The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a picaresque novel in which the hero undergoes a series of adventures and successfully outwits all those who tangle with him. The adventures acquire unity through certain elements like the language, the locale, the point of view and the hero. Although readers agree that Hucks instincts for self preservation are very good, they also realize that he grows in moral awareness as a result of his experiences. As he floats down the river with Jim, Huck Finn leaves behind what society, family and friends have taught him and develops his own moral code.
Huck has more or less raised himself since his mother is dead and his drunken father pursues his own self-centered interest rather than his sons. It has been necessary, therefore, for Huck to develop a strong sense of independence along with very good instincts. It is not unusual for orphans or neglected children to develop a strong sense of self reliance. He is very lonely, however, and is happy to have Tom sawyers companionship. He joins Toms gang even though he realizes that Toms gameplaying is immature and ineffective. At other times, however, Toms antics impress him and he admires Toms sophistication. Tom likes to do things according to the romantic adventures he reads about in books (Bellamy 96 ) . Tom is better educated than Huck and, unlike his father, he sees that education is important. His arguments against going to school have more to do with having to wear tight clothes and sitting still for a long time than objecting to what he is taught, although he loses interest in Moses when he learns that he has been dead for a long time. Subconsciously, Huck sees that slavery in Egypt is not much different from slavery in the South. He also realizes that people like Miss Watson are acting under a double standard. She insists that he attend bible school and learn the commandments while she also owns a slave. In spite of what society, family and friends believe, Hucks intuition tells him that slavery is wrong and that everyone has a right to freedom.
Another trait that Huck is developing as a result of contacts with society is a sense of privacy and greater self reliance. He often keeps his thoughts to himself and rarely talks to anyone except himself and the reader giving the impression that he thinks about things a lot. When he needs a plan to escape from his father he does not ask the Widow Douglas or Tom for advice. Instead he relies on his own resources. He knows that Toms scheme for escape would be complicated and dangerous and that it probably would not work. Jim, on the other hand, tends to give wise, practical advice and the two of them often make their plans together. Jim consistently reveals a superior sense of practical judgment that Huck grows to appreciate more and more. Huck realizes, however, that Jims superstitions are not trustworthy although he has a few of his own that are equally unreliable.
When Huck goes to live with the Grangerfords for a while, he learns about a feud between the Grangerfords and Shepardsons that has been going on for a long time, but what puzzles him is the fact that no one remembers how it started or why it is still going on. He also thinks that it is ironic that they take their guns to church with them. Twain is commenting here about the futility of meaningless conflicts in society ( Bellamy 97 ).
When Huck meets King and Duke he generously invites them to take refuge with them on the raft, it does not take Huck long to see through their stories and realize that they are frauds. Nevertheless, he goes along with their game in order to keep peace on the raft. Huck himself is not above a little deception and he tells them that Jim is his slave but he has lost the papers to prove it. When the two rascals try to cheat the Wilks girls out of their fortune, however, he regrets that he has been an accomplice in their deception. He steals the money and hides it in Wilks coffin and is happy when the real brothers appear and it all turns out all right.
When the king sells Jim for forty dollars to a farmer, Huck is torn between his love for Jim and what his conscience tells him his duty to Miss Watson is, Jims rightful owner. Hucks struggle with his conscience over whether or not to return Jim to Miss Watson is a major theme of the book and important event in his moral development. Should he follow societys law and return Miss Watsons property to her or follow his own instincts for deciding right from wrong and continue to help Jim escape? His dilemma is a severe moral crisis from which he learns the value of friendship and love for another human being. Still struggling against what has been a very strong influence in his life, he makes the decision to go to hell and save Jim. Even now, Huck has too weak a sense of his own moral rectitude to feel right about this decision (Harris 73). Huck is still too much part of his southern society and he is still afraid of becoming an outcast. On the other hand, he recognizes that culture that promotes slavery is inhuman and cruel and he knows that it is his responsibility to save Jim. Huck grows a lot when he apologizes for fooling Jim about a dream. Jims indignation is severe and Huck deserves it when Jim calls him trash (Bellamy 100). For the first time Huck realizes that Jim is a person. He had already seen that Jim cares as much for his wife and children as white people do. Now he realizes that Jim is brokenhearted when he thinks Huck is dead.
Several critics argue about the ending of Huck Finn, insisting that when Huck accepts Toms plan for Jims escape many readers no longer believe that he renounces slavery. Instead they say, he becomes Toms accomplice and is too submissive and gullible (Marx 31). Instead of taking Jims escape seriously, he joins Tom in treating the escape like a game. As a result of this, Jim is almost recaptured and killed. Opposing this negative view of the ending other critics argue in favor of it. Eliot insists that Hucks struggle has been consistent throughout the book and it would not be fitting for him to reject Toms plan at the end. Rubenstein claims that human beings are superior to each other only in the goodness of their hearts and their love for other people and Huck and Jim have met this test over and over again (Rubenstein 60). However, it has been consistent for Huck to let others have their way as long as it promotes harmony. Huck is in character when he says, I see in a minute Toms plan was worth fifteen of mine for style and would make him just as free a man as mine would, and maybe get us killed besides.
While giving Tom a chance to spread himself, Huck reserves the right to retain control of the operation and reserves the right to end the plan if anything goes wrong. Huck contradicts Tom on several occasions when the situation worsens (Hill 188). Tom oversteps the bounds of prudence but also shows some nobility during this episode (Hill 189). In the escape he insists on being the last one out and in so doing is the only one shot. Furthermore, he is willing to suffer rather than jeopardize Jims escape by looking for a doctor. Characteristically, Jim also shows signs of nobility. He has done this earlier in small ways like taking extra watches on the raft and in other situations. This time, however, he is heroic. At the end, when he is driven back to the farm with blows, loaded down with chains, and threatened with hanging, he refuses to say a word to implicate his accomplices even though at this point he may have a justifiable resentment against Tom (Hill 189).
In conclusion, it is clear that Huck has learned a lot from Jim especially that slaves are persons and not property, as he has been taught. He realizes that southern societys willingness to hold slaves is inhuman and cruel. That is why he decides to help free Jim rather than return him to Miss Watson who also realizes it is wrong and frees Jim. As he floats down the river at the end, he leaves behind what society, family, and friends have taught him and develops his own moral code. He lights out for the river to enjoy the peace and freedom he experiences there.
Bellamy, Gladys Carmen. A Satire on American institutions. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Ed. Harold Bloom. San Diego: Greenhaven Press. 1998. 95-105
Cohen, Ralph. A Key to understanding Huckleberry Finn. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Ed, Harold Bloom. Sand Diego: Greenhaven Press. 68-78
Harris, Susan K. Huck Finn. Huck Finn. Ed. Harold Bloom. Philadelphia: Chelsea House,
Hill, Richard. A Beutifully Crafted Ending. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. D. Harold
Bloom. San Diego: Greenhaven Press. 1998. 85-95
Marx, Leo. Mr. Elliot, Mr. Trilling and Huckleberry Finn. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Ed.Claude M. Simpson. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, Inc. 1968. 16-26