Themes in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
"Just because you’re taught that something’s right and everyone believes it’s right, it don’t make it right.”
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a timeless American Classic by internationally acclaimed author, Mark Twain. Today, however, there is a great deal of controversy regarding whether or not the novel should be present in the education system. Due to several underlying themes, such as slavery, racial slurs, and its satirical tone, the novel appears on nearly every banned book list.
Before I begin, I want to establish that I didn't pick up this book of my own accord - it was a reading requirement for my high school English class. I just finished reading The Scarlet Letter for the very same class, and I found it to be a bit of a challenging read due to the writing style and 15th century vocabulary. Therefore, reading five chapters of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn per night seemed like a daunting task until I actually picked up the book. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that the book was a fairly easy read, especially in comparison with other classics, making this one of my favorite classics of all time.
The story begins with a mention of Tom Sawyer, who reappears on several occasions throughout the book. Having never read Tom Sawyer, I was initially concerned that my lack of knowledge would negatively impact my reading. However, from what I can gather, the two stories are completely unrelated; one does not have to read Tom Sawyer to understand The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Anyway, the story centers around a teenager by the name of Huck Finn who lives in Mississippi Valley in the heart of slavery. The novel tells of Huck's adventures floating down the Mississippi River on a raft. During his journey, he encounters a runaway slave by the name of Jim. Together, they embark on a journey to escape their pasts and obtain freedom from societal oppressions.
From a young age, Huck was taught that slavery was morally and ethically acceptable. Even his very pious caretaker, Widow Douglass, believed that slavery benefitted society as a whole. Huck doesn't find fault with it until he matures into adolescence and begins to question the world around him. During his journey, he contemplates whether or not he should turn Jim over to local authorities and claim the $300 reward. He grapples with this concept repeatedly, eventually concluding:
"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."
Huck, our main character, had a troubled childhood. His mother is never mentioned and his father is the town drunk, often verbally and physically abusing his son after overindulging in alcohol. Due to his father's unreliability and constant disappearances, Huck is placed in the care of Widow Douglass, who sets out to reform Huck's behavior and instill in him a sense of religion. Huck loathes her strict rules and constant preaching about the Bible, often rebelling and wreaking havoc when her back is turned. Consequently, Huck serves as a sarcastic and satirical narrator, sharing his rather interesting view of the world, which are heavily influenced by his Southern roots and his interactions with those around him.
I enjoyed the plot overall, but found it to be a bit slow at times. I found myself skimming certain chapters in an attempt to reach a more engaging section of the book. There were several scenes that left me with baited breath, panicking about what would happen next. I found that the writing flowed nicely and Twain transitioned well from one event to the next. I loved Twain's writing style throughout the book. It was simple and lucid but managed to convey several important, driving themes.