The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Study Guide

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel by Mark Twain about Huck, a mischievous boy, who runs away from his drunken father. Huck meets up with Jim, a runaway slave and they travel down the Mississippi on a raft. The two escape through various misadventures, including the family feud between the Grangerfofrds and Shepherdsons and the conning "duke and king." Finally, Jim is captured on the Phelps' farm, Huck plans an escape and, finally, it is revealed that Jim is now a freeman and Huck's father has died.

Sometimes the widow would take me one side and talk about Providence in a way to make a body's mouth water; but maybe next day Miss Watson would take hold and knock it all down again. I judged I could see that there was two Providences, and a poor chap would stand considerable show with the widow's Providence, but if Miss Watson's got him there warn't no help for him any more. I thought it all out, and reckoned I would belong to the widow's, if he wanted me, though I couldn't make out how he was agoing to be any better off then than what he was before, seeing I was so ignorant and so kind of low-down and ornery.

This quote, found in Chapter 3, demonstrates the irony with which Twain deals with religion. Huck is being "civilized" by the widow and Miss Watson and they each do their best to educate him as to what is right and what is wrong. Both women are very religious and naturally wish to teach Huck about God and his rules. Immediately, the differences between the two women's attitudes are apparent. Though they would most likely undoubtedly state that they believe in the same God and agree about what the Bible teaches, the way that they explain the nature of God and the effects of righteousness and sinfulness demonstrates how widely people within the same religion can interpret the same text. In this way, Huck's distaste for "civilization" and with it, religion, is based on completely logical sentiments. He disagrees with what they teach purely because he is confused about what it means to him.

In addition, these women are proponents of a society which instructs Huck to turn on Jim and inform someone of his whereabouts. They plant the seed in his mind that will plague him as he and Jim approach his freedom. He has moments of worry as his guilty conscience reminds him of everything that the widow taught him. Even though he has learned that Jim is not the unfeeling property that society would have him believe, he second-guesses his decision to assist Jim's escape. Their instruction, which reflects society's customs, is deeply embedded within Huck's mind, though, fortunately, not as deeply as Huck's understanding of the right man has to liberty. He struggles with what the widow represents and what his heart tells him is most important. Twain demonstrates the way in which religion in the South helped to perpetuate the institution of slavery by supporting the idea of inborn superiority rather than the notion of brotherly love. This is echoed by the scene with the Grangerfords in which they go to church and talk about love and predestination but continue to kill their neighbors for no reason other than to save face.

"Well, it's all right, anyway, Jim, long as you're going to be rich again some time or other."

"Yes--en I's rich now, come to look at it. I owns myself, en I's wuth eight hund'd dollars. I wisht I had de money, I wouldn' want no mo'."

This quote, from chapter 8, is a glimpse into Jim's personality. He and Huck have been talking about superstitions and Jim informs Huck that a hairy chest, as Jim has, is a sign that he will be rich one day. He relates a story about how he was rich once and then lost all of the money in a variety of ways. Huck assures him that he will be rich again. Jim agrees and a poignant moment results as he points out that in a way, he is still rich. The fact that he good-naturedly faces the fact that his existence has been given a monetary value shows the depth of his grace and understanding. His clever appraisal of his situation shows how smart he is and exemplifies his optimism and belief that his attempt at freedom will be successful. Twain's irony in this comment emphasizes the ludicrous basis of the institution of slavery. The idea that a dollar amount could be placed on a human being is appalling. Twain reminds the reader that though it is becoming apparent that Jim is a kind and giving person society has labeled him property and taken his rights from him.

The fact that Jim is a human being, not property, will be harder and harder to ignore as the novel progresses. He constantly protects Huck and is interested in his well-being. Huck notices that Jim will take an extra turn steering the raft so that Huck can sleep longer. Jim is trusting and devoted to Huck and sees the good in him that so many others have ignored. In return, Huck will eventually see the good in Jim that society has dismissed and almost extinguished. His comment about not wanting any more also shows the lack of greediness, which becomes ever more striking compared to the king and the duke who swindle people for every last cent. Jim wants his freedom not to spite his owners or society but so he can live his life in peace with his wife and children. Jim's goodness will be the evidence that Huck needs to make his final decision that society is wrong to urge him to keep Jim from getting his freedom. It is memories of what Jim has done and said that leads Huck to continue working for his escape, despite the consequences that society might inflict.

I was powerful glad to get away from the feuds, and so was Jim to get away from the swamp. We said there warn't no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don't. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.

This quote, from chapter 18 shows how the river, on the whole, is a place of safety for Huck and Jim. Both have a low status in society. Huck is a poor white boy, the son of a drunkard and Jim is a runaway slave. When they are forced to interact with society they are at the lowest levels and consequently have no power or control. Once they are on the raft, they suddenly are invested with control over what may they do and what they are allowed to say. They no longer have to answer to higher powers who often do not have their best interest at heart. Even those who do, such as the widow, still offer an environment of restriction and restraint. More importantly, when they are in society a friendship such as theirs can not exist. The idea that a white boy and a black man would find so much in common and generate such attachment on both parts would be considered almost impossible.

Immediately before this moment on the raft, Huck is involved with the Grangerfords feud with the Shepherdsons. He watches as his friend Buck is brutally killed only because he was a member of a different family. Huck is at first charmed by the Grangerfords' way of life but he soon realizes that his life on the raft is far superior. His time with Jim is far more enjoyable, as well as more rational than trying to figure out the logic of a 30 year feud. The violence that he sees during the feud is a sharp contrast to the peace that he and Jim experience as they float down the river at night, talking and laughing. Though they have mishaps while on the river, these are manageable and natural in a way that the feud is not. The feud is a result of man's pride and an example of the dangers of civilization.

I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now...And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me, all the time, in the day, and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a floating along, talking, and singing, and laughing. But somehow I couldn't seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind...and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had small-pox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he's got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper. It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: "All right, then, I'll go to hell"--and tore it up.

Found in chapter 31, this is a climatic moment in the novel, as Huck makes his final decision about Jim. Once Jim is sold to the Phelps by the king, Huck is separated from him and his influence. He is completely alone as he thinks about what to do. He is faced with the fact that it would be very easy to notify Miss Watson of Jim's location, much easier than it would have been to contact her previously. Jim is unseen and therefore it would be a simpler matter to turn on him. In this weak moment, Huck is again plagued by society's customs and he believes that his conscience is troubled because he is doing the wrong thing. He tries to play by civilization's rules and writes a letter to Miss Watson. This releases him from the worries that are the residue of a religious education which supports the institution of slavery.

The part of his conscience that is tied to his past moral education is assuaged but at the same time, his feelings of decency are troubled by the idea of hurting Jim. He thinks back over their journey, looking for evidence to support either decision. His memories of Jim's goodness and protection, and his thoughts about the friendship they share are the only images that are conjured in his head. This leads him to make a decision in Jim's favor. Huck realizes that Jim is far more important that any of the consequences that society may threaten him with. He understands that he is transgressing society's customs but that to do otherwise would go against everything that is good and right in the world. From this point onward, he never again wavers in being true to the promise that he originally made to Jim on Jackson's Island. He proves himself to be more mature and honorable than any of the Southern gentlemen he has encountered.

But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can't stand it. I been there before.

This final, humorous comment of Huck's, from the last chapter, demonstrates the extent to which he has matured and the way that he has changed over the course of the narrative. His character is fully developed and he possesses the complete understanding of his failure to properly mesh with society. It is because of this "failure" that he is able to help Jim; he is enough of an outsider to be able to separate himself from what society teaches him long enough to listen to his own feelings. This status as an outsider is a benefit to him and to Jim. At the beginning of the novel, he is trying to force his way into society; the widow wants to adopt him and he goes along with it, trying to fulfill her gentle demands. He respects the widow and appreciates her generosity, so he makes an attempt to fit into society. He has varying measures of success; he does go to school long enough to read and write and he does become somewhat acclimated to the widow's ways.

When he is kidnapped by his father, he is placed in an environment more like what he is used to and it works to undo much of what the widow did. It also proves to Huck that though he cannot continue with his father, because of the brutality, he is unable to return to the widow, despite his kind feelings towards her. It is the beginning of the self-knowledge that he will attain over the course of the novel. He meets up with Jim and finds a kindred spirit--someone else who is outside of society and more at home on a raft than in a house. They mesh well together and their friendship is its own kind of civilization. The gentle irony is that their relationship, between two outcasts who some might consider are three steps from savagery, is far more loving, civilized and respectful than the one between Grangerford and his sons, for example.

Aunt Sally is not the first person who wanted to civilize Huck and it shows how eager many people are to inflict their own principles and education on wayward youths. Though she most likely has Huck's best interests at heart, Huck realizes that for him, to be civilized means to surrender the ability to think for himself. It is a restrictive environment which chafes with the personal morality he was able to develop during his time with Jim. He cultivated his own beliefs about slaves and slavery and to live under the guidance of someone now would mean sacrificing the progress he has made. By the end of the novel, he has reached a level of maturity in which he is able to make his own decisions about his future.

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