Many changes violently shook America shortly after the Civil War. The nation was seeing things that it had never seen before, its entire economic philosophy was turned upside down. Huge multi-million dollar trusts were emerging, coming to dominate business. Companies like Rockefeller’s Standard Oil and Carnegie Steel were rapidly gobbling up small companies in any way possible. Government corruption was at what some consider an all time high. “The Rich Man’s Club” dominated the Senate as the Gilded Age reached its peak. On the local front, mob bosses controlled the cities, like Tammany Hall in New York.
Graft and corruption were at an all time high while black rights sunk to a new low. Even after experiencing freedom during the Civil War, their hopes of immediate equality died with the death of Lincoln. Groups like the KKK drove blacks down to a new economic low. What time would be better than this to write a book about the great American dream, a book about long held American ideals, now squashed by big business and white supremacy? Mark Twain did just that, when he wrote what is considered by many as the “Great American Epic”.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, “The great American epic,” may be one of the most interesting and complex books ever written in the history of our nation. This book cleverly disguises many of the American ideals in a child floating down the Mississippi River on a raft with a black slave. On the outside of the story, one can see an exciting tale of heroism and adventure; however, that is not all. The book shows Mark Twain’s idea of the classic American idealism, consisting of freedom, morality, practicality, and an alliance with nature.
Twain manages to show all this while poking fun at the emergence of the “robber barons,” better know as the big business of the late nineteenth century. Twain portrays many different American values in this book by expressing them through one of the many different characters. The character that Twain chose to represent morality and maturation is none other than Huck Finn himself. Throughout the novel one sees many signs of change. The setting is constantly fluctuating, except for the constant Mississippi, and Huck and Jim, a runaway slave, under-go many changes themselves.
At the end of the novel Huck Finn shows a large change in his level of maturity than he had exhibited in the beginning of the book. As the book begins, Mark Twain gives the reader a view of a little boy and his best friend. The reader gets a brief overview of events that place the friends in their current positions. Twain shows this position to give the reader an introduction to Huck Finn. As the story opens, the reader quickly grasps the idea that Huck Finn, by nature, does not show the ideas of “civilization”.
This “civilization”, which is forced upon Huck by the Widow Douglas, shows how Huck gets to be so rebellious and immature. Huck’s immaturity is further displayed in his attitudes towards black people. Huck and Tom, Huck’s friend, are constantly attributed to pranks played on a slave named Jim. In general, it appears as though Huck is a follower of his friend Tom Sawyer. Huck must conform to Tom’s ritualistic ways, straying from his own practical ways. It seems as though Huck is incapable of making his own decisions. Huck always followed Tom in his silly childish games, like pretending they were pirates.
In these childish games the immature children would pretend to “stop stagecoaches and carriages on the road, with masks on, and kill the people and take their watches and money. ” These games, based off of what Tom had pieced together from novels, demonstrated the lack of maturity of the boys. In this opening setting the reader views one side of Huck, one of immaturity mainly dominated by Tom Sawyer. This view seems to radically change as time progresses. The first time that Huck Finn is shown is shown to be varying from the original immature figure that he is displayed as in the opening of the novel, is when Huck goes to Jackson Island.
On the island the reader catches his first glimpse of an independent Huck. Huck is brought away from both civilization and Tom, who together silence his inner maturity. In this demonstration of freedom, Huck is able to live happily by himself, only proving that civilization is holding back the real Huck. It seems that the further Huck ventures from civilization, the more mature he becomes. On Jackson Island, Huck meets up with the black slave that he and Tom used to hassle. Huck quickly establishes that the slave, Jim, is a runaway.
Huck then takes it upon himself to help Jim runaway, thinking of it as an adventure. “Call me a low down abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum,” is all Huck has to say on the matter, but he keeps quiet just the same. He shows his first big step in his maturation here by being tolerant of Jim and not rejecting him as a subordinate, as he and Tom had done earlier. On the island the reader does still see signs of a Huck that is not maturing. On the island Huck is frightened by Jim’s superstition. After Huck holds a bit of snake’s skin, Jim becomes fearful because to him that is a sign of bad luck.
Later, after getting bit by a snake, Jim’s superstition is validated. This only pushes Huck further towards believing in Jim’s superstition. The island is the first place where the reader can see Huck’s maturation; however, it certainly isn’t the best example of his growth. The best example of Huck’s growth as a mature individual undoubtedly occurred with his experiences with the King and the Duke. These two characters, probably the antithesis of maturity and morality, help not only to strengthen Huck Finn’s values, but also to help him realize what they were in the first place.
The basic plan of the Duke and King is to go from village to village along the Mississippi and con people out of their money. At first Huck just goes with the flow and does what the King and Duke say. However, as the story progresses, Huck becomes more and more unwilling to do what the King and Duke say. He develops a morality, and with that matures to the level where he is able to detect that what the King and Duke are doing is wrong. Jim often aids Huck in his recognition of this, and because of this, Huck and Jim grow together much more closely than ever before.
This growth again shows how Huck believes that Jim is his equal, and not a subordinate. The scene in which Huck matures the most because of the King and the Duke is when the group hears of the death of Mr. Wilkes. This man, who had a substantial amount of money, had willed it to not only his relatives in America, but also his brothers in England. The King and Duke pretend to be his brothers from England, and come to collect their inheritance money. Of course that just isn’t enough for the two, so by sheer generosity, they “selflessly” give up their share of the inheritance money.
By this “display of caring” the two manage to twist events to the point where they receive all of the inheritance money left by Peter Wilkes. This is where Huck shows a large amount of maturation. After he had learned of their plan, he said, “it was enough to make a body ashamed of the human race. He realizes that what the Duke and King are doing is extremely wrong. His morals tell him that he can’t let the Duke and King get away with such an awful crime against the Wilkes. Before the King and Duke leave, Huck steals the money the frauds had stolen and hides it.
Huck here shows a great deal of maturity because he is breaking away from his “Tom Sawyer” ways. Instead of looking for adventure he realizes what is right, and sees that it is done. The delay is costly to the King and Duke, who barely escape the town after the real relatives from England show up. These events not only reinforce the morals that Huck already possesses, but they also show that his time spent in “civilization” with the Widow has taught him something after all. Another experience that helps Huck to mature is when he stays with the Grangerfords.
Even though Huck’s stay with the Grangerfords is short he experiences a large amount of moral growth. The Grangerfords were involved in a feud with an another family, the Sheperdsons. The feud between the families came as a horrible shock to Huck. Through this feud, Huck learned just how bad war and hatred could really be. This was amplified when the Grangerford family member that he had come to know well, Buck, was killed in the feud. His timely death made Huck realize that there really shouldn’t be something silly enough to make a child no older than himself become a crazed murderer.
He was mature enough to realize that Buck’s statement, “A feud is something where everyone on one side wants to kill everyone on the other side, until by and by everybody’s killed off, and there ain’t no more feud. ” What shocked Huck even more was that the families were not really even sure what they were fighting about. However, amidst the chaos, Twain shows that there can be reconciliation. Even though the families would not agree to stop fighting, members of each family showed there could be love. Sophia Grangerford ran off to be with Harney Sheperdson so the two could be together, despite their families’ differences.
Huck’s experience with the Grangerfords certainly taught him a great deal about strong emotions, which in turn helped him to mature. Throughout the majority of the book, the reader gets a sense of Huck maturing. The image of Huck at the beginning, a rowdy young boy with little respect for blacks, and a feeling of “immortality of youth”, is seemingly shattered with the progression of the book. However, this progression changes near the end of the book, when Twain decides to bring Tom Sawyer back into the plot. By doing this, Twain seems to almost throw out all of the maturation that Huck has gathered throughout the book.
Huck seems to not take a dominant position in the situation, but he instead falls right back into his conformity with Tom. This is best seen when the two boys try to rescue Jim at the end of the book. As usual, Huck comes up with a good, simple idea to free Jim. However, Tom just didn’t buy it. “But it’s too blame simple; there ain’t nothin’ to it. What’s the good of the plan that ain’t no more trouble than that? ” was Tom’s response to Huck’s simple plan. It showed that Tom was still just an immature boy who was looking to have a good time, and play a game.
Huck on the other hand demonstrated his affection for Jim. He wanted to free Jim, and didn’t care how. Deep down he knew that his plan was very good; however, he took a submissive approach to Tom’s plan, which caused the two more problems than ever. Huck’s experiences demonstrate the fact that Huck was able to grow much better without the influence of Tom. Without Tom, Huck realized that blacks and whites were really equal. Tom, on the other hand, didn’t even grasp the concept of equality. As far as he could see, life was just a game.
He wanted to make it as fun as possible, not caring who he helped along the way, or who he hurt. At this point Huck wanted to have Jim’s rescue involve as little conflict as possible, as he had learned from the Grangerfords that militias conflict was in general bad, yet he was still submissive when Tom brought up his idea. Huck took all that he had learned, especially from the feud with the Grangerfords, and threw it out the window. In general, it appears that when Huck is in the presence of Tom, or rather under his influence, he is less likely to make an educated decision.
Tom impedes Huck’s ability to use what he has learned along his adventures. Another area where Huck has made major advances in maturity is in his ideas of equality. Huck has come along way since the beginning of the novel, where he and Tom picked on Jim. One now sees that Huck has come to accept people’s differences, he realizes that what matters is not really on the outside. Throughout the course of the novel, particularly aboard the raft, the reader realizes that Jim and Huck seem to bond more and more.
This bonding symbolizes the way that Huck is accepting people other than those that he was told to as his equals. Twain does an excellent job at making the reader realize just how much Huck really has matured by reincorporating Tom into the novel at the end. This gives the reader a basis on which to compare the old Huck, who seemed to be almost exactly like Tom, to the new Huck. The new Huck, it is painstakingly obvious, has matured much more than his old self, Tom. Again, it can be seen in the ways that the two try and free Jim.