”
Confinement and Freedom
Both Huck and Jim have realized the need for them to be free and begin their adventure in search of freedom. However, they hold different ideas on what people should be free from. For Huck, civilization is a constraining concept that people need to be free from. He feels that a “sivilized' society characterized by rules and regulations, and a specific way of doing things is confining and hates heavy clothing, formal education, as well as routines in the domestic life. When Miss Watson, Widow Douglas' sister, said to him, “don’t put your feet up there, Huckleberry” and “don’t scrunch up like that, Huckleberry, sit up straight” (Twain 3) he always felt that his freedom was being restricted. He says, “Living in a house and sleeping in a bed pulled on me pretty tight” (Twain 16). Therefore, his perspective of freedom is the absence of any form of interference and living within the constraints of the natural setting.
Jim is running away from slavery, something which he believed has confined his liberty to civilized life and education. Miss Watson, his master, sees him as property and wants to sell him downriver. In his unclear language, Jim says, “she pecks on me all de time, and treats me pooty rough… en I hear old missus tell de Widder she gwyne to sell me down to the Orleans” (Twain 45). For Jim, freedom is a lack of dominance and seeks to be equal to other people with rights to liberty and pursuit of freedom. To him, civilization is a conduit through which people attain freedom.
What Freedom Looks Like
Huck and Jim also have divergent visions of what life is going to be once they attain freedom. Huck envisions a life of adventure and exploration unhampered by the restrictions that the society and religion had imposed on him before the escape. He wants to live a life defined by his own will and nothing else. In contrast, Jim seeks to have a life in which nobody owns him. He hopes that after attaining freedom, he would be able to earn enough money so that he could reunite with his family. In this sense, all that he seeks is personal liberty in the purest form.
The Path to Freedom
Huck and Jim see River Mississippi as a symbol of freedom. For Huck, journeying on the river at night is fulfilling: “You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft” (Twain 110). To some extent, he sees the river as the freedom that he has yearned for. Jim is focused on getting to the Free states where slavery is outlawed. Thus, to him, the river is just a path to freedom. Although he had escaped from his master, Jim, a black boy, remains a slave enslaved by everybody around him. The author uses the term ‘nigger’ more than 150 times in the book to label Jim and his black counterparts. Through black history, the term was used interchangeably with the term 'slave.' Numerous people consider Jim a slave and try to steal him. Huck notes, “people were always coming out in skiffs and trying to take Jim from me, saying that he was a runaway nigger” (Twain 129). However, at the end of the book, Jim remains a “nigger” despite having attained his freedom.
Is Ideal Freedom Factual or just an Illusion?
From the analysis provided on Huck and Jim, it is evident that ideal freedom is an illusion and challenging to achieve. Ideal freedom, as portrayed in the ambitions of Huck, is based on endless liberty free from any interference. That is, Huck sees that he cannot fit in society. He wants a life of his own. Given Huck’s perception, ideal freedom is interfered with from the moment the society decides to set up governments, rules, and policies that guide citizens (Okulicz-Kozaryn 300). Although the US proclaims that it provides justice and liberty for all, liberty is still defined by various political and social factors. As such, people might be free to do what they will as per the dictums of society but can never be free from society itself.
Freedom remains one of the most complex concepts that are difficult to understand. Throughout history, governments have taken a forefront responsibility to define what freedom for its citizens entails. However, from this analysis, it is crystal clear that ideal freedom is indeed difficult to attain as it highly depends on individual perception and not a universal definition. Thus, ideal freedom remains an illusion that is impossible to actualize.
- Daly, Eoin. “Freedom as Non-Domination in the Jurisprudence of Constitutional Rights.” Canadian Journal of Law & Jurisprudence, vol. 28, no. 2, 2015, pp. 289–316., doi:10.1017/cjlj.2015.29.
- Matias, Cheryl E., and Peter M. Newlove. “The Illusion of Freedom: Tyranny, Whiteness, and the State of US Society.” Equity & Excellence in Education, vol. 50, no. 3, Mar. 2017, pp. 316–330., doi:10.1080/10665684.2017.1336951.
- National Archives. 'Declaration of Independence: A Transcription.' National Archives, 26 July 2019, www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript.
- Okulicz-Kozaryn, Adam. ''Freedom from' and 'Freedom to' across Countries.' SSRN Electronic Journal, 2013, pp. 1009-1029. doi: 10.1007/s11205-013-0473-x
- Smith, Cassander L. 'Nigger' or' Slave': Why Labels Matter for Jim (and Twain) in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.' Papers on Language and Literature 50.2 (2014): 182.
- Twain, Mark. Adventure of Huckleberry Finn. Maple Press, 2017.