Huck Finn: Character in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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      Huck Finn is the central character as well as the narrator of the story. A motherless child, all that he has in the name of family is his father who is a drunken vagabond. Owing to his cruelty and malevolence, the latter is hardly a role model for his son. Huck does not have the polish and refinement of an average middle class existence and belongs to the lowest rung of the "white society". He is adopted by Widow Douglas who, along with her sister, Miss Watson, tries to civilize him. Both of them, together, try to acquaint him with religious teachings and bring about a semblance of refinement in the uncouth boy. But Huck does not see any sense in imbibing these religious theories as he cannot relate to them. He doubts the credibility of these religious beliefs because he can perceive no tangible benefits arising out of them. Widow Douglas tells him that he can get whatever by simply praying to God. If this were the case, why doesn't the widow get her stolen silver snuffbox back, why can't Miss Watson become more attractive? Here, it is noteworthy that, through Huck, Mark Twain reinforces his derision of conventionally accepted precepts of traditional religion.


      Huck voices his preference for the "bad place" over Heaven and shocks the old Miss Watson. Here, it should be noted that, though Huck is not religious in the conventional sense of the word; he doesn't adhere to written rules of religion, he does have his own moral scruples and is, definitely, God-fearing. To a discerning reader, he is like any other adolescent who doesn't comprehend tenets of Religion that are way beyond his age. He is irked by the restrictions imposed on him by society and is exhausted with the boorishness of his father. Therefore, he decides to flee and live life on his own terms. He likes a life that allows him to smoke his pipe and one that lets him be in his "rags" and "sugar hogshead". Sophistication of the middle class is hardly Huck's idea of a good life. He would rather run away than fall prey to such emptiness.


      The character of Huck was based on a boy named Tom Blankenship. Twain's boyhood friend. Twain writes in his Autobiography,

      "In Huckleberry Finn, I have drawn Tom Blankenship exactly as he was. He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as ever any boy had. His liberties were totally unrestricted. He was the only really independent person-boy or man in the community, and by consequence, he was tranquility and continuously happy and envied by the rest of us. And as his society was forbidden us by our parents the prohibition trebled and quadrupled its value, and therefore we sought and got more of his society than any other boy's".


      Huck Finn, though only an uneducated adolescent, is one of the most mature and discerning characters in the novel. Though not as fortunate materially as Tom, Huck displays commendable prudence and far more judiciousness in practical situations. Unlike Tom, he doesn't need schooling, training in table manners, or lessons in social deportment to become "sivilized". His "natural learning" is enough to carry him through the most trying times during his journey with Jim. Huck looks up to Tom as an ideal. Little does he realize that he himself is more intelligent than the one he idealizes and is capable of taking more cerebral and mature decisions.

      His commendable agility of mind comes to the forefront when he quickly cooks up stories to save his own life as well as that of his friend, Jim. Though he has been able to see through the real character of the Duke and King, fairly early in his interaction with them, he decides against confronting them. He has learnt, probably as a result of his experience with Pap that certain kinds of people should be left alone. The worldly-wise Huck has learnt that one can't reform everybody. This also explains why, despite realizing the utter folly of Toms grand plans to rescue Jim, he acquiesces with him. His pragmatism and common sense tells him that, at the moment, he needs Tom's help save Jim.


      Huck, the principal character is in the spotlight as the plot universal influences and changes him. Despite the apparent simplicity Huck Finn, as a fourteen-year-old simple and rough adolescent, he is a complex character. When the novel opens, he is not emancipated from the racist influence of society. He has learnt that slavery is "'right" and "acceptable". The treatment that is meted out to slaves does not warrant any condemnation because that is the standard way of Southern society. In the beginning of the novel, like Tom, he also exhibits his insensitivity towards the "nigger, Jim. He disregards the latter's sentiments and plays several pranks, including the "rattle-snake" incident, on him.

      In chapter 15, when the two companions get separated in the fog, Huck makes Jim believe that it was a dream. When Jim realizes that he has been made a fool of, he feels extremely hurt. Huck has to fight with his ego for fifteen minutes to apologize to Jim.

      "It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger; but I have done it".

      Again, in chapter 23, Huck displays his inborn racist bent. He is surprised at Jim's display of emotion when the latter fondly talks of his family and, especially his daughter, Elizabeth. Influenced by the racism of society, he has learnt what every child, born and brought up within the value system of Southern society, has learnt - that racism and prejudice against blacks is "right" and "acceptable". Huck has also been taught that a black man is not capable of such a degree of emotion.

      "He was thinking about his wife and his children, away up yonder, and he was low and homesick; because he hadn't ever been away from home before in his life; and I do believe that he cared just as much for his people as white folks does their'n. It doesn't seem natural, but I reckon it's so."

      It is for this reason that, Huck grapples with his conscience in Chapter 16, when Jim exudes his excitement at the prospect of reaching Cairo and reuniting with his family members. For the first time ever, Huck is in a quandary as he has to confront a guilty conscience for helping a slave escape. He chides himself for having behaved in the most despicable way with Miss Watson, who was good to him in "every way she knowed how" and decides to end his dilemma by revealing Jim's true identity to the two armed men in the skiff who are on a slave-hunting mission. All these instances of a dilemma are due to his racist conditioning.

      But during his odyssey with Jim, on the Mississippi, Huck goes through a life-changing experience that leads to emotional and personal growth. His experience is a conflict between the "ethics" of society and those of his conscience. Wrestling with his conscience, better judgment prevails upon him and he decides to stay loyal to Jim who becomes closer than the closest family that the former has ever had. Huck remains the only character in the novel who acknowledges the fact that Jim is a human being and deserves to be respected as one.

      Huck not only demonstrates maturity in so far as his relationship with Jim is concerned. He also shows his morality when he decides to return the stolen money to the Wilks' girls and escape from the Duke and King after the burial. He has, all through, been cognizant of the deceitful ways of the "King" and the "Duke". In this sense, he has been party to it, especially when the two swindlers dupe the townspeople with their "Royal Nonesuch" performances. But, when he realizes that he can, no longer, turn a blind eye to their claptrap, he takes his decision to expose them. No longer can he be a mute spectator to their entire game of pretense. This is another incident for us to witness the evolution of his morality. Beyond his unsophisticated exterior, Huck reveals the fact that he is, in fact, more "Christian" than the older lot, including the ostensibly religious members of the Phelps family.

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