The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain


Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel
about a young boy's coming of age in the Missouri of the
mid-1800's. The main character, Huckleberry Finn, spends
much time in the novel floating down the Mississippi River
on a raft with a runaway slave named Jim. Before he does
so, however, Huck spends some time in the fictional town of
St. Petersburg where a number of people attempt to
influence him.
Before the novel begins, Huck Finn has led a life of
absolute freedom. His drunken and often missing father has
never paid much attention to him; his mother is dead and
so, when the novel begins, Huck is not used to following
any rules. The book's opening finds Huck living with the
Widow Douglas and her sister, Miss Watson. Both women are
fairly old and are really somewhat incapable of raising a
rebellious boy like Huck Finn. Nevertheless, they attempt
to make Huck into what they believe will be a better boy.
Specifically, they attempt, as Huck says, to "sivilize"
him. This process includes making Huck go to school,
teaching him various religious facts, and making him act in
a way that the women find socially acceptable. Huck, who
has never had to follow many rules in his life, finds the
demands the women place upon him constraining and the life
with them lonely. As a result, soon after he first moves in
with them, he runs away. He soon comes back, but, even
though he becomes somewhat comfortable with his new life as
the months go by, Huck never really enjoys the life of
manners, religion, and education that the Widow and her
sister impose upon him.
Huck believes he will find some freedom with Tom Sawyer.
Tom is a boy of Huck's age who promises Huck and other boys
of the town a life of adventure. Huck is eager to join Tom
Sawyer's Gang because he feels that doing so will allow him
to escape the somewhat boring life he leads with the Widow
Douglas. Unfortunately, such an escape does not occur. Tom
Sawyer promises much--robbing stages, murdering and
ransoming people, kidnaping beautiful women--but none of
this comes to pass. Huck finds out too late that Tom's
adventures are imaginary: that raiding a caravan of
"A-rabs" really means terrorizing young children on a
Sunday school picnic, that stolen "joolry" is nothing more
than turnips or rocks. Huck is disappointed that the
adventures Tom promises are not real and so, along with the
other members, he resigns from the gang.
Another person who tries to get Huckleberry Finn to change
is Pap, Huck's father. Pap is one of the most astonishing
figures in all of American literature as he is completely
antisocial and wishes to undo all of the civilizing effects
that the Widow and Miss Watson have attempted to instill in
Huck. Pap is a mess: he is unshaven; his hair is uncut and
hangs like vines in front of his face; his skin, Huck says,
is white like a fish's belly or like a tree toad's. Pap's
savage appearance reflects his feelings as he demands that
Huck quit school, stop reading, and avoid church. Huck is
able to stay away from Pap for a while, but Pap kidnaps
Huck three or four months after Huck starts to live with
the Widow and takes him to a lonely cabin deep in the
Missouri woods. Here, Huck enjoys, once again, the freedom
that he had prior to the beginning of the book. He can
smoke, "laze around," swear, and, in general, do what he
wants to do. However, as he did with the Widow and with
Tom, Huck begins to become dissatisfied with this life. Pap
is "too handy with the hickory" and Huck soon realizes that
he will have to escape from the cabin if he wishes to
remain alive. As a result of his concern, Huck makes it
appear as if he is killed in the cabin while Pap is away,
and leaves to go to a remote island in the Mississippi River, Jackson's Island.
It is after he leaves his father's cabin that Huck joins
yet another important influence in his life: Miss Watson's
slave, Jim. Prior to Huck's leaving, Jim has been a minor
character in the novel--he has been shown being fooled by
Tom Sawyer and telling Huck's fortune. Huck finds Jim on
Jackson's Island because the slave has run away--he has
overheard a conversation that he will soon be sold to New
Orleans. Soon after joining Jim on Jackson's Island, Huck
begins to realize that Jim has more talents and
intelligence than Huck has been aware of. Jim knows "all
kinds of signs" about the future, people's personalities,
and weather forecasting. Huck finds this kind of
information necessary as he and Jim drift down the
Mississippi on a raft. As important, Huck feels a comfort
with Jim that he has not felt with the other major
characters in the novel. With Jim, Huck can enjoy the best
aspects of his earlier influences. As does the Widow, Jim
allows Huck security, but Jim is not as confining as is the
Widow. Like Tom Sawyer, Jim is intelligent but his
intelligence is not as intimidating or as imaginary as is
Tom's. As does Pap, Jim allows Huck freedom, but he does it
in a loving, rather than an uncaring, fashion. Thus, early,
in their relationship on Jackson's Island, Huck says to
Jim, "This is nice. I wouldn't want to be nowhere else but
here." This feeling is in marked contrast with Huck's
feelings concerning other people in the early part of the
novel where he always is uncomfortable and wishes to leave
At the conclusion of chapter 11 in The Adventures of
Huckleberry Finn, Huck and Jim are forced to leave
Jackson's Island because Huck discovers that people are
looking for the runaway slave. Prior to leaving, Huck tells
Jim, "They're after us." Clearly, the people are after Jim,
but Huck has already identified with Jim and has begun to
care for him. This stated empathy shows that the two
outcasts will have a successful and rewarding friendship as
they drift down the river. 


Quotes: Search by Author