Literary analysis of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Many writers have used their talents to influence the way a generation thinks, but few writers have had the same remarkable influence as Mark Twain. Ernest Hemingway coined, “The Adventures of Huckleberry is the novel from which all modern American literature comes from. ” Even today, Twain Is mostly acclaimed for his masterpiece, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The book draws on Twain’s memories of his boyhood in Hannibal, Mo. , the knowledge of the Mississippi River that he had gained as a pilot, and his 20 years of experience in creating fictional character and adventure (Covici 1).
Twain rushes Huck into encounters that allow the reader to portray pre–Civil War life along the Mississippi as well as to present the moral complexities of a boy’s growing up outside of society’s reach on the Mississippi River (Covici 1). In his books, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Twain provides insight into the pre-civil war time through his clear depictions of southern society’s ignorant and discriminatory notions.
Although at first the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, was roundly denounced as inappropriate for readers, it is considered to be one of the most important works of literature in American history through its condemnation of society. Mark Twain accurately portrays a hypocritical American society by highlighting its rigid ideals regarding civility as well as its ignorant perspective regarding morality shown through immoral use of slavery, institution of religion, and characters.
One way in which Twain accurately portrays the pre-civil war South is through his criticism of society’s immoral use of slavery. During the pre-civil war time, slavery had become a prominent aspect of southern life, where slaves were expected to unquestioningly obey their masters or else there would have been consequences such as physical beatings and whippings to face. Thus slavery had become a way of life for Southern African Americans. With the booming cotton industry, the South gradually became dependent on the use of slavery.
Slavery provided significantly cheap labor to help produce cotton. Gradually slavery became a socially acceptable practice. Moreover, in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck Finn, the protagonist, finds nothing immorally wrong about slavery since slavery was a part of everyday life in the South. This reflects on southern societies ignorant and hypocritical views by slavery were widely accepted, despite being an act of injustice and servitude (Grant 3). Often in satire, writers will use the internal conflict of a character to symbolically criticize the values and morality of society.
Likewise, Twain reflects on society’s hypocrisy through Huck’s inner conflict (Cox 6). Huck, though liberates Jim, never accepts it as a moral deed but rather a sin due to the mindset during that time. Huck liberating Jim is rather seen as an act of rebellion against society and its defined set of laws defining one as ‘civilized’ (Grant 4). To further explain, Huck is conflicted whether to free Jim or sends him back to Miss Watson, his rightful owner (Grant 3).
To further expand on this, Huck quotes in Huckleberry Finn, “Well I can’t tell you it made me all trembly and feverish, too, to hear him, because I began to get it through my head that he was most free – and who was to blame for it? Why, me. I couldn’t get it out of my conscience, no how nor no way. ”(Twain 84) This exemplifies Huck’s guilt as he feels he committed a misdemeanor aiding Jim in his crime; escaping slavery. Huck here feels an obligation to the white society of which he is a member of, thus explaining as to why he feels as if he is robbing Jim from Miss Watson (Pullen 2).
Overall, Twain here makes a strong statement, through Huck, about the way people regard slavery as anything but immoral and ruthless, portraying the hypocrisy of society’s ideas regarding civility, as a civil person would never consider of keeping a human being chained to such inhumane treatment or practicing slavery as acceptable. Other than Huck, the Dauphin and Duke, two con artists, are shown to provide the final demoralizing generalization as they question who stole their money, during the WIlk incident.
The Wilks incident was when the Duke and Dauphin plan to rob three girls of their money that they inherited after the recent death of their father. The Duke and Dauphin pretend to be the girls’ uncles from England while playing with the girls’ emotions just to gain their inheritance however when both are ready to escape with all the girls’ inheritance, the money goes missing. Consequently, the first suspect is Jim. Furthermore, the Duke states, ‘Do you reckon a nigger can run across money and nor borrow some of it. ”(Twain 175).
The Duke is declaring outright that blacks are thieves explaining why he first suspects Jim as the thief, despite Jim’s good hearted nature (Taylor 6). The irony of the duke and dauphin, who are a part of this white society, are frauds themselves yet they’re pointing fingers at an innocent man due to his race and color symbolizes the hypocrisy of southern society. Another example of society’s hypocrisy concerning civility and stiff ideals is toward the end of the novel, where Tom was wounded by a bullet and Jim declares that if the situation were reversed, Tom would presumably return to society and get a doctor to aid Jim.
This causes Huck to think “he (Jim) was white inside, and I reckoned he’d say what he did say- so it was alright now, and I told Tom I was a-going for a doctor” (Twain 263). This demonstrations how Huck has still not escaped the pervading influence of beliefs that people who are “white inside” are actually those who care and respect each other, while slaves aren’t. Huck symbolizes the rational held against blacks in white southern people’s minds. The rational that white people were more humane and pure than blacks.
Twain makes a point through irony to exhibit that though white people considered themselves more humane they still practiced slavery, an immoral act. In conclusion, Twain represents a hypocritical southern society where white people weren’t as civilized as they thought they were. Furthermore, Twain criticizes the hypocritical Southern society regarding morality through the institution of religion. During the 1800s, slavery was seen as an acceptable act not only in the eyes of society but also religion (Taylor 3). Religion was a major influence during the pre-civil war era defining morality and what was acceptable during that time. During slavery in America, this superficial Christian code labeled blacks as the epitome of incivility, thus justifying their mistreatment” (Taylor 5). This further explains how many people would justify slavery through religion, which considered as a pure holy belief that promotes justice, thus portraying the hypocrisy of society. For example, Twain denounces religion through Huck, as Huck is shown to ridicule the Christian faith of Miss Watson and Widow Douglas. To explain this further, Huck states, “I said to myself, if a body can get anything they pray for why don’t Deacon Winn get back the money he lost on pork?
Why can’t the widow get back her silver snuff box that was stole? Why can’t Miss Watson fat-up” (Twain 10). Through Twain’s satirical humor he challenges the behaviors and tenants of Christianity by Huck’s begging the question “if there is that much power in praying, then why didn’t what we wished for come true? ” (Twain 33). Twain once again criticizes the fact that that praying isn’t going to help you get something, because society during the pre-civil war time strongly believed in religion initiating society to be more spiritual rather than practical.
Mark Twain creates characters like Miss Watson and Widow Douglas who, although are morally correct and religious, believe that slavery is necessary for life. Miss Watson, who helps raise Huck in the beginning of the novel, is someone who isn’t bothered the least of keeping slaves. While growing up with the slave trade, she became accustomed to the use of slavery; finding nothing immorally wrong with it. However the fact that she cannot perceive right from wrong, such as keeping and selling slaves, contributes to her uncivilized behavior like many other characters, thus representing an entire society.
An example is after Jim escapes from Miss Watson’s home, as he overhears her planning to sell him for eight hundred dollars, thus he sets out on his journey to freedom with Huck he states, “pecks on me all de time, en treats me pooty rough” (Twain 38). This displays how though Miss Watson is always trying to civilize Huck and set him on the right path to a religious civilized lifestyle, yet treats Jim very poorly. In essence, Miss Watson demonstrates society’s hypocrisy regarding morality once again, as she treats one human being, (Huck), with care and other human being (Jim) with little to no regard as if property.
Not to mention In the Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Twain uses humor to denounce Sunday school, an institution of religion, for making children memorize Bible verses for a measly Bible as a reward. To further expand, Tom states, “How many of my readers would have the industry and the applications to memorize two thousand verses even for a Dore Bible? And a boy of German parentage had won four or five (Bibles). He once recited three thousand verses without stopping; but the strain upon his mental faculties was too great. Furthermore, Tom relates the story of a German boy who “had once recited three thousand verses without stopping” and afterward suffered a nervous breakdown (Twain 56). In calling the boy’s collapse “a grievous misfortune for the school” as the school relied on the student to perform for guests to increase the reputation of the school, Twain implies that the students are memorizing verses not for real spiritual growth but for the sake of making their teachers and superintendent look good.
Additionally, Twain criticizes the institution of religion, by condemning religious ideals through his novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by juxtaposing Huck’s moral development outside of church (Taylor 2). Though Huck still recognizes all the deeds he has committed during the novel, for instance liberating Jim, a sin, he is still shown to be courageous, virtuous, and gain the ability to forgive in contrast to the upbringing by Widow Douglas and Miss Watson’s through societal conformity and stiff ideals regarding morality.
The institution of religion was the basis for morality in everyday life in the pre-civil war time, yet it makes the reader question the moral judgment of people during that time. Twain’s critique on the institution of religion analyzes the failure of religion to demonstrate to the morals they teach, indirectly criticizing southern society for their hypocritical views regarding morality. Moreover, Mark Twain also represents society’s hypocritical views regarding civility during pre-civil war time through other characters that Huck and Jim meet along their journey on the Mississippi River.
As Huck and a runaway slave, Jim, rowed their raft along the Mississippi River, into the heartland of slavery in North America, Twain was enabled to achieve a realistic portrait of American life in the 19th century (Mark Twain 2). Along their journey on the raft, Huck and Jim met many people which symbolized society’s so called sophisticated civilization as anything but courteous. The first people they meet are the Grangerfords, a humble family at first but soon are revealed to be aggressive and immature. In this case, Huck states, “Human beings can be awful cruel to one another” (Twain 206).
Huck states this during the Grangerford and Shepherdson huge fight, reflecting on how human beings could be so awful to one another over such petty issues. (Dendinger 8) To expand, Huck observes a lack of social grace in people like the Grangerfords who are born into high class families and live a perfect conservative blissful life, yet seem so immature. Their immaturity is seen when The Grangerfords have an on-going family feud with their neighbors the Sheperdsons, despite both sides not knowing how the feud started.
When one of the Grangerfords’ daughters elopes with one of the Shepherdson’s sons, the end result is a violent shootout between both families. Huck joins two Grangerford boys during one of the shootouts and “the (Sheperdson) men run along the bank shooting at them and singing out ‘Kill them, kill them! ‘” (Twain 103). The Shepherdson’s are too consumed by their anger that they are unable to see what they have become. Both families use violence to resolve a matter which could have been also resolved legally rather than such chaos.
Society’s way to take matters in their own hands while using violence as an answer depicts southern society’s cruelty and ruthlessness. To expand on all this, Twain demonstrates a society that pursues violence to resolve issues while filled with greed and corruption, all the qualities a civilized society lacks. Twain effectively illustrates society’s hypocritical views regarding civility through the trip along the Mississippi River as it symbolizes the inherent greed present in society.
The most prominent part of their trip along the Mississippi River was listening to Sherburn’s speech, , in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, that took place after Colonel Sherburn displays cold blooded and ruthless characteristics as he shoots a drunk man for no apparent reason. Colonel Sherburn starts when a mob comes to lynch him, “The idea of lynching anybody! It’s amusing. The idea of you thinking you had pluck enough to lynch a man!
Because you’re brave enough to tar and feather poor friendless cast-out women that come along here, did that make you think you had grit enough to lay your hands on a man? Why, a man’s safe in the hands of ten thousands of your kind- as long as it’s daytime and you’re not behind him. ” In this case, Twain suggests that true courage is to do the right thing, but most men will not stand up for the right thing. In fact, “Southern justice” as Twain points out, is often committed by a gathering of cowards who hide their faces and become judge, jury and executioner.
Sherburn can stand up to the multitude because no one in the crowd has the courage to defy him. Courage is standing in the face of evil and defeating it, but Sherburn points out that no one is willing to do that. If you expand the idea, Twain is indirectly referring to slavery and the treatment of blacks. . He is suggesting that Huck’s actions, although slow in evolving, suggest that courage can be found if we are willing to defy social norms or great crowds and do what our conscience tells us is right.
That is why when Huck stands up to the program that society has laid out for the treatment of slaves, and says that he would “go to hell” rather than see Jim returned to slavery, it is in keeping of the colonel’s definition of courage (Dendinger 8). In essence, sherburn’s speech condemns society of its hypocrisy of being something it’s not, not to mention also portraying a society following rigid ideals, such as societal conformity and bondage that keeps them from moving forward.
Overall, the journey along the Mississippi River symbolized a southern society that lacked the qualities of a civilized society while exploring the hypocritical views society pertains about civility. Blinded by their ignorant view of “civilized” society, the people seen throughout Huck and Jim’s journey, are unable to settle disputes without violence, incapable to depict right from wrong yet create rules and laws defying logic, and practice slavery and degrading a race with religion back then giving way; verifying that their “sophisticated” society is more of an illusion than a reality.
Twain demonstrates an accurate portrayal of southern society during the pre-civil war time by the racial oppression that was present during that time. Blacks were degraded constantly while denied of freedom and liberty, defining southern society’s rigid ideals and hypocritical view of morality. Along with racial oppression was present was the basis of institution of religion that also demonstrated the hypocritical view of morality. (Valkeakari 2) In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the Mississippi River symbolized the hypocritical view society retained regarding civility.
From hypocritical view on civility to racial oppression, all helped to accurately depict the pre-civil war era. , Twain brings out a message from the outsets of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, condemning society of its hypocritical deed of being this so called sophisticated morally correct society. Twain attacks the mindless acceptance of values that he believed kept the South in its dark ages during the pre-civil war era, in result restricting the South to move forward and advance towards success (Grant 4).