The River Journey of Huck - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The River Journey of Huck - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, written by Mark Twain, is a story about a young boy named Huck struggling to find himself and is torn between what he should do by law and what he should do by intuition. For Huck and his friend Jim, a fugitive slave, the Mississippi River is the ultimate symbol of freedom. The river carries them toward freedom: for Jim, toward the free states; for Huck, away from his abusive father and the restrictive “sivilizing” of St. Petersburg. Much like the river itself, Huck and Jim are in flux, willing to change their attitudes about each other with little prompting. The Mississippi River plays several roles and holds a prominent theme throughout much of the story as a whole.
In the story, everything that is remotely connected to land emanates danger and hidden tricks that could be turned on Huck and Jim at any moment. Everything they come across involving land, whether it is animals, people, boats, threaten the stability of Jim and Huck’s pleasant life on the river. There is also always the danger that they will be caught. Huckleberry Finn and Jim are without a doubt the happiest and most a peace when floating down the river on their raft. However, despite their freedom, they soon find that they are not completely free from the evils and influences of the towns on the river’s banks. As the story progresses as well as Huck and Jim’s journey, what was once seemed a paradise and a source of freedom, becomes merely a short-term means of escape that nonetheless pushes Huck and Jim ever further toward danger and destruction.
Huckleberry Finn finds himself facing the void of a meaningless life. He tries to take action and choose his own destiny, but he is instead manipulated by the actions of others and, most often, left powerless to create himself. The river, then, does not represent true freedom; for, there are times on the river when Huck is not truly free to choose his own actions. At the beginning of the novel, Huck, trapped in the Widow's grip, states: "I felt so lonesome I most wished I was dead". Huck feels confined by the social expectations of civilization and wants to return to his simple, carefree life. He dislikes the social and cultural trappings of clean clothes, Bible studies, spelling lessons, and manners that he is forced to follow. Huck’s struggle for natural freedom, that is freedom from society reflects the more important struggle for Jim, who struggles with the freedom within the society.
Indeed, throughout the novel, Huck often wishes for death. Huck's longing for death is usually the result of society invading his conscience, as when he reconsiders helping Jim to escape: "I got to feeling so mean and miserable I most wished I was dead". Huck's faked death is more an expression of his own desire for death than of any real fear of being followed by Pap or the widow.
As Huck and Jim move down the river, they realize how strong their friendship has become, despite their differences in skin color. One of Huck’s major dilemma is whether to turn Jim in or not because he is a fugitive slave. If Jim is turned in, Huck loses a best friend and developing father figure. Freedom, the one thing that both Huck and Jim are searching for, is only found on the river. Twain is showing the reader that sometimes one must break away from society and what the world views as correct and just. We have the strength inside to stand on our own and make decisions for ourselves.
The island that Huckleberry first liberates himself on is called Jackson's Island. He takes his surname as recognition of the place where he first achieved his liberty and divorced himself from his abusive father. All of that has repercussions in terms of divorcing oneself from a patriarch whether in a personal way or nationalistic way with the emerging nation having done that. For example, one of the founding fathers of the United States, George Washington, he has the first name of the name of the king of England from which the colonies were trying to divorce itself. Huck calls himself George Jackson and becomes a foster child of the Grangerfords.
The feud between The Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons is one of the more memorable chapters in Huck Finn because of its extreme violence. As a topical interest, this feud is reminiscent of the Sog Wars in the midwest which was between the Hatfields and The McCoys. It was a decade's long feud which it is unknown how it started, but it was a time when the Midwest had been expanding and there had been a battle of grazing sheep versus grazing cattle.
Another big conflict that comes up in the novel is the relationship between Sofia Grangerford and Harney Shepherdson. Their relationship only fans the flames of hatred between the two families, much like William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet where it was a battle between the Capulets and the Montagues. The hated calls of “Kill them, kill them!” prompt Huck to wish that he had never gone ashore, despite his affection for the Grangerfords. The theme of death and brutality, then, is present in all facets of society, including the wealthy. This is a time when the United States was involved in the Civil War and the peace of the river is never more apparent to Huck and Jim and this is the turning point where Huckleberry grows up. When Huck returns to his raft, he finds Jim. Huckleberry has learned that Jim is like a father figure. He has no compunctions about demonstrating affection for his adopted child, hugging him, kissing him, and giving him unconditional love. Huck is glad to have gotten away from the feud between the Grangerfields and the Shepherdsons, which is reminiscent of the Civil War, and Jim is glad to have gotten away from the swamps, which is supposed to represent slavery. A little known fact is that fugitive slaves often hid in the swamp in order to get their way to the Underground Railroad.
In Chapter 19, two con artists, one who claims to be the King and the other claiming to be the Duke of Bridgewater, climb aboard the raft after Huck searches for some berries in a creek. They are analogous to the carpetbaggers who come and feed off the carcass of the once flourishing now struggling south. The two men claim to be from France and England. It is important because both the Duke of France and the King of England used to own and fight over the territory. During the Revolutionary War, the French sent troops to our aid against Great Britain because they had aristocracy in tact at the time. The United States was supposed to be a nation made up expressly against Aristocracy. At first, the men appear harmless, and Huck quietly rejects their preposterous claims of royalty, but what he learns is that when he is in the unenviable position of being around abusive people, whose reality is most hallucinatory, that it's better not to convince them otherwise for fear of his own safety.
In Chapter 21, the Duke and the King practice the balcony scene from Romeo and Juliet and the sword fight from Richard III. As an encore, the duke also teaches the king a jumbled version of Hamlet’s soliloquy, by meshing Macbeth. As funny as it may sound, Hamlet is really about the death of the king by a brother and the necessity of the son to avenge his father's death and murder his uncle. Huck just came from the Shepherdsons versus the Grangerfords, which is a reenactment of the Civil War, which is a family affair that is a tragedy. Macbeth is about power and murder in a familial context as well as political context. While these con men are pulling the wool over the people's eyes by reenacting Hamlet, the reality of the tragedy is not just on the stage, but everywhere around them. Huck has seen the death of Buck his friend in a family feud.
Huckleberry’s character is tested chapter 31 when he is faced with the conflicts of individual versus society, freedom versus civilization, and sentimentalism versus realism. He is a long way from home and he writes a letter to Miss Watson detailing where Jim is and signs it “Huck Finn.” After he finishes the letter, he feels momentary relief and is confident that he has saved himself from going to hell for helping a slave. The catalyst for Huck’s action is the sale of Jim back into slavery. Huck believes that the community will shun him and he’ll be doomed himself to literal hell if he aids Jim. Despite this realization, Huck’s proclamation “All right, then, I’ll go to hell,” ends his struggle in a concise and powerful moment, which is the climax of the novel.
The conclusion of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn doesn’t end in a conventional sense that the reader discovers his hidden nobility, because he is still the son of a drunk. It was through Jim that liberates Huck and gives him the reality of Huck’s father’s death that liberates him from the overbearing patriarch. Twain’s difficulty in ending the novel was due, in large part, to his struggle to decide between a social commentary and a children’s adventure novel. Huck will continue to try and avoid the trappings of civilization and seek his own freedom.