Criticism of the Whole World The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
A young innocent boy who feels the whole world is against him. Huckleberry Finn feels he is trapped and cornered. His actions are constrained and his freedom is limited. This is what civilization has done to Huck. The only place where he can find sanctuary is the river. For Huck and Jim, the river becomes a place where the only bliss in civilization exists. Everywhere else, civilization is just a force trying to mold them into shapes that they do not want to be. What is civilization? Is it like the Grangerfords and Shepherdsons who would do anything to kill each other or is it like Miss Watson or the Phelpses who buy and sell slaves as if they were chattel? None of the characters have totally civilized characteristics. It appears as though no one wants to be civilized. Even the proper Miss Watson cannot live without her dear slaves. Whether she is good to them or not is not an issue. The fact that she does not look at them as her equal takes points off her character. How can a society consider itself civilized if they deny the humanity of large numbers of people in it? The satirical novel ridicules civilization. Mark Twain tries to look for civilization everywhere but in vain, he finds it where it is least expected. He finds civilization away from the towns and away from the busy people's lives. Civilization lies in the almost isolated surroundings of the river. There is great contrast in the river and the shore. The hands of 'civilization' drive people onto the river. People want to believe that civilization exists on the shore. But the hopeless attempts to reach civilization on the shore show that the river is a better place that is more humanized. It is only in the parts where Jim is treated as a human being where the positive aspects of civilization are shown. Civilization is not when Huckleberry Finn has to wear his nice new clothes or when he has to come for supper when a bell is rung. As Huck says in the last line of the book - "Aunt Sally she's going to adopt and sivilize me and I can't stand it. I been there before" (Twain 369) Huck doesn't feel he is 'sivilized' when he follows all the proper and decent manners of Aunt Sally. Only when he helps Jim escape from his dreaded fate does he feel humane and good about himself. Instances like when he does the 'right thing' by not giving up Jim, give Huck a more civilized character than anyone else in the book. There is irony in the fact that the person who cares the least about being civilized may in fact be having one of the most civilized emotions of all the characters. He is more civilized and mature than his elders precisely because he looks at the world from a different angle. He rejects the notions on what is necessary and real and goes by feelings other than what the supposedly civilized world follows. His non-conformist nature makes him bold and civilized. "..and so when I couldn't stand it any longer, I lit out. I got into my old rags, and my sugar hogshead again, and was free and satisfied" (Twain 49)
Everyone lives in their own unrealistic realm. Jim wants to be a free man, the Duke and the King believe they can get away with anything, Miss Watson and Widow Douglas think everything can be made perfect and Tom lives in a world of adventure and excitement. No one lives in the real world. If they would just look around they would realize that it is not civilization they are living in. They have created imaginary worlds. Nature and the river is needed to snap them out of their beliefs and bring them to the real world where civilization exists. Even Jim started to accept the fact that it was a next to impossible mission to make himself and his family free. The rich families of the Grangerfords and Shepherdsons are in a feud. Huck Finn and Mark Twain see no sense in the killings between the families. Even for the time the book was written, when civilization was not as advanced as it is today, the feud was looked upon with amazement as to how people could kill senselessly. Both families indulge in uncivilized acts. It is certainly not expected for two families of such elite standing to follow barbarous doings. The King and the Duke hope to get away with their hoodwinking play. They believe that people would fall for it precisely because they haven't yet reached that advanced stage of social development called civilization. Both of them think themselves to be more civilized than any of the people on shore. But the reader knows just how civilized the Duke and the King are. They are nothing but mere scoundrels. And if they are more civilized than the people on shore, then those people do have a long way to go before they reach civilization. Although the people eventually see through their sneaky act, Mark Twain still does not think the people to be worthy enough to have reached the level of civilization that he pictures. The examples of uncivilized people in the book show how society thinks themselves to be civilized. This gives them a feeling of having an edge over those who are not civilized. It is this very feeling that also makes them uncivilized. This is how Mark Twain has viewed people in the book. This is his criticism of civilization. Out of a handful there lie very few that can be called civilized in the world.