The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain describes the journey of a young boy and a runaway slave, Jim, up the Mississippi River. One of the most important themes of the book is that society is cruel. The book’s tone also changes. Sometimes its serious, other times its funny, even silly. The book is classic because the tone surprises and intrigues the reader while the themes teach the reader moral lessons. While Huck is on his journey he realizes that society is cruel.
An example of this would be when Buck tells Huck, “A man has a quarrel with another man, and kills him; then that other man’s brother kills im; then the other brothers on both sides goes for one another… and by and by everybody’s killed off, and there ain’t no more feud”(Twain 109). Pap, Huck’s father, was very mean to everyone, but especially Huck. Pap cannot read and does not want his son to be better than himself. Pap doesn’t like the fact that Widow Douglas is trying to “civilize” him.
Pap comes home every night and physically abuses Huck. During the day Pap would lock Huck in the cabin until he returned in order to keep Huck from escaping. Nothing can harm a child more than neglect and abuse. The two ladies that take Huck in off the streets are Mrs. Watson and the Widow Douglas. Mrs. Watson has several slaves, one of whom was Jim. It gets to the point where she had no more use for Jim, so she decides to sell him to New Orleans. Her actions are going to separate and destroy a family.
Jim decides that he would rather run away than be torn from his family. This is another example of society being cruel. Mrs. Watson doesn’t have any use for Jim anymore so she decides to sell him like he is a piece of property. During the journey, Huck and Jim run into the King and the Duke. The King and the Duke aren’t anything but two “rapscallions” who laim to be royalty so that they can get special treatment. One day they come upon a religious camp meeting, and the King and the Duke make up a story about being reformed pirates.
He tells the congregation that every time he reforms a pirate he says to them, “Don’t you thank me, don’t you give me no credit; it all belongs to them dear people in Pokeville camp meeting, natural brothers and benefactors of the race, and that dear preacher up there, the truest friend a pirate ever had”(Twain 133). Then he explodes into tears and the people of the camp meeting do, too. The King uses people’s feelings in order to gain wealth. They go through towns and put on such plays as the Royal Nonesuch, Richard III, and some others. Usually they are booed off the stage and warned never to return again.
The King, Duke, Huck, and Jim come upon a town where a wealthy man has just passed away. The King and the Duke see an opportunity to steal people blind so they take it. They claim to be Peter Wilkes’s English brothers so that they can acquire his inheritance. While the imposters are still in town, the real brothers show up, and catch them red-handed. Further on down the river they stop at another small town where the King sells Jim to Silas Phelps for forty dollars. The people that Jim are sold to just happen to be Tom Sawyer’s aunt and uncle.
Huck tells them that he is Tom so that he can stay there to help Jim escape. Mark Twain is attempting to show that society is cruel in several aspects. Those being child abuse, prejudice, and slavery. Tone is also important in this literary work. It changes from beginning to end in order to surprise and intrigue the reader. Sometimes the tone is serious, at other times its fun and exciting. While Huck and Jim are having adventures on the river, that tone is exciting. While Huck is staying with the Grangerfords, he and Buck have some adventures of their own.
The tone quickly changes when Buck is fatally shot in the feud. It becomes more serious. An example is, “I cried a little when I was covering up Buck’s face, for he was mighty good to me”(Twain 117). Jim tells Huck about his deaf and dumb daughter after a fun-filled day on the river. He explains that after his four-year-old daughter had the scarlet fever, he told her to shut the door and she didn’t. He knocked her to the ground and she didn’t say a word. She just smiled at him. Then suddenly the door slammed and she didn’t flinch. Then Jim went behind her and screamed.
After this he realized that his daughter had lost her hearing and that he was sorry he had hit her. This is another example of how tone changes. When Huck meets up with Tom Sawyer towards the end of the book, the tone becomes silly. They are trying to rescue Jim. Tom wants to do it the hard way and Huck wants to do it the easy way, but he never says anything about Tom’s plan, except to himself. Huck says, “I never said nothing, because I warn’t expecting nothing different; but I knowed mighty well that whenever he got his plan ready t wouldn’t have none of them objections to it”(Twain 225).
Tom just wants excitement and he wants everything they do to resemble the books that he has read. Huck thinks that Tom is educated and knows best, so he goes along with it. In conclusion, the timeless themes and the different tones make this book still very popular today. Mark Twain is trying to confirm that society is wicked. He uses tone changes to keep the reader interested and for suspense purposes. In my opinion the novel is a great child’s book and a great book for older people to fashion their lives after.