Friendship, freedom, and adventure—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is about the journey of a boy named Huck through the Mississippi River as he frees himself from his abusive father by faking his own death and as he helps free his new-found friend Jim who is a slave escaping from his master. Together, the mischievous Huck and the kind-hearted yet enslaved Jim set sail towards the freedom and adventure they both aspire as they discover a long-lasting friendship with one another.
Background of the Author
November 30, 1835—John Marshall and Jane Lampton Clemens’ sixth child named Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born at a small village in Missouri, Florida and unbelievably, later on, he was known to be the world-renowned writer who fabricated the words and stories to formulate some of the greatest literary pieces the world has ever seen; Mark Twain.
Almost all throughout his childhood, Twain and his family lived near the Mississippi. When his father, John, died when he was 12 years old due to pneumonia, they experienced a financial crisis. When he turned 13, he left school to end their crisis and this is when he became a printer’s apprentice, and then, a printer and editorial assistant which signified the remarkable start of his love for writing. Four years later, he went to St. Louis for a printer’s job but he became a river pilot’s apprentice instead. He was 21 years old when he learned to pilot a steamboat in the Mississippi and became licensed two years later. He loved this career dearly but he was stopped due to the Civil War and this pushed him to change his path and retreat back to his career in writing when he moved to Western America which was when he started to use the phenomenal pen name that the world knows. It was inspired from his previous beloved career; twain means two and when combined with mark, it is a riverboat-slang which pertains to the ‘two fathoms or 12 feet which is indicated by a line with a second mark that signifies the deepness that is safe for boats’. This pen name also mirrored his life at that time since he was experiencing financial problems which signified the dangerous waters of the Mississippi River and his newly-found career being the safe haven on his life.
Literary pieces like ‘Life on Mississippi’ and ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ made by Mark Twain reflected his life, just like ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’, as most of his work is inspired of his real-life experiences. ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ is the sequel of ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ and it focuses more on the life of Tom Sawyer’s best friend, Huck. The settings of the story are mostly along the Mississippi River as the characters continuously traveled from town to town through a canoe and a raft. This reflected Twain’s beloved career as a riverboat pilot in the Mississippi River. Also, at the end of the story, it was revealed that Huck’s father died; another aspect that can be associated to his living as he grew up without a father image due to his father’s death before he entered his teenage years. The life of the main character in the novel also experienced various hardships, especially in financial aspect as he was not born rich and the only money he had was the money he and Tom found which happened on the first book. This reflected Twain’s financial struggle throughout his life.
Therefore, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, also known as Mark Twain, is one of the world’s greatest author who faced various challenges and hardships that reality thrown in front of him and he turned all of those into the inspiration and motivation he needed to achieve success.
This part presents the main characters of the novel, some of their lines, and their significance in the story.
‘I rose up, and there was Jackson’s Island, about two mile and a half downstream…’—playful, compassionate, and mischievous are the words that can sum up the characteristics of Huck who is the protagonist of the novel which story is about his life. He is a 13-year-old boy who has brown hair and white skin. He is an adventurous boy and one of his adventures is faking his death in order to escape from his abusive Pap, his father. Being a risk-taker is what he is as he was influenced by his whimsical friend Tom Sawyer. The quote above shows the significance of Huck’s role since that scene was the moment he escaped from his father which signified the start of his journey. Also, it depicts the freedom he gained, not needing a father, and the adventures coming his way.
‘…I hear old missus tell de widder she gwyne to sell me down to Orleans, but she didn’ want to, but she could git eight hund’d dollars for me, en it ‘uz sich a big stack o’ money she couldn’ resis’. De widder she try to git her to say she wouldn’ do it, but I never waited to hear de res’. I lit out mighty quick, I tell you.’—brave, timid, caring and kind-hearted are the words to describe the new-found friend by Huck. Jim is a black 30-year-old slave of Miss Watson, the sister of the widow who adopted Huck when his father was gone. As stated in the quote above, he escaped when his owner tried to sell him which was the significance of Jim’s role since without him running, they will not have such adventure; Huck hiding from his father and helping Jim escape and become a free slave.
‘I’ll help you steal him!’—adventurous, stubborn, also mischievous, and completely impractical are the words to define the best friend of Huck, Tom Sawyer, who is taller and older than him. Tom is a young boy who has blond hair and white skin, and the protagonist of the first book, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. The quote stated above depicts the moment when Tom agreed to free Jim when Huck asked him. This shows the significance of his role since it was because of him they had such final adventure. He already knew that Miss Watson set Jim free in her will when she died but he wanted an adventure which is why he did not say anything about it to Huck and Jim. Huck looks up to Tom because for him, Tom has an amazing way of resolving and doing things; this has an impact on Huck’s decision-making and actions throughout the novel.
‘So he watched out for me one day in the spring, and catched me, and took me up the river about three mile in a skiff, and crossed over to the Illinois shore where it was woody and there warn’t no houses but an old log hut in a place where the timber was so thick you couldn’t ﬁnd it if you didn’t know where it was.’—cruel, selfish, and troublesome are what Huck’s Pap is. A 40-year-old drunk and abusive father who has pale white skin, and a long greasy and tangled black hair. The line stated was the moment when Pap kidnapped Huck because he wanted to get his money from Judge Thatcher which his son earned as a reward due to the events in the first book. Due to him, Huckleberry was able to start his own adventure.
Mississippi River is the main setting and the focal point of the novel as it is where Huck and Jim’s journey and adventures happened as they traverse its endless radiant and glistening water in search of freedom riding their raft and canoe. The refreshing air, the touch of cold water, the aroma of the fragrant flowers planted at the riverbank, and the chirping of the birds inhabiting the trees surrounding the river are what accompanied them all throughout their adventures but with this, dark and dim clouds, and swish of massive waves also faced and tested them. The river symbolizes their way to freedom since through it, they were able to travel and escape from the people holding them back. Also, it symbolizes their friendship; calm and tranquil but sometimes, a storm occurs like conflicts such as when Huck is conflicted of being an abolitionist if he helps a slave like Jim escape. However, like the river, the friendship they formed is infinite and for-life.
The story started with Huck living at Widow Douglas’s house in St. Petersburg, Missouri which seems ‘perfect’, as Huck described, and as large as a mansion. The house symbolizes a civilized life wherein everything is in a normal state and there is a stable comfortable position in life. St. Petersburg is a big fictional town whose citizens are civilized and have good manners. This is a place full of love and has quality education which is why almost all citizens are well-educated. It seems like this town is bright and radiant symbolizing hope. This is where Huck experienced a glimpse of a perfect life.
The cabin in the woods is where his father brought him and kept him. It is a small house made by tough woods situated in the middle of the forest surrounded by birds chirping and near the continuously rushing water of the river. This cabin was dark and filled with acrid and terrible moments of Huck being abused by his Pap. Despite all the violence he experienced in this place due to his father, he preferred it more compared to the house of Widow Douglas’ but later on, Huck could not take the way his father treats him anymore so he decided to escape, through faking his death by killing a squealing pig and put the sticky blood over the cabin, which is where his adventure officially started.
Cairo, Illinois is a small, quiet, and peaceful town with a few houses which is wide and connected to the free-flowing and glistening water of Mississippi and Ohio River. This is Huck and Jim’s goal destination for it is a free-state that will give Jim the freedom he aspires. They were looking forward to inhaling the fresh air of Cairo but instead a dark foggy night only the lights of houses bringing clarity to the path greeted them. Unfortunately, they were unable to arrive at their destination.
The final adventure of freeing Jim happened at Phelps’ Farm which is a small cotton plantation with silky and smooth grass, and bulky old trees enclosed by a fence. Many slaves that serve as farmers harvesting abundant grains, and cultivating fertile plants and trees were also present at the place. A big double log-house and three little cabins are also located within the estate; the former for the Silas Phelps and his family, and the latter for the slaves serving them—one of the cabins was where Jim was imprisoned. When Jim was captured by the Phelps, Huck tried to help him escape by posing as Tom Sawyer unintentionally; he was not aware that they were relatives of Tom. When Tom arrived, they tricked his family and more conflicts arise as they free Jim through Tom’s complicated ways which were amusing for Huck. Later on, the story was concluded in this setting; Jim was revealed to be a free slave already, and Huck’s Pap was already dead.
The four classifications of conflicts were observed in the novel. First, the Man versus Man which was depicted when Huck was kidnapped by his own father. He was continuously abused by him when his Pap was drunk. Due to this, he escaped from him where he also witnessed conflicts along the way such as the Duke and Dauphin fighting one another and the tragic feud between the Grangerfords and Sheperdsons. Next, the Man versus Nature since a storm and thick fog came while Huck and Jim were riding the canoe and raft traveling through the river. This event separated them, each of them fearing that the other died. Throughout their journey, the weather and the state of the river continuously challenged their adventure. The remaining two are the most important conflicts in the story. The Man versus Society follows as Pap pursued to get the money Huck had through court trials since it was in the custody of the judge. Also, throughout the story, Huck is hiding Jim and helping him escape from Miss Watson for him not to be sold to other people since he is a slave which makes this action an obstruction of justice. With this, every once in a while, in the novel, Huck is bothered by the thought of whether to be an abolitionist and oppose the law or keep his friend Jim safe, away from Miss Watson, and achieve his dream of being free; such thoughts are battling in his mind, thus, the Man versus Himself.
Slavery and Freedom
These matters can be seen right from the start of the story when Miss Watson introduced Jim to Huck. If you are black, you are expected to be a slave and that is why there is a discrepancy between people. We are born differently but we have the same rights and goals in our life. There is a dramatic scene that might make readers consider and be persuaded to respect every person’s rights as an individual. The moment when Jim said to Huck that he wanted to be a free and rich man for him to buy his family and live peacefully; this emphasized that white or black, every person’s dream is to be with their loved ones and live a calm and serene life. Thus, all throughout the story, Jim and Huck are trying so hard to reach the freedom they both deserve; freedom from being a slave and being sold to other people by Miss Watson, and freedom from being abused by a violent father, respectively. Both of them are starving to achieve freedom, physically and spiritually. The Mississippi River serves as the symbol for the two characters’ way for having the pinch of freedom. Even though they have difficulty in their journey in being free men, they were able to achieve genuine happiness and freedom they are waiting for.
Racial and Social Classification
White people are the most dominant characters in the story and yet the black people are just in the background in the whole novel. They are just asked to do chores and not to save someone or be fully noticed as the superhero in the novel. This segregation makes the reader see that everyone should be treated equally regardless of diversity. Aside from having issues with races, being rich and poor is tackled in the novel. Grangerfords symbolizes people who are extremely rich which puts them on top of the pyramid, makes them superior, and be the ones to control the power and the existence of slavery.
This issue is vividly evident to Huck Finn, especially to what he is experiencing to his Pap. The whiskey symbolizes the violence since every time that his father will get drunk, he will always beat and hurt him. Also, Huck experienced the tragic and brutal feud among the Grangerfords and Sheperdsons. Between these families are the guns and chaos that separates them in being good ones. It is like the remake of the modern Romeo and Juliet specifically the war among Capulets and Montagues. He clearly saw the death of every member of the Grangerfords especially his friend, Buck. The author emphasizes that whether the person is educated or not, there will be nonsensical conflicts that can cause to a person’s fall.
In the opening chapters of the novel, various things are being believed by people that causes to Huck’s bad lucks. When Huck spilled the salt, he was told by Miss Watson not to lay the salt on his shoulder because it will cause him bad luck. Another one is the spider he let burnt to a lighted candle believing him to have bad luck. Also, the snakeskin he brought to Jim ’caused’ them bad luck where Huck made the incident of hiding the dead snake under Jim’s bed that made Jim bitten by another snake that came near and surrounded the dead snake. For the author to show foreshadowing that Huck’s Pap will come to see him, Huck asked Jim on what his Pap plans are by Jim letting the hairball come from an ox’ stomach down on the ground to predict what will happen next.
‘It’s a dead man. Yes, indeedy; naked, too. He’s ben shot in de back. I reck’n he’s ben dead two er three days. Come in, Huck, but doan’ look at his face—it’s too gashly.’—such quote has grave importance for the story since it took part a significant role for the ending of the novel; the death of Huck’s Pap as Jim revealed at the end that the man they saw dead was Huck’s father. This line of Jim also represented the friendship they have since he did not want for Huck to see his father dead for him to not hurt and feel down.
‘Then I thought a minute, and says to myself, hold on; s’pose you’d a done right and give Jim up, would you felt better than what you do now? No, says I, I’d feel bad—I’d feel just the same way I do now. Well, then, says I, what’s the use you learning to do right when it’s troublesome to do right and ain’t no trouble to do wrong, and the wages is just the same? I was stuck. I couldn’t answer that. So I reckoned I wouldn’t bother no more about it, but after this always do whichever come handiest at the time’—this was the contemplation of Huck as he continued to help in freeing Jim. At first, he thought that helping him escape is going against the law and the society which is why he must go to authorities and tell them about Jim but due to the friendship they formed, he chose to help him and be a good friend. This also symbolizes the strength of the friendship they built because he chose to do what is moral instead of what is right for others and the society.