Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Huck's Character: A Representation of a Societal Problem

Maybe Huck’s character does not change, but is this lack of change in fact what Mark Twain is going for? In Huck seeing firsthand the cruelty and ignorance of society, whether it be the fatal fight between the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons, the tarred and feathered fate of the duke and the king, or the killing of Boggs, he acts as a vessel through which Twain can criticize (through exaggeration) the white, southern society. But Huck himself also represents a fault of society in that the injustices are directly in front of him but he cannot completely change his opinions about them and cannot help feeling morally wrong for acting against such obvious injustices. His feelings towards helping Jim escape slavery prove the most profound examples of his confused responses towards the unjust society, although such feelings are completely moral. Although Huck represents a branch of society that does not go by the books, like Tom, or superstitions, like Jim, therefore seeming to be an individual, he represents a faction of the community that fails to take action and stand up against wrongdoings and immoral standards, perhaps representing Twain’s negative attitude towards a society that purposely avoids any thought or action that could change or upset the current state and authority.

During the hard times, such as when Jim is caught, Huck demonstrates an attitude for change in that he wants to take action and get Jim out, despite the laws against this: “…and said I would take up wickedness again, which was in my line, being brung up to it, and the other warn’t. And for a starter, I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again; and if I could think up anything worse, I would do that, too; because as long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog” (Twain 223). His conscience tells him that what he is doing in helping Jim is wrong, although he has a deeper feeling of humanity that stems mainly from his good relationship with Jim. However, at the end when Jim is free again and Huck discovers that his father is no longer a threat, i.e. everything is back to normal, Huck somewhat forgets all that he has learned and returns to his previous state of inactivity, even though he still has feelings of distrust towards “sivilization” and the society imposed upon him: “But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because aunt Sally says she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can’t stand it. I been there before” (Twain 296).

Even the close-minded beliefs of those closest to him, mainly Jim and Tom, fail to leave a lasting impression on Huck’s interpretation of society. He watches them as they fall to the ridiculous routines of their beliefs and then, in the end when all is good again, forgets that they were ever vulnerable to such beliefs. Huck’s relation to Tom is a perfect example of this choice to forget, for Huck’s distrust towards Tom and his romantic, bookish ways of freeing Jim are ignored when Jim is finally free. In choosing to forget his experiences and the things he learned along his journey, Huck ends up back where he started, as if he’s “been there before”. Twain therefore portrays Huck not only as an innocent bystander, witness to the unnecessarily cruel actions taking place around him, but also as a member of society that, in his idle attitude toward making changes, is just as guilty as those who are ignorant to the necessity for change. In this sense, Twain could be commenting on the ignorance of some as well as on the laziness of others who, despite their awareness of morality, choose not to make a difference, proving this novel to be a timeless critique of the structure of society.

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