Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Huck's Evolution

I think what I like most about Huckleberry Finn as a character is the fact that he is very much like a real life human being—far from perfect, and in a way that at the same time makes sense and contradicts itself. For example, Huck discusses at length at various points in the novel the idea of morality, and whether or not he buys into it. He ponders what is “right” or “good” often, and how certain actions make him feel. In the end, he and Tom decide that “it don’t make no difference whether you do right or wrong, a person’s conscience ain’t got no sense, and just goes for him anyway.” We see the battle in Huck between what he believes is right according to others, which would be to turn Jim in, but he recognizes that doing so would not make him feel good at all. Most interesting to me about this inner struggle is the fact that, while calling Jim “white inside” certainly is still racist, or at the very least white supremist, of him, his decision earlier in the novel that “he cared just as much for his people as white folks does for their’n. It don’t seem natural, but I reckon it’s so” is fairly radical for the time. The fact that he comes to this decision on his own and begins to question everything he’d been taught about black people his whole life shows a kind of progress that most people didn’t bother with during this time period. Another example of when Huck put what he was being told to do aside was when he returned the money to Mary Jane after seeing what Wilks’s nieces were going through after the loss of their uncle. Although at this point, Huck doesn’t know his father is dead, I think his compassion for them comes from his own father’s mistreatment of him. He is touched by their grief, especially so knowing that if his own father were to die, he would have no such sadness, even though he does seem to feel some sort of connection to his father. At his own risk, and at Jim’s risk, he returns the money to them. The fact that both of these situations arise not from the thought that they what is happening is wrong or bad by nature, or because it isn’t Christian, but simply because Huck isn’t comfortable with it is indicative of his formation in this novel into his own person, free from the judgments of anyone else he might belong to at any given time.

In a way, this novel is about Huck’s quest to self-discovery, or at the very least, it is the reader’s quest in Huck-discovery. The characters around Huck, Miss Watson, Judge Thatcher, his father, all make him uncomfortable when they attempt to impose what they think he should be on him, when really he’s just a mix of the two. He is certainly capable of reading and writing, but he has no desire to excel at either, and this book evidences both sides of that. His decision to write this book, however, shows that now, without his father and Miss Watson, he owns himself, just like Jim now does as well. My favorite quote from the book comes early on, when Jim says, “I’s rich now, come to look at it. I owns myself, and I’s wuth eight hund’d dollars.” Huck’s decision to move out west before Aunt Polly can “sivilize” him shows to me a strong sense of self and a sense of awareness of his strengths that perhaps he didn’t have when he was going to school every day to spite his father even though he never really enjoyed it. Huck, after this long adventure with Jim who has long since owned himself, is now under no one’s jurisdiction but his own, especially since he has begun to free himself from the prejudices and the need to conform to the world he grew up in. Even if he goes to live with Aunt Polly, he’ll find a way to make it his own.

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