Throughout the history of American Literature, the use of the bad boy’ or the rebel in the literature has always fascinated readers. We may ask ourselves why would a bad person with typically bad morals and a bad attitude appeal to people in society? American society typically flocks toward certain characters in literature, based on their character. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, we are able to examine one of the most famous rebellious young men in the history of American literature. Huck reveals all the typical qualities of a bad boy’, while retaining his inner compassion. Through analysis of Huck and other characters in American Literature, we can come to a conclusion that the bad boy’ is usually a character that is non-conforming to society, such as in religion, school, and moral standards, while retaining their compassion inside. Although these rebellious boys may look tough and scary on the outside, on the inside they actually have a good heart and are able to have feelings such as remorse, regret, love, and compassion for others. In addition, there is a thin line between the American bad boy that we all know and love, and truly a bad person. Both come off tough on the outside, but it is the inner character that will separate the men from the boys’. The rebellious boy we are fascinated boy has a good heart, while the other bad boy’ is bad in all aspects. People are drawn to the inner moral fiber, not how bad people are on the outside. This is why Huck is so famous in literary history. It is evident that he has a tough outside, but a caring personality on the inside.
Huck is far from a typical child in all aspects of his character, life experiences, and maturity. Huck doesn’t conform to society whatsoever, and has his own opinion about everything. In a society as religious as his, he says a lot of cruel things about religion and what he thinks of it, especially when it comes to hell. “Then she told me all about the bad place, and I said I wished I was there. She got mad, then, but I didn’t mean no harm. She said it was wicked to say what I said; said she wouldn’t say it for the whole world; she was going to live so as to go to the good place.” (Twain 33). Huck clearly displays his thinking on religion through the quote, and doesn’t really care about religion. Everyone else in the society would be very offended by this, considering they are all very religious people. In addition, Huck hates school in the beginning when he first starts. “and I don’t reckon I could ever get any further than that if I was to live forever. I don’t take no stock in the mathematics anyway. At first I hated school, but by and by I got so I could stand it. Whenever I got uncommon tired I played hookey, and the hiding I got next day done me good and cheered me up.” (Twain 43). Although he does get used to it after awhile, he is still quite rebellious about it in the beginning and thinks it is for the most part useless. He is far from a traditional boy, even in this time period, and is extremely rebellious for someone his age. In general, he doesn’t want to conform to society or conform to the normal moral standards. A good example is the use of slavery in the south during the time period. Slavery was common, however, Huck rebels against society trying to help free Jim and bring him to an anti-slavery area where he can be free. “I know what you’ll say. You’ll say it’s a dirty low-down business; but what if it is? — I’m low down; and I’m agoing to steal him, and I want you to keep mum and not let on.”
(Twain 212) In this quote, Huck tells Tom Sawyer about his plans to steal Jim. From the tone of the book, Huck seems to take authority and will do it whether Tom will help him or not.
According to a criticism written by Michael O’Connor, Huck’s character is on the border between a bad boy with a good heart’, and a true bad boy. “He is playful but practical, inventive but logical, compassionate but realistic, and these traits allow him to survive the abuse of Pap, the violence of a feud and the wiles of river con men.” (O’Connor 2) O’Connor talks about Huck’s inner struggle with his conscience, as well as making decisions. “To persevere in these situations, Huck lies, cheats, steals, and defrauds his way down the river. These traits are part of the reason that Huck Finn was viewed as a book not acceptable for children, yet they are also the traits that allow Huck to survive his surroundings, and, in the conclusion, make the right decision.” (O’Connor 5) O’Connor correctly represents his character, although he does not exactly show the better side of Huck. Huck simply accepts the abstract social and religion tenets pressed upon him by Miss Watson until his experiences cause him to make decisions in which his learned values and natural feelings come in conflict. This is where we begin to see the true bad boy with a good heart’ come out. This is the reason Huck has such a difficult time conforming to the rules, and he accepts that that it is his own deficiency, not the rule, which is bad. Huck clearly does the things he does in order to survive, unlike his foil character Tom. While he lies, cheats and steals, it is not something he would normally do, but is based around the circumstances. While O’Connor focuses on mainly
the bad morals Huck has in order to survive, another criticism written by Russel Banks focuses more on Huck’s feelings and reactions to the situations placed in front of him.
“All these pieces of art, especially those American-made, were mostly born of Twain’s Huck Finn. His was the first American novel to use the controversial anti-hero, and Twain pulled out all the stops by attacking society and its hypocrisy. Twain effectively satirizes the conformity and hypocrisy of society through exemplary characterization of the anti-hero’s rebellion and controversial attitude towards the corrupt world in which he lives.” (Banks 1) Banks uses Huck’s non-conformity to society to explain his feelings towards the world around him. While Huck does many things that are not technically morally correct, it is how he feels about them that shows his true character and good heart. For example, Banks talks about the situation with the steamboat The Walter Scott, and how after tricking the robber’s, Huck feels upset and remorse. Since he is feeling so upset about it, he goes and finds a ferry watchman and tells him his family is stranded on the wreck. Huck invents an elaborate story about how his family got on the wreck and convinces the watchman to take his ferry to help. During this situation, you can clearly see the most appealing part of the bad boy character to our America society; a good heart. “I begun to think how dreadful it was, even for murderers, to be in such a fix. I says to myself, there ain’t no telling but I might come to be a murderer myself, yet, and then how would I like it?” (Twain 88) You begin to see Huck’s compassion for humanity, as well as his compassion for Jim and how much he cares about him and the friendship throughout the novel.
You also begin to see how he cares for others in the way he acts toward Mary-Jane. He tells her the truth about what is really going on with the Duke and the King, and the fraud they are putting on her family. Other than Jim, this is the first time we see Huck put his trust in someone. “And if it just happens so that I don’t get away, but get took up along with them, you must up and say I told you the whole thing beforehand, and you must stand by me all you can.” He cares greatly about Mary-Jane, and only wants the best for her as seen through the text.” (Twain 182) Through these events, as well as how Huck treats Jim, you can clearly see that although Huck may seem tough on the outside, he is truly a caring person with good morals. He can’t do something bad without feeling upset about it later. That is the biggest test of someone’s character related to the situations they are placed in and how they react to them.
While Huck represents the American bad boy’, Tom Sawyer is presented as a FOIL of Huck. Huck does the things he needs to do in order to survive, while Tom Sawyer is living in his own fantasy world. Everything in Tom’s life revolves around these fairytale adventures he reads about in books. Tom conforms to society, while Huck clearly does not. Tom has no worries though, as far as survival and having a place to go. He loves to make everything difficult, in order to do it the way they do it in adventure books.’ The two boys are total opposites, in the form of character, goals and actions.
America has always had a fascination with the rebellious young boy, and it is very possible that the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, brought about this loving for this type of character. Huck’s character has both the noticeable bad
boy attitude and tough outside, while also having a good heart and a caring personality. His character brings out the reader’s id’ as Freud would say. It brings out the naughtiness inside the reader’s personality, while still making him lovable because he is really a good person on the inside.