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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain stands out as another of the author’s most noticeable works, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. It is about the adventure of a young boy Huck, who runs away from home and meets another runaway slave Jim. Widow Douglas adopts Huck, and he struggles to find sense in the society he lives in, questioning religion and morality as a result of the hypocrisy and teaching of the leaders. The author masterfully explores the theme of empathy and guilt as present in the life of Finn. It was first published in 1885 and is among the greatest American novels of all time.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has appealing and persuasive themes. Mark Twain helps readers to understand the hidden messages in the story through several themes, including theme of empathy, the theme of education, guilt and shame, injustice and hypocrisy, and of religion. Due to its relevance, the book has been prescribed for use at different levels of the academic ladder, secondary to high school and even university education. It is found in most public libraries. The novel has revolutionized past and modern America Literature with its persuasive point of view, dialects, skillful depiction, and its unique/timeless themes. Ernest Hemingway even declared that all modern American literature has its roots from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn opens by familiarizing us with the events of the novel that preceded it, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Both novels are set in the town of St. Petersburg, Missouri, which lies on the banks of the Mississippi River. At the end of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, a poor boy with a drunken bum for a father, and his friend Tom Sawyer, a middle-class boy with an imagination too active for his own good, found a robber’s stash of gold. As a result of his adventure, Huck gained quite a bit of money, which the bank held for him in trust. Huck was adopted by the Widow Douglas, a kind but stifling woman who lives with her sister, the self-righteous Miss Watson.
As Huckleberry Finn opens, Huck is none too thrilled with his new life of cleanliness, manners, church, and school. However, he sticks it out at the bequest of Tom Sawyer, who tells him that to take part in Tom’s new “robbers’ gang,” Huck must stay “respectable.” All is well and good until Huck’s brutish, drunken father, Pap, reappears in town and demands Huck’s money. The local judge, Judge Thatcher, and the Widow try to get legal custody of Huck. Still, another well-intentioned new judge in town believes in the rights of Huck’s natural father and even takes the old drunk into his own home in an attempt to reform him. This effort fails miserably, and Pap soon returns to his old ways. He hangs around town for several months, harassing his son, who in the meantime has learned to read and to tolerate the Widow’s attempts to improve him. Finally, outraged when the Widow Douglas warns him to stay away from her house, Pap kidnaps Huck and holds him in a cabin across the river from St. Petersburg.
Whenever Pap goes out, he locks Huck in the cabin, and when he returns home drunk, he beats the boy. Tired of his confinement and fearing the beatings will worsen, Huck escapes from Pap by faking his death, killing a pig, and spreading its blood all over the cabin. Hiding on Jackson’s Island in the middle of the Mississippi River, Huck watches the townspeople search the river for his body. After a few days on the island, he encounters Jim, one of Miss Watson’s slaves. Jim has run away from Miss Watson after hearing her talk about selling him to a plantation down the river, where he would be treated horribly and separated from his wife and children. Huck and Jim team up, despite Huck’s uncertainty about the legality or morality of helping a runaway slave. While they camp out on the island, a great storm causes the Mississippi to flood. Huck and Jim spy a log raft and a house floating past the island. They capture the raft and loot the house, finding in it the body of a man who has been shot. Jim refuses to let Huck see the dead man’s face.
Although the island is blissful, Huck and Jim are forced to leave after Huck learns from a woman onshore that her husband has seen smoke coming from the island and believes that Jim is hiding out there. Huck also learns that a reward has been offered for Jim’s capture. Huck and Jim start downriver on the raft, intending to leave it at the mouth of the Ohio River and proceed up that river by steamboat to the free states, where slavery is prohibited. Several days’ travel takes them past St. Louis, and they have a close encounter with a gang of robbers on a wrecked steamboat. They manage to escape with the robbers’ loot.
During a night of thick fog, Huck and Jim miss the mouth of Ohio and encounter a group of men looking for escaped slaves. Huck has a brief moral crisis about concealing stolen “property”—Jim, after all, belongs to Miss Watson—but then lies to the men and tells them that his father is on the raft suffering from smallpox. Terrified of the disease, the men give Huck money and hurry away. Unable to backtrack to the mouth of Ohio, Huck and Jim continue downriver. The next night, a steamboat slams into their raft, and Huck and Jim are separated.
Huck ends up in the home of the kindly Grangerfords, a family of Southern aristocrats locked in a bitter and silly feud with a neighboring clan, the Shepherdsons. The elopement of a Grangerford daughter with a Shepherdson son, leads to a gun battle in which many in the families are killed. While Huck is caught up in the feud, Jim shows up with the repaired raft. Huck hurries to Jim’s hiding place, and they take off down the river.
A few days later, Huck and Jim rescue a pair of men who are being pursued by armed bandits. The men, clearly con artists, claim to be a displaced English duke (the duke) and the long-lost heir to the French throne (the dauphin). Powerless to tell two white adults to leave, Huck and Jim continue down the river with the pair of “aristocrats.” The duke and the dauphin pull several scams in the small towns along the river. Coming into one town, they hear the story of a man, Peter Wilks, who has recently died and left much of his inheritance to his two brothers, who should be arriving from England any day. The duke and the dauphin enter the town pretending to be Wilks’s brothers. Wilks’s three nieces welcome the con men and quickly set about liquidating the estate. A few townspeople become skeptical, and Huck, who grows to admire the Wilks sisters, decides to thwart the scam. He steals the dead Peter Wilks’s gold from the duke and the dauphin but is forced to stash it in Wilks’s coffin. Huck then reveals all to the eldest Wilks sister, Mary Jane. Huck’s plan for exposing the duke and the dauphin is about to unfold when Wilks’s real brothers arrive from England. The angry townspeople hold both sets of Wilks claimants, and the duke and the dauphin just barely escape in the ensuing confusion. Fortunately for the sisters, the gold is found. Unfortunately for Huck and Jim, the duke and the dauphin make it back to the raft just as Huck and Jim are pushing off.
After a few more small scams, the duke and dauphin commit their worst crime yet: they sell Jim to a local farmer, telling him Jim is a runaway for whom a large reward is being offered. Huck finds out where Jim is being held and resolves to free him. At the house where Jim is a prisoner, a woman greets Huck excitedly and calls him “Tom.” As Huck quickly discovers, the people holding Jim are none other than Tom Sawyer’s aunt and uncle, Silas and Sally Phelps. The Phelpses mistake Huck for Tom, who is due to arrive for a visit, and Huck goes along with their mistake. He intercepts Tom between the Phelps house and the steamboat dock, and Tom pretends to be his own younger brother, Sid.
Tom hatches a wild plan to free Jim, adding all sorts of unnecessary obstacles even though Jim is only lightly secured. Huck is sure Tom’s plan will get them all killed, but he complies nonetheless. After a seeming eternity of pointless preparation, during which the boys ransack the Phelps’s house and make Aunt Sally miserable, they put the plan into action. Jim is freed, but a pursuer shoots Tom in the leg. Huck is forced to get a doctor, and Jim sacrifices his freedom to nurse Tom. All are returned to the Phelps’s house, where Jim ends up back in chains.
When Tom wakes the next morning, he reveals that Jim has actually been a free man all along, as Miss Watson, who made a provision in her will to free Jim, died two months earlier. Tom had planned the entire escape idea all as a game and had intended to pay Jim for his troubles. Tom’s Aunt Polly then shows up, identifying “Tom” and “Sid” as Huck and Tom. Jim tells Huck, who fears for his future—particularly that his father might reappear—that the body they found on the floating house off Jackson’s Island had been Pap’s. Aunt Sally then steps in and offers to adopt Huck, but Huck, who has had enough “civilizing,” announces his plan to set out for the West.
The novel has inspired a lot of plays, movies, TV series, and other books. Some films it has inspired include Huck and Tom (1918), Huckleberry Finn (1920), The Adventure of Huck Finn (2012), and lots more.
A major theme in The Adventures of Huckleberry is that of empathy which relates to the theme of guilt. Empathy is the act of understanding other people’s emotions and troubles. It can also mean finding joy or happiness in other people’s success. Huck helps a slave boy escape and starts feeling guilty as a result of what he learns. Huck has great empathy for people, and it helps to build his morale and self-esteem. He knows what it feels like to be in other people’s shoes. Even when Pap Finn hurts him, he still has compassion for him in Pap’s time of distress.
Nowadays, having the value of empathy can significantly enhance someone, just like in the case of Huck. Empathy is all we need to succeed in our workplace, education, business, or relationship. In the place of work, empathy can enable you to understand the aims and objectives of the organization you work for. Empathy would also enable you to understand the motives of your clients, which would, in turn, motivate you to carry out your duties better. Also, empathy allows you to understand the motivation of the other side. Without empathy, you may easily fail in most relationships and careers.
Empathy is not the same as sympathy. Sympathy is merely having a feeling of concern for other people. But empathy has to do with feeling concerned and also reaching out to help. The novel teaches us that it can allow people to build social connections. Also, it would enable us to learn and regulate our emotions, and it promotes helping behavior. If 20% of humans had empathy for others, then there would be no wars. There would be lasting peace on earth.
In the novel, Huck and Jim have empathy for people, and on one occasion, Huck has to help a thief that people abandon on a steamboat.
Guilt and shame
Guilt and shame is another theme handled by Mark Twain in The Adventures of Huckleberry. These points are clear when Huck helps Jim to escape. Jim is a slave of Miss Watson, and by helping him escape, he realizes that he has harmed Miss Watson. In reality, Huck did the right thing by helping a slave escape. But because of his lessons, he feels guilty, which makes him not to reason correctly.
The novel teaches us not to feel guilty when we do the right things. Sometimes the right thing might seem morally wrong based on what you learned. But in reality, they may be the right thing to do. In the case of Huck, he was thought, “To do unto others what he would want others to do to him.” This is a Christian teaching that may have been misinterpreted.
Huck’s guilt is largely tied to religious beliefs. Eventually, he starts to question morality and religion. We can see that guilt impairs us from thinking correctly. It stops us from learning from our experiences. It today’s society, guilt can cause people to commit suicide as it almost does with Huck. He says, “I got very miserable feelings, and I wished to die.”
Also, the novel teaches not to intentionally make people feel guilty with words and actions. In today’s society, feeling guilty is one of the signs that someone is about to commit suicide. Anxiety, drinking/drug use, buying of firearms, and ill health are other signs. In the United States, it is estimated that every 15 minutes, someone commits suicide as a result of guilt. These statistics are based on research carried out by the American Foundation for Suicide prevention.
Injustice and hypocrisy in society
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn brings out aspects of the terrible injustice that go unpunished. Injustice prevails so much in the novel, and this depicts hypocrisy in society today. Mob killings, unlawful detentions, racial injustice, and lots more are some injustice going on in society today. Social injustice is when a dominant population uses their social status and might to oppress others directly or indirectly. Social injustice is also one of the ways unjust actions are carried out. The novel teaches us that equals get unequal treatment while the unequal gets equal treatment.
In society today, there are three major forms of social injustice: discrimination (color, race, gender, etc.), ageism, and homophobia. Social injustice is evident in employment, in voting and politics, housing, education, transportation, and just about any sector you can think of. Social injustice greatly affects Huck in the novel. He plans to escape to the West as a way to avoid further injustice. His society was just a collection of degraded perceptions and rules that defy common logic. Judges allowed others to be a slave to the more privileged, and there were lots of racial discrimination as well. It comes out from the novel that it is impossible for a society that owns slaves to be just no matter how civilized or advanced that society claim to be.
In American society and other advanced nations, racial discrimination remains a major problem. Race permeates every facet of society, and racism is the original sin of most white nations. From police shooting to sentencing and unjust discrimination in the workplace, racism and unfair society, is causing a lot of harm to the society. The novel teaches us that social injustice prevails in every society in the form of prejudices and policies.
Being religious remains one of the best human values, for it cuts across all others. Unfortunately, in today’s, religious fanatics commit all sorts of evil all in the name of religion. In the United States, there is the Ku Klux Klan whose beliefs center on religious believes but has carried out several high and low profile killings. We saw the uprising of the ISIS group and their killings around the world.
In the novel, Jim and Huck get disappointed by the teaching of their religious leaders. Initially, Huck battles with shame and feels great guilt for helping the slave. He learns in the wrong way to do to others what he would love others to do to him. Even though what he does is morally right, his religion tells him otherwise. In the end, Finn can banish his demons and is happy that he made the right decision by helping the slave escape. He depended on his innate sense to do what was right and always had empathy for others.
In today’s society, misunderstanding of religion and false teachings has caused a lot of conflicts. Even in the family, religious differences are causing a lot of conflicts even over the dinner table.
The novel also teaches us that culture and society, to some extent, decides on what may be considered Godly or ungodly is. This means that some religious leaders can magnify things in religious books to support their personal agenda, which may not necessarily be Godly but, in fact, evil. Consider the example in Huck’s church where they thought people that it’s a sin to help a slave.
Most characters in the novel are not educated. The few educated once are the corrupt judges. This means that the uneducated people become vulnerable to being marginalized. They are ignorant and so cannot defend themselves.
Education is the studying of various subjects and things to gain knowledge and apply them in life. The novel teaches that education can enlighten you, give you better self-esteem and confidence. It also helps you to be a good judge of what’s right and wrong.
These days even a robot can read and write, but using the knowledge judiciously is what makes humans different from robots. Education should be used to improve others and not to oppress or intimidate others. Huck did learn through his sense of reasoning and observation and freed himself from societal rules. He was able to make his own decisions without any form of restrictions and helped others as well.
The novel teaches us that education gives us knowledge of society and things. Education develops us to look at life in varied dimensions, and it helps us have our point of view. Huck didn’t go to school, and it greatly affected him. However, he had the power of observation and sound reasoning, which enabled him to make strategic decisions. Aunty Polly and the widow did their best to keep Huck in school, but Pap always advised him against education. Eventually, Huck relied on his gifts of natural reasoning instead of book learning.
The theme of education teaches us how friends can influence children to make the wrong decisions, especially if they are less educated than their peers. Education is the best gift for children. Some relationships that children get into might be toxic. Give your children the best possible advice on their relationship.
From the above it comes out that the novel teaches so many great lessons and remains relevant in the 21st century even though it was written more than 100 years ago.
Besides The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain also wrote books such as; Roughing It, The Gilded Age, The Adventures Of Tom Sawyer, Following the Equator, and lots more.
Mark Twain died in 1910, but his books remain relevant till this day. He was a superstar in his own right, who left a great legacy behind. It took Mark twain 7 years to write The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Twain published the novel in 1884, and the book sold about 200,000 copies every year. The novel has approximately 700 editions worldwide and is published in more than 50 languages. Garnering such widespread global recognition and publicity are indications that The Adventures of Huckleberry would for long remain a bests-seller a masterpiece.