Lying Occurs in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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      The concept of lying, on its face value, seems to be an unacceptable and unforgivable one. Right from our childhood, we are trained to believe that lying is "bad" and deplorable. But, as a result of our exposure to life and manners in the world, we appreciate taking a more objective view of lying. We learn to acknowledge the significance of "good lies". If it is done to make somebody happy or to save someone's life, we shouldn't flinch at the prospect of lying.

      In Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, one of the themes is that of frequent lying. Lying occurs throughout the novel, in one form or the other. It is not just the children who resort to it. Even adults depend on lying so as to manage affairs for themselves.

      Huck Finn, during his odyssey down the Mississippi river, with Jim, resorts to lies at almost every stage. His circumstances have taught him lying and he becomes quite proficient in it. On the raft, down the Mississippi River, he has the opportunity to implement his gift, of lying for different purposes. In Chapter 11, when the two are just about to begin their journey down the river, Huck decides to go to the nearby village and seek information about what the villagers are thinking about Jim and Huck's disappearance. Disguise as a girl, he visits Mrs. Judith Loftus, a farmer's wife whose family has recently shifted base there. He pretends to be a young girl named Sarah Williams, dressed up in a calico gown, looking for her Uncle's house. This is one of the first instances of Huck's lying. Though the clever lady manages to see through the masquerade, Huck manages things quite well in beginning. Huck's body language including his awkwardness in handling the needle and thread; how he throws a piece of lead at the rats, gives him away. But ultimately, he manages to get out of the situation by cooking up another set of lies. He says that he has run away from a cruel farmer in whose care he had been entrusted after his father's death. Looking for freedom from his caretaker's brutalities, he now wants to seek protection in his Uncle's house.

      Another incident, when Huck resorts to lying is when he encounters the slave hunters in Chapter 16, when Huck and Jim realize that they have overshot Cairo. The two men in the skiff want to know whether the man is black or white. They say, "Well, there's five niggers run off tonight up yonder, above the head of the bend. Is your man white or black?..... I didn't answer up prompt. I tried to, but the words wouldn't come. I tried for a second or two to brace up and out with it, but I wasn't man enough - hadn't the spunk of a rabbit. I see I was weakening; so I just give up trying, and up... He's white". On being questioned about the identity of the other man on the raft, Huck fibs that he is traveling with his father who is suffering from Smallpox. Though initially, he plans to divulge Jim's identity, eventually he decides against it because he considers it a good deed to save Jim's life.

      There are several occurrences when Huck feels the need to pull the wool over people's eyes. He poses as George Jackson at the Grangertords mansion (Chapter 17); towards the end of the novel, in. In chapter 32, when Huck reaches the Phelps' farm, he poses as Tom sawyer and gains entry to Aunt Sally's house.

      Though Huck takes to lying like fish to water, he is not deceitful. All his lies are for a good cause. He is the only character in the novel who acknowledges the fact that Jim, besides being a runaway slave, is first a human being. By virtue of this, the latter too is entitled to a life of dignity and deserves to live with his family members. Just like any of the 'whites' or 'sivlized' people, he also has emotions that should be acknowledged and respected. All his lies are to assist Jim in the latter's quest for freedom.

      While Huck's pretenses and facades are for a good cause, there are other characters in the novel who, despite a veneer of respectability, embody all that is ignoble and despicable in human nature. The "King" and the "Duke" are the two frauds who sully the hitherto untainted ambiance on the raft. They are individuals who choose lies as a means to fulfill their ulterior motives. Not only do they dupe unsuspecting townspeople with their repulsive performance of Shakespearean plays - the Royal Nonesuch, but they also go to the extent of making fun of religion and people's faith in God. Pretending to be a "reformed" pirate from the Indian Ocean, the "King" swindles them of eighty-seven dollars and seventy-five cents (Chapter 20).

      The most shameful act is when they fool the Wilks' daughters, the "poor sweet lambs" and try to rob them of their inherited property. This incident reveals them in an extremely negative light and makes the readers lose all sympathy for them. Not that they ever gained any consideration from us, but this dishonorable act appalls us beyond measure, especially since the Wilks girls are so credulous and simple. They treat them like their "dear uncles" who lack even a scrap of conscience and take advantage of the former. Even Huck feels sickened by their demeanor and says, " Well, if ever I struck anything like it, I'm a nigger. It was enough to make a body ashamed of the human race". This episode is a significant step towards Huck's moral development. Despite being a mere adolescent, he has a better sense of moral scruples than the 30-year and 70-year old frauds. Notwithstanding all his lies, it is this growth that endears Huck to us.

      Huck is, after all, not a seasoned liar. In Chapter 29, when the real brothers of old Peter Wilks arrive, there is an attempt to figure out the authenticity of the four people. Huck is questioned and he fails to convince the interrogators about his English ancestry. Levi Bell, the lawyer says, "Set down, my boy; I wouldn't strain myself if I was you. I reckon you ain't used to lying, it don't seem to come handy; what you want is practice. You do it pretty awkward". Although until now, Huck has been managing pretty well with his fibbing. But on serious occasions, like these, he fails quite miserably precisely because he is not a veteran in this art.

      This is where lies the difference between Huck's "lies" and those of the two conmen. Nowhere is there any clandestine intention in the fourteen-year-old's lies. Though it has been argued that Huck too has been a party to the frauds' game of pretense. He joins hands with them in their acts of fraud and poses as their servant boy, Adolphus. But, we should not forget that the moment he becomes conscious of their degree of callousness, he decides to walk out on them. He steals the money from the King's room and hides it in the coffin of the deceased Peter Wilks. Later, he tells the eldest sister, Mary Jane, all about the two shams and helps her devise a plan so as to expose them. So long as he feels that their lies is not hurting anyone to such a degree, he decides to keep shut. He does so also because his main aim is to help Jim acquire his freedom. He doesn't want to mess up with the two men for the sake of peace on the raft. He has enough troubles already and doesn't want to invite any more. But, being a conscientious boy, the moment his conscience stirs him, he refuses to turn a blind eye to all the "hogwash" that goes on and puts an end to it. This shows his integrity of character.

      In chapter 15, he and Jim get separated in the thick fog. After some time they find each other and Huck pretends that he has always been there on the raft with Jim. Finally, when Jim realizes that he is being fooled, he rebukes Huck for this prank. Huck has the integrity to feel a sense of remorse for the fact that he has hurt Jim's feelings. He confesses, "...Then he got up slow and walked to the wigwam, and went in there without saying anything but that. But that was enough. It made me feel so mean I could almost kiss his foot to get him to take it back".

      Therefore, it wouldn't be incorrect to say that Huck's lies can be considered "good", But the lies spoken or acted by the two con-men definitely does not adhere to moral scruples. Owing to the fact that Huck's lies are sans any malice, it provides succulent humor, while the conduct of the two frauds reveals a disposition that is enough to make us feel ashamed of the human race.

University Questions also can be Answered:

Lying occurs frequently in this novel. Curiously, some lies, like those Huck tells to save Jim, seem to be "good" lies, while others, like the cons of the duke and the dauphin, seem to be "bad." What is the difference? Are both "wrong"? Why does so much lying go on in Huckleberry Finn?

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