Violence & Suffering in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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      Introduction: Besides being supposedly another one of Twain's books on "Boy Literature", Huckleberry Finn also addresses certain very serious issues that are way beyond the compass of innocent and uncomplicated Children's books. The novel gives a scathing portrayal of the Southern society of Twain's times. This is equally true of the present day an extremely unflattering picture.


      Tom is completely besotted by adventurous stories and heroic feats. Fixated with his romanticism, in chapter 2, he imagines himself as the leader of a robber gang. He assembles all his friends and they decide to start a "band of robbers" that would steal treasure and hold people in "ransom". In a bid to rob Arab merchants, apparently carrying gold and diamonds, they land up intercepting a group of schoolchildren enjoying a Sunday-school picnic. All that they manage to lay their hands on, in the name of plunder, is turnips.

      The prospect of violence, which ultimately never takes place, is also evident from the oath that each member of the gang is supposed to sign. "Everybody that wants to join has got to take an oath, and write his name in blood...... It swore every boy to stick to the band, and never tell any of the secrets; and if anybody has done anything to any boy in the band, whichever boy was ordered to kill that person and his family must do it, and he mustn't eat and he mustn't sleep till he had killed them and hacked across in their breasts, which was the sign of the band... And if anybody that belonged to the band told the secrets, he must have his throat cut, and then have his carcass burnt up and the ashes scattered all around, and his name blotted off of the list with blood and never mentioned again by the gang, but have a curse put on it and be forgot forever.".

      Twain makes the show of violence a humorous concern here. The fact is that these innocent boys do not even have the vaguest idea about what "ransom" is and they look forward to doing it. The ludicrousness of it is what makes it humorous.


      The violence and miseries inflicted by Pap on Huck is an instance of the real violence as opposed to the humorous violence of Tom Sawyer. Pap is the only alive family member that Huck has. Nevertheless, there is nothing that he has given his son, by way of emotional or moral support. Pap is a drunkard who knows nothing better than whiling away his time and beating his son. Though Huck resents a life in Widow Douglas' house, life with Pap is worse than this. Huck is almost near death in Chapter 6. "....he laughed such a screechy laugh, and roared and cussed, and kept on chasing me up. Once when I turned short and dodged under his arm he made a grab and got me by the jacket between my shoulders, and I thought I was gone... Due to this violence, he is forced to fake his own murder in chapter 7


      In chapter 17, we are introduced to the members of Southern royalty - two families that have been involved in a bloody feud, over some obscure reason, for more than three decades. Outward appearance tells us that it is a well-bred and sophisticated family. The members of the family exude a polished demeanor. "Col. Grangertord.. was a gentleman all over; and so was his family. He was well-born... There wasn't no foolishness about him, not a bit, and he warn't ever loud. He was as kind as he could be - you could feel that, you know, and so you had confidence".

      They are reasonably rich with colossal farmlands and a nigger servant to serve each member of the family. Huck comes to know that the rival family, that of the Shepherdsons, is equally well to do and well-read.

      One day, while sauntering in the woods with Buck, Huck witnesses a sample of this fight. Harvey Shepherdson tries to shoot at Buck from horseback and the two friends run for dear life. On enquiring about the reason behind I, Huck is surprised to know that, though the hostility is more than thirty years old, not a single family member is cognizant of the root cause for the same.

      Theirs is an instance of slow but gory violence. Despite being highly literate, they are insanely dedicated to carrying on violence. Their deportment exposes the cruelty and unruliness behind the semblance of aristocracy and the gentility of royalty. Exalted notions of family honor are ridiculous especially when the rationale is unknown. It is intriguing to note how, even the so-called "educated" lot, can be so foolish.


      Emmeline, the dead daughter of the Grangerfords, is introduced to us in chapter 17 of the novel. She had painted many pictures, which are extremely cheerless and gloomy. She had also written poetry as tributes to people who had passed away. Her fixation for gloom and sentimentality could be attributed to the misery and lack of cheer that has been an integral part of her upbringing. Probably because she has seen so many deaths in the family, she has adopted this despondency. She's one of those characters who would rather weep than live her life. Her weepy obituaries are cliches of nineteenth-century gentility - one that masks latent hostility and violence.


      In chapter 21, Huck and Jim, along with the "King" and the "Duke", arrive at a "lazy town". During their exploration of the town, they come across an old drunkard named Boggs. He has come to settle scores with the wealthiest man in town, Col. Sherburn, who has swindled him. Col Sherburn, with all his composure, confronts him. He threatens him that if the latter does not stop hurling abuses before 1 o'clock, he would shoot him. And, as expected, at the appointed time, Col. Sherburn appears and shoots Boggs down.

      The episode imparts an aura of comedy and horror. Initially, when Boggs comes in .... "a - tearing along on his horse, whooping and yelling like an Injun..., at the beginning of the chapter, it appears to be like a vaudeville comedy. The onlookers say, "All the loafers looked glad; I reckoned they were used to having fun out of Boggs ...I wish old Boggs d threaten me, 'cuz then I'd know ...l warn't gwyne to die for a thousand year". The scene assumes an exceedingly serious tone with Col. Sherburn's warning ".Till one o'clock, mind - no longer. If you open your mouth against me only once after that time you can't travel so far but I will find you".


      This uneasy mixture of comedy brings about a melange of humor and suffering in the scene. Miss Boggs, his daughter, demonstrates some element of suffering - "...Oh, he's killed him, he's killed him!.. they pulled his daughter away from him, screaming and crying, and took her off. She was about sixteen, and very sweet and gentle looking, but awful pale and scared". Even though the rests of the bystanders, in their fury, decide to "lynch" the Colonel, they seem to be having a relatively nice time. Far from empathizing with the orphaned daughter, all that they want is a chance to "have a look" but the people that "...had the places wouldn't give them up, and folks behind them...... now, you've looked enough, you fellows; 'tain't right and 'tain't fair for you to stay there all the time, and never give nobody a chance; other folks have their rights as well as you". It seems as if they were watching some kind of a spectacle. They go as far as enacting the murder scene when one "long, lanky man, with long hair and a big white fur stovepipe hat on the back of his head" acts out the scene ".....just exactly the way it all happened.....".

      Even Huck doesn't pay much attention to it as, after Col. Sherburn's chastising speech to the mob, he runs away to watch the circus.


      Life onshore, as against that on the raft, is extremely violent. But the aggression and bloodshed are frequent and of a casual kind. It is a style of everyday life. Violence is resorted to, not as an act of self-defense or when it gets extremely mandatory, but offhandedly.

      Despite these isolated incidents of violence, there is no profound suffering. The ladies of the Grangerford family do not suffer when Buck dies - there is no show of mourning. Even Huck, who is so close to Buck, does not shed more than a few tears - "..cried a little when I was covering up Buck's face, for he was mighty good to me.. He, then, carries on with his mission and continues his journey with Jim.

      In the early part of the novel, the violence that Huck's father inflicts on him is part of the habitual lifestyle. It is a routine that Huck, until his escape, is destined to live with.

University Questions also can be Answered:

What is the place of violence and suffering in the novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?
Violence in the novel, Huckleberry Finn, does not really lead to much suffering. Do you agree or disagree with this statement?
Examine the scene in which Colonel Sherburn shoots Boggs dead in the street. Comment on the blend of comedy and tragedy as depicted by the episode.

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