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Civil War And Huckleberry Finn Essay


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a novel by Mark Twain, relates events following the Civil War. Prior to this bloody conflict, American Authors romanticized life in the United States, but presented it in an unrealistic and an improbable manner which ignored the blatant ills that were infused into society. Especially during the era of reconstruction, the United States and the former Confederacy were plagued with evils, such as racism and greed. Only with the advent of social realism, and authors such as Mark Twain, are these issues finally brought out into the open, and into literature. The book depicts a child, Huckleberry Finn, escaping from his abusive father, rafting down the Mississippi with an escaped slave. During the course of their trip they encounter slave catchers and carpet baggers, all with their own intentions in mind. While the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn depicts a fantastic fictional story, it really addresses the inevitability of greed, racism, and the amorality of society, by allowing the protagonist, Huckleberry Finn, to be overwhelmed by these ills.

Mark Twain is the penname for Samuel Clemons. Clemons was born on November 30, 1835, in Florida, Missouri. Because he was born in antebellum America, and because Missouri was slave state, Twain saw the horrors of slavery first-hand. Moreover, after the Civil War, Twain saw reconstruction, along with the corruption, racism, and amorality that resulted. The rampant destruction of these values caused Mark Twain to view society through an increasingly cynical lens. Another event which particularly impacted Twains life was his tour as a steam boat driver. While he drove the newly invented steam boats up and down the length of the Mississippi, he realized how western society had transformed the once tranquil river into a polluted stream. In fact, the environmental degradation of the Mississippi lost him his job; the tourism and service industry on the river faded with the increase in population. However, despite his contempt for modern society, he criticized the romanticizing of the past. Prior to Twains influential writing, the crux of American Literature was idealizing the past. His novel, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthurs Court, attempted to compare the benefits of the innovations developed during the nineteenth century. His ensuing philosophy, Social Realism, the rejection of romanticizing the past in present, still exists as a major school of thought today.

The entirety of society is premised around the notion that collecting capital is vital to a comfortable life. The lack of money drives individuals to pursue the collection of wealth at all costs, more commonly known as greed. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, every single character is influenced by greed. Even Finn, the supposed outlet of morality, can trace his problems to acclamation of affluence. Only after he inherits his fortune does he become restless, and embark on his journey. While every character is impacted the greed, the Duke and the Dauphin represent the epitome of greed. They scam innocent civilians out of money, and then flee the area. During Finns and Jims journey, the Duke and the Dauphin assert themselves on the raft destroying Finns paradise (Parks). Instead of Finn denouncing their shams, he views them as family (Twain). Those manipulators reminded Finn of his Father, who consistently inflicted physical pain on Finn to achieve wealth. The sympathy that Finn feels is symptomatic of greeds inevitability (Pearl). Even though Twain clearly portrays the Duke and the Dauphin as criminals, yet Finn is unable to stop them. In effect, the greed overcame Finn and re-inscribed gluttony.

Another aspect of the gilded age is ubiquitous racism. Especially in the south, African Americans were viewed as the bottom of the social ladder; they were presumed to be criminals. Twain was an avid abolitionist who strongly condemned slavery, and the reconstruction eras state sanctioned racism, manifested in laws such as literacy tests and Jim Crow Laws (Twain). The strongest condemnation of racism in the novel stems from the disease rhetoric used to describe it. When slave catchers attempt to find Jim, Finn says that his father is afflicted with small pox, and cannot be seen (Twain). Twains equivocation of racism and disease reveal his contempt for it. Racism infects like a disease, it affects people like a disease, and carries the same social stigma as a disease. In fact, the proponents of slavery used the term diseased to refer to the former slaves. Even though Twain strongly condemned racism, he still allowed Finn to be overcome by it. Despite Finns provocations that Jim is equal, he still refers to him as a good nigger (Twain). Insofar as Jims sincerest efforts do not divorce race from his identity, racism is still present. Instead of calling Jim a good nigger, he should have referred to him as a good person (Mason). By allowing racism to overcome Finn, the protagonist of the novel, Twain illustrates its omnipresent nature; it literally saturates society, permeating everyones ideologies and preconceived notions.

During the span of the gilded age, corruption marred the sincerest of establishments. Unfortunately, individuals lacked the initiative to curtail such corruption. It is the same ideology that normalized amoral behavior. Most conceptions of morality define it as a binary; an action is either morally justified, or immoral. When society no longer sees the social blemishes as problems needing fixing, then people develop an amoral attitude; a virtual bifurcation of morality from a decision making calculus. The first instance of Finns amorality is during the stay of the Duke and the Dauphin. Despite several conscious declarations to the contrary, Finn refuses to evict them from the raft. Rather, he supports their scandals in their entirety. Even though he knows that their actions are wrong, Finn still refuses to act. The refusal to engage in a call to action eventuates in Jims capture, an almost metaphysical punishment for destroying the sanctity of the victim towns. Only when he feels that societal norms are conflicting with his actions does he shift his moral paradigm. Finn only acts upon societal trends like truth (Pinkser). Towards the end of the novel, Tom Sawyer makes an appearance. His entrance in the novel acts as an inhibiter to Finns moral accountability. Sawyer, who treats life as a game, has lost contact with reality, skewing any sort of moral culpability he musters (Lane). He treats the liberation of Jim as a game, lessoning moral grounds to extradite him, and increasing narcissistic and petty ones.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is widely as on of the best examples of American literature. It depicts the social problems prevalent during that time, in a manner that does not conform to traditional European modes of writing. The next great American author, Ernest Hemingway commented that all modern American literature stems from Huckleberry Finn (Hemingway). Even though this novel explores many pivotal aspects of a crucial aspect in American History, many libraries have banned Twains novel. The two foremost justifications put forward are his use of the derogatory word nigger and the uncouth manner of writing. Even though Twain was an avid abolitionist, many contemporary analysts find offense in Twains use of that word. They claim that because of his discursive affirmation of racism, the objections in the book are negated. Also, Twains writing, similar to the ideology of Americans at that time is coarse (Leonard). His rhetoric and depictions of socially reprehensible issues cause some analysts to believe that he does not represent classic literature, but rather the archetypal uneducated southerner.

Unlike most authors of his time, Mark Twain could identify the problems that were preventing the south, and by affect the rest of the nation, from achieving absolute prosperity. His hopes were that eventually, the satirical ways in which he explained these issues would break down the social norms that allowed the problems to flourish. Fortunately, society has moved away from Twains conception of America, and alleviated many of the by-products of hate and discriminations. Unfortunately, while society has moved away, these problems still exist, and require absolute dedication to ensure they dont overtook every individual, as they overtook Huckleberry Finn.

Works Cited

Lane, Lauriat Jr. Why Huckleberry Finn Is a Great World Novel, in College English, Vol. 17, No. 1, October, 1955, pp. 15.

Mason, Ernest D. "Attraction and Repulsion: Huck Finn 'Nigger' Jim, and Black Americans." CLA Journal 33 (September 1989): 36-48.

Parks, Clara. "The River and the Road: Fashions in Forgiveness." American Scholar 66 (winter 1997): 43-62.

Pearl, James. An overview of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in, an essay for Exploring Novels, Gale, 1998.

Pinsker, Sanford. "Huckleberry Finn and the Problem of Freedom." Virginia Quarterly Review 7, no. 4 (autumn 2001): 642-49.

Twain, Mark. "A Scrap of Curious History." Unpublished essay. 10 Feb. 2008 .

Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Clayton: Prestwick House, 2005.

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