In the beginning of the novel widow Douglass attempted to “sivilize” Huck through education, religion, and manners. In the second half of the novel however Huck becomes a man in this strangely staged coming-of-age novel. Though he may not be “sivilized” in the traditional sense, he did learn the importance of friendship, love, and loyalty as well as the difference between the good man and the con man, and that maybe the right thing to do in your heart may not always align itself in the law of the state, (or more specifically the Fugitive Slave law). I think that he learned all of these lessons via the example of Joe, the only positive male role model to ever enter Huck’s life. Thus it could be said that in the real world Huck was a fatherless child in the sense that his biological father was non-factor in his life in the second half of the novel. However, his relationship with Jim could be related to having a surrogate or a proxy of what a father would be to his son.
In his own roundabout reasoning Huck recognizes the rareness of his relationship to Jim when he ponders,
“And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me, all the time, in the day, and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a floating along, talking, and singing, and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, stead of calling-so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had small-pox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he’s got now…” (223).
I don’t think that Huck had ever really encountered a man who truly loved him and therefore it wasn’t until he lost Jim that he realized how their relationship was the closest he had ever been to having a father figure. His father persistently beat him and only wanted money from his son. Jim however, was honest, caring, and selfless. When he risks his freedom in order to nurse Tom back to health, I think that only further showed Huck the kind of person that he should strive to be. Though Huck may never be a gentleman by dress, I genuinely believe that he will become a unique brand of gentleman by virtue of knowing Jim.
Some may read this relationship to be a profound friendship rather than that of a father and a son. This is a reading has merit in the fact that the quote above suggests that this is how both Huck and Jim would define this relationship. However, Huck is missing his own parents and in turn Jim is missing the family he was forced to leave behind when he believed that he was going to be sold to New Orleans. Thus in this lonely journey where they had to live on the fringes of society in order to avoid the dangers of the Fugitive Slave Law; they only had one another to lean on and I think that they formed their own quasi-family along the journey.