The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Highlighting the Social Flaws

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by author Mark Twain traces a bildungsroman journey of a young, intrepid teen traveling with household slave Jim down south in pursuit of freedom. Floating down the Mississippi River on a raft isolated from society, Huck and Jim encounter multiple different social environments that present their respective conflicts. In turn, Twain shines light on the plethora of social flaws within these family environments by overtly utilizing diction in Huck’s experiences with his father, Miss Watson, and the King and the Duke, while juxtaposing the serenity of the family on the raft, Jim.

Huck’s father fails to serve as a proper father figure to Huck. Twain renders Huck’s father, referred as Pap, as abusive and illogical through violence, Huck’s instability, disagreement, and charged diction. Despite Huck being under provision of Miss Watson and the widow, judge Thatcher takes Huck to Pap. In response to meeting his son after not meeting him for years, Pap responds by condemning Huck’s defiant behavior. Twain writes, “You think you are a good deal of a big bug, don’t you (Twain 31)”. Pap denounces Huck by referring to him to something less than human. Bugs are the smallest visible organisms, of which are the most disruptive and distasteful. By lowering Huck under civilization, Pap positions Huck inferior to him. Pap therefore attempts to engage in an imperative, exacting tone, where Huck should follow his words and act as is told. Similarly, he crafts a visual image of destruction as he threatens to “take [Huck] down a peg (31)”. A vertical striking motion is visualized with taking down a peg. Once again, a striking motion–from top to bottom–indicates a dynamic. Nonetheless, the attempts to intimidate Huck are futile. Huck responds calmly. All of Pap’s speech constitutes to placing Huck under him, but Huck is unaffected because both he and Pap are aware that Huck is more educated in reality. Instead, Pap’s constant efforts to find weaknesses in Huck renders an illogical father. No father would want something less of his son. Nevertheless, Pap awaits Huck’s downfall. In retrospect, Twain crafts Pap to appear foolish. Moreover, Huck’s response evinces his disagreement and blatant indifference. He responds to Pap’s comments on being a big bug by claiming, “Maybe I am, maybe I ain’t (31).” Huck stands between two definite answers and settles a neutral position. His neutral stance is a passive approach to Pap’s animosity, one that placates Pap’s escalation of voice and denies the opportunity for the conversation to continue. Huck remains elusive and outsmarts his opponent. Another factor of disagreement is Pap’s notion that maintains Huck to be lesser of him. Pap mentions Huck was able to enjoy “many frills since [he has] been away (31).” A frill is an item that is considered excessive and unnecessary. Pap claims education is a frill for Huck, something that is more than what he should be. Pap does not want the better of his son.

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The Duke and King are deceptive frauds who attempt to mislead Huck. They represent the hypocrisy society outside of the raft breeds. Huck’s impression on the two old men greatly differ from his outward expression. Outwardly, he calls the two by their purported positions. Unspoken, however, is Huck immediately noticing the vastly inconsistent time period these men claim to be from. The men are lying. For this reason, Huck regards them as “low-down humbugs and frauds (142)”. A humbug is someone who deceives others. So is a fraud. Twain here intentionally attaches both words together. Accordingly, Twain asserts the vast and frequent appearance of humbugs and frauds in Huck’s society. The natural emphasis of the plural synonyms further implies the countless other frauds in the mainland. Huck is able to outwit the duke and king due to the experience with his abusive father and condemning Miss Watson and her sister. Huck draws parallel the old men’s character to that of his father, mentioning that “if I learnt that the best way to get along with his kind of people is to let them have their own way (142).” Yielding the way for men to act on their own, Huck alienates them in disqualification as an ideal family member. Huck levels the duke and king to the same level as his abusive father by categorizing the two as “his kind of people”. Inevitably, Huck argues that deceit is just as harmful as violence. The contemporary audience, who are unaware of how bad lying was in the day, is provided a comparison that suggest the growing distaste towards the duo. Such is also why Huck deems “it warn’t no use to tell Jim (142).” Huck’s priority was to “keep peace in the family (142).” The word family holds significance in the fact that it does not connote the literal definition of a sibling or a parent. Instead, Huck considers his immediate surroundings as his family. The family here is referring to the three men that are with him: Jim, the duke, and the king. Keeping peace implies that peace remained in the family before the duke and king. Sure enough, Jim and Huck were peaceful because each of them benefitted each other; Huck could lead naïve and uneducated Jim while also benefitting from Jim’s company. Keeping the situation as is therefore connotes that Huck does not want change. Similarly, he does not want hypocrisy to breach in the peaceful raft, possibly spreading to or infiltrating Jim. Huck claims that “for what you want, above all things, on a raft, is for everybody to be satisfied, and feel right and kind towards the others (142).” A distinct location, the raft, engenders the audience to consider the contrary. At least on a raft, everybody should be satisfied. Life outside of the raft is implied, therefore, to be unforgiving and rigid. All things considered, the duke and the king are effective constituents in solidifying the frequency of deceit in Huck’s society.

Huck does not entertain Miss Watson and the widow’s didactic speech. “Don’t put your feet up there, Huckleberry (15).” “Don’t scrunch up like that, Huckleberry–sit up straight (15).” “Don’t gap and stretch like that, Huckleberry (15).” Twain overtly depicts Huck’s ignorance by repeating words and prolonging sentences. Moreover, the word ‘and’, along with the paraphrasing of Aunt Sally’s words like “all about the bad place” as a connector is an indication that another point is being made. Then there are semi-colons. The reader briefly stops after a transitional comment, lingering upon the previous point while he or she absorbs its interpretations. However, the frequent, abrupt transitions from one point to another tires both Huck and the reader. Another way Huck’s detachment from the conversation is presented is through the repetition of the word “don’t”. As imperative the word might sound, Miss Watson bombards Huck with a number of do-nots. In addition, Huck comments that Miss Watson’s corrections were “deadly dull”. The alliteration of the alphabet d, coupled with the repetition of don’t, accumulate to deliver a monotonous speech. Literally, the letter d cuts a syllable, and figuratively, the words connote a dull conversation. Huck is aloof from the trite and ordinary conversation and is clearly uninterested in what Miss Watson is talking about. He does not consider himself a part of the family especially because a mutual connection does not exist between him and Miss Watson. A shortcoming in the family is thereby exposed. Miss Watson shares a unilateral expression of affection, where Huck is disturbed and apparently annoyed. By utilizing paraphrasing, transitional words, alliteration, and the repetition of words, Twain effectively communicates Huck’s boredom in this family.

Huck is yet to settle with one family, and through the unending quest to find one, considers the decision to move to the ‘Territory’. All problems have been resolved and Huck’s freedom is granted as Jim informs the death of the oppressor. However, he decides not to live with Aunt Sally. “Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can’t stand it. I been there before (296)”. The word ‘before’ relates to how Huck now knows the outcome of living with Aunt Sally’s family and does not favor it because of how the relationship reminds him of Miss Watson. As found out earlier on the raft with duke and the king, Huck’s contingencies to an ideal family is that he has to be satisfied and feel the right and kind way for all people. Whether Aunt Sally wishes the better of Huck deep inside does not matter for Huck. What does matter is satisfaction and bilateral communication. His previous experience with Miss Watson was one without satisfaction. Although Miss Watson had genuine and caring lessons for Huck, Huck was not satisfied. He does not want to become “sivilized”. For that reason, Huck seeks satisfaction and mentions he should rather consider moving west: “But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory (296)”. Ideological families do not exist in this book, and Huck does not want to mold himself into any particular family. Twain points out Huck’s insatiable nature to yearn for a different family environment. No information is revealed on the Territory. In fact, Huck would be shining new light.

Noticeably, the endless journey and the chain of mysterious events are what satisfy Huck, not the civilized mannerisms adults attempt to educate him on. Illuminating the dark, undiscovered route is what excites him. The journey is valued more than the destination itself. Furthermore, the territory expands the scope of the fictional setting of St. Petersburg. The familial environment is shifted to a dark path with little to no lighting. The fictional setting of St. Petersburg transitions into a non-fictional area of land. At this point, Huck’s family is society overall. Huck, through the many adventures and different familial environments he involves himself into, formulates a thorough image of his notions upon society with its microcosm, family. In it, Twain employs evocative battles between his conscience and empathetic heart, literary techniques that amplify the rhetoric of text, and specific, unique accounts of different family environments that each give a trait that Huck either appreciates or rules out in his ultimate pursuit of an ideal family.

All things considered, Huck’s rather peculiar decision is elucidated and made reasonable throughout the arc of the novel. Mark Twain articulates the social stigmas of families by deploying the available means of persuasion; he capitalizes in his choice of words that contribute to echoing Huck’s experience with each of the family’s shortcomings and juxtaposing the composed life on the raft with Jim throughout.

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