The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Man as Coward
Throughout the novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the author expresses a plain and poignant point of view. One of Mark Twain’s main purposes in producing this work seems clear: he wishes to bring to attention some of man’s often-concealed shortcomings. His point of view is that of a cynic; he looks upon civilized man as a merciless, cowardly, hypocritical savage. While the examples of Mark Twain’s cynic commentaries on human nature can be found in great frequency all through the novel, several examples seem to lend themselves well to a discussion of this sarcastic view.
In the beginning of the novel, it would seem that both Huck Finn and Jim are trapped in some way and wishing to escape. For Huck, it is the violence and tyranny of his drunken father. Kept in a veritable prison, Huck wishes desperately to escape. Jim feels the need to escape after hearing that his owner, Miss Watson, wishes to sell him down the river-a change in owners that could only be for the worse. As they escape separately and rejoin by chance at an island along the river, they find themselves drawn to get as far as possible from their home.
Their journey down the river sets the stage for most of Mark Twain’s comments about man and society. It is when they stop off at various towns along the river that various human character flaws always seem to come out. Examples of this would include the happenings after the appearance of the Duke and King. These two con artists would execute the most preposterous of schemes to relieve unsuspecting townspeople of their cash. The game of the King pretending to be a reformed marauder-turned-missionary at the tent meeting showed that people are gullible and often easily led, particularly when in groups and subjected to peer pressure.
The execution of the Royal Nonesuch showed another instance of people in society being subject to manipulation. The fact that, after being taken by a poor show they sent rave reviews of it to their friends to avoid admitting they had been conned showed that people in groups are ever afraid of losing status, and will do nearly anything to protect such. Both the King and the Duke, also, showed such a ridiculous degree of corruptness that it is difficult to believe that all humans aren’t at least somewhat evil.
Another point made by the author is that of most men being basically cowards. A good example of this was when Col. Sherburn shot the drunk Boggs and the townsfolk came after Sherburn to lynch him. After Sherburn, one man with only a shotgun, held off the immense mob and made them disperse, it was obvious that no individual really had the courage to go through with the lynching. The idea that people are basically savages, confined for the moment by society, is shown in more than one instance.
For example, when the group was preparing to hang Huck and the King over their plot to defraud the daughters, or, more obvious, in the war between the Shephardsons and the Grangerfords. The aspect of people being basically hypocrites is seen at the beginning when Miss Watson displays a degree of hypocrisy on insisting that Huck follow the Widow and become civilized, while at the same time deciding to sell Jim into a hard life down the river. A final point seems to be that Man is continually fleeing from something.
At the end, Jim and Huck found themselves at the end of their journey, neither having anything left to run from as Huck’s father was dead and Jim was a free man. It would seem then that Huck and Jim had run a thousand miles down the river and ended up where they had begun. From the above examples taken from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it is apparent that Mark Twain wishes society to realize its shortcomings and the limitations imposed by human nature. He realizes that people will not change, but feels that they should be aware of who they are, of what comes with this thing we call humanity.