Mark Twain And Huckleberry Finn
After reading Huck Finn I have gained so much respect for Mark Twain and what he did for books all over the world. The thing I enjoy most about this book is the subtle humor that is interlaced with the satire. Twain uses generous amounts of satire of the white man’s cruelty to black people, of religious hypocrisy, of Romanticism, and of superstition both to amuse the reader and, more importantly, to make the reader aware of the social problems which Twain saw at the time of his youth. The era and setting in which The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn takes place is fundamental to the story but the character’s identities themselves could be placed in just about any modern novel or story.
I think some of the books most obvious forms of satire result from dehumanizing black people. They all treat slaves as these emotionless robots that are only there to serve and work. The common mentality of a Southern white male actually believed black people were a different species of man; a lower race of people designed only for labor. This mindset goes back hundreds of years but it is especially noticeable in Huck Finn because of all of the racial tension in the South after the blacks were set free. People from the South really did not want to start accepting black people into everyday society so they tried to segregate them as many ways as possible and created extremely strict laws that really prevented black people from attaining even the most basic of freedoms. There is an excellent example of satire and irony on page 213,
“Good gracious! anybody hurt?!”
“No’m. Killed a nigger.”
“Well it’s lucky…two years ago the old Lally Rook blowed out a cylinder-head and crippled a man . He was a Baptist, I remember, he did die.”
Aunt Sally was talking to Uncle Silas and thought nothing of the death of a slave that was shot no less than five minutes ago but she can shed a tear for this random old ferryboat employee that died in an accident years ago. You can see that by including one of these small social outings Mark Twain is saying much more about how people in Reconstruction-era Southern society thought and what they viewed was important. Also in the very beginning of the story Huck talks about the discomfort of being civilized because in his mind the people that consider themselves civilized aren’t really good people. So in Huck’s mind, in order to be civilized and a member of society you have to judge people and dress all fancy and hate things just because it’s tradition. Huck is an infinitely better person morally because of his fairness, compassion, logic, and because it is just in his nature to be a caring person.
Pap is a tool that Mark Twain uses to vent his frustration and to show people what a real Southern dirt bag is like. Pap is the worst of the worst; he is a lying, racist, violent, irrational, unreliable old drunk. I think Twain chose to include him as a character because he could show everybody who read the book what sort of people blacks were up against. Pap is a vile person that lies all through the story about everything and beats his kid for wanting an education. There is a lot of irony in the situation with the judge too. Pap actually takes the effort to go to the judge’s house and begs the judge to let him keep custody of Huck. The judge believes that Pap has gone sober and turned to the power of prayer but what the judge doesn’t see is that Pap really just wants custody of Huck because Huck has some money to his name. It really saddens me to see Huck treated like this, even though he is a fictional character. Huck is this sweet little innocent kid that is being told what to think and what to do by so many people that I don’t know how he ends up alright. Huck cares about everyone and has a very forgiving and sincere personality. Even after the Duke and King sell Jim he takes the time to think about what it would be like to be in their position and tries to imagine what they are going through. On page 234 Huck says, “Well, it made me sick to see it; and I was sorry for them poor pitiful rascals, it seemed like I couldn’t ever feel any hardness against them any more in the world. It was a dreadful thing to see. Human beings can be awful cruel to one another.” I think it’s the little contradictions like these that you can take and apply to Southern society as a whole and see how easily fooled and gullible people were back then.
There are a lot of subtle parts to this book that seem to poke fun at very devout religious people but Twain never portrays the religious fanatics as bad people, just people whose hearts are in the right place but have the facts mixed up upstairs. The most obvious and prominent victim of Twain’s religious satire is Miss Watson. Her hypocritical views and lectures make her an enemy of Huck, even though she is his caretaker too. For example, she is constantly telling Huck to clean up his act and quit smoking and to do what he is told. Huck is smarter than that though, if he sees her with her snuffbox and swearing and not doing anything all day then why on Earth would Huck do any of those things? Huck is also confused about slavery. He was brought up to think that slavery was a normal part of life and that it was inevitably the only choice black people had back then, however, Huck sees that even though Jim is Miss Watson’s property, he needs to help him. Miss Watson is going around preaching and telling people to help their fellow man and treat others as you would want to be treated but she owns a slave that she had to separate from his family in order to obtain. One thing I really like about Huck is that he doesn’t really care about fitting into society and being a goody two-shoes. When Huck is on the raft he is free from society’s rules and this freedom allows Huckleberry to make decisions on his own and react to stressful situations however he wants to. Huck’s decisions are always the better decision anyways.
One of the most obvious inclusions of satire in Huckleberry Finn is the irony of Tom’s Romantic ideals and their irrelevance to almost all of the situations. Tom is obsessed with doing everything how the books do it and accepts the pieces of literature as fact. He is convinced that all of those events actually happened and that the only way to be successful in his little adventures is to do exactly what happened in the novels. I think Tom Sawyer is sort of like a door into the lives of the upper class. He shows Huck Finn and his rag-tag posse what more sophisticated people do and learn. Also, I feel that Mark Twain chose to make Huck Finn the better person morally because there was a stereotype back then that poor people just couldn’t be as “good” as rich people. But by the simple act of making Tom Sawyer a member of distinguished society and dumbing down the Tom Sawyer character, he can insert his own beliefs and say that you don’t have to be rich to be a good person.
After reading this story I have learned a great deal about how many superstitions people have. Jim is probably the most inventive and superstitious person I have ever imagined. He truly thinks that the littlest things always end up determining the outcome of his situations. We dismiss most of Jim’s superstitions and beliefs at first but as the story progresses you learn that a lot of his beliefs are based on some sort of tangible experience he has had at some time. All through the story I think this sort of reminds Huck that what society believes isn’t always right. In the beginning of the novel Jim is sort of made to look very gullible, even to the point of stupidity. But as you keep reading you can make conclusions about Jim’s character, his simplicity becomes common sense and he always chooses the right path for him and Huck to follow. On page fifty-six Jim says, “Never you mind, honey, never you mind. Don’t you git too peart. It’s acomin’. Mind I tell you, it’s a-comin’.” Jim’s ability to predict the storm makes Huck sort of look at him in a different light. He no longer sees Jim as being stupid and starts to recognize his generous and caring nature. The obvious reason Huck and Jim enjoy each other’s company so much is because they are two very thoughtful and compassionate people.
Overall I am glad that I read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because it gave me a better understanding of where the people from America came from and how we were influenced. The satire and irony of the conflicts found in this story are indeed very humorous and amusing but are all part of a bigger picture to show the gullibility and naivety of Southern society.