The Theme of Slavery in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Essay Example
“Man is the only slave. And he is the only animal who enslaves. He has always been a slave in one form or another...”( Twain). Mark Twain’s novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, delves into these ideas on the evils of slavery through the eyes of a young boy living in the Antebellum period. Twain describes the book as, “[i]t is a novel where a sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision and conscience suffers defeat. The conscience – that unerring monitor—can be trained to any wild thing you want it to approve.” The title character, Huckleberry Finn, discovers the difference between his deformed conscience, what society has told him is right and wrong, and his sound heart, what he truly believes is moral, and uses it to save a man’s life.
Huck is a young teenager from Missouri who strikes on an adventure with his caretaker’s runaway slave, Jim. The two travel down the Mississippi River while Huck develops his own morals. The first instance of this comes when Huck and Jim have just stolen a canoe from robbers and left them for dead on a steamboat wreckage. Huck is feeling guilty over his choice to help free Jim when slave catchers come down the river. Huck manages to lie his way out and protects Jim’s identity, despite his growing concerns. While some may argue that Huck believes in societal morals, it is evident in chapter sixteen when Huck lies to the slave catchers about who Jim is, he discovers his sound heart and acts upon it to save Jim’s freedom.
Twain uses sensory words to show Huck and Jim feeling similar emotions, but in opposite ways. At the beginning of their journey, Jim is elated at his chance at freedom while Huck feels guilty and upset with himself. In the first two lines, Twain describes both characters as “trembly and feverish” (66). Twain uses the same words to describe both Huck and Jim to highlight the emotional tumult between them. Jim is so excited and hopeful that he can’t stand still and is heating up with all his joy. On the other hand, Huck feels his conscience weighing down on him. He thinks about how he’s hurting Ms. Watson by stealing her “property” and she does not deserve that. All the pressure from society is telling him he’s doing the wrong thing, and he physically experiences that guilt.
Huck and Jim remain on the edge as they, “fidgeted up and down” (ib.id). Again, Twain has both characters doing the same actions but for completely different emotional reasons. Jim is anxious for his freedom while Huck is extremely guilty. Huck has not learned enough about Jim yet to justify his actions. Just before this, he made Jim enter the steamboat despite his protests as Jim knows he’s not in a position to deny Huck. He’s still afraid Huck could turn him in, as there have not been any instances to prove otherwise. The two still have to develop a trusting relationship.
Huck struggles between what society has taught him about morality and what he truly believes is the right thing. As Huck and Jim are escaping down the river after the steamboat wreck incident, Huck starts to realize what he’s doing. Huck lets society, and the conscience it ingrained in him, get the best of him. Rather than think for himself, the conscience within him tells him what he’s doing is wrong. All the influence of Ms. Watson, the widow, and Pap are evident as he feels immense guilt and wrongdoing. However, despite feeling ashamed about allowing Jim to be free, he continues to save Jim by lying to the slave catchers. When they approach Huck, he hides Jim away and tells them Jim is his sick father. They leave them alone and Jim tells Huck how grateful he is, while Huck continues to feel awful. While Huck doesn’t feel good about himself, he still makes decisions of the sound heart as he’s able to look past his surface-level conscience and see how much he truly cares for Jim. When it’s most important, he puts his feelings aside and does what’s truly right. It’s clear his sound heart is guiding him through his actions and his deformed conscience only reaches the surface after he’s made his decisions.
Huck continues to grow on his journey down the Mississippi River with Jim and discover the person he truly wants to be. The start of this journey is that moment where Huck saves Jim from the slave catchers. Despite his feelings of shame and guilt, he chooses to help Jim get his freedom. He can look past everything society has taught him and do the truly right thing. Some people had to die and things had to be stolen to get to this moment, yet it all leads up to Huck realizing what he believes is right and wrong. Society tells him the opposite, and while he feels the consequences of that internally, he looks past it and continues to help Jim throughout the rest of the novel. It’s extremely difficult to ignore what society says is good and bad, but sometimes it’s crucial to do so. Society is always fluctuating on what’s okay and what’s not, it’s up to the individuals to determine what they believe in and follow their own morality.