The primary theme of the novel is the conflict between civilization and "natural life." Huck represents natural life through his freedom of spirit, uncivilized ways, and desire to escape from civilization. He was raised without any rules or discipline and has a strong resistance to anything that might "sivilize" him. This conflict is introduced in the first chapter through the efforts of the Widow Douglas: she tries to force Huck to wear new clothes, give up smoking, and learn the Bible. Throughout the novel, Twain seems to suggest that the uncivilized way of life is more desirable and morally superior. Drawing on the ideas of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Twain suggests that civilization corrupts, rather than improves, human beings.
The theme of honor permeates the novel after first being introduced in the second chapter, where Tom Sawyer expresses his belief that there is a great deal of honor associated with thieving. Robbery appears throughout the novel, specifically when Huck and Jim encounter robbers on the shipwrecked boat and are forced to put up with the King and Dauphin, both of whom "rob" everyone they meet. Tom's original robber band is paralleled later in the novel when Tom and Huck become true thieves, but honorable ones, at the end of the novel. They resolve to steal Jim, freeing him from the bonds of slavery, which is an honorable act. Thus, the concept of honor and acting to earn it becomes a central theme in Huck's adventures.
Food plays a prominent role in the novel. In Huck's childhood, he often fights pigs for food, and eats out of "a barrel of odds and ends." Thus, providing Huck with food becomes a symbol of people caring for and protecting him. For example, in the first chapter, the Widow Douglas feeds Huck, and later on Jim becomes his symbolic caretaker, feeding and watching over him on Jackson's Island. Food is again discussed fairly prominently when Huck lives with the Grangerfords and the Wilks.
A theme Twain focuses on quite heavily on in this novel is the mockery of religion. Throughout his life, Twain was known for his attacks on organized religion. Huck Finn's sarcastic character perfectly situates him to deride religion, representing Twain's personal views. In the first chapter, Huck indicates that hell sounds far more fun than heaven. Later on, in a very prominent scene, the "King", a liar and cheat, convinces a religious community to give him money so he can "convert" his pirate friends. The religious people are easily led astray, which mocks their beliefs and devotion to God.
Superstition appears throughout the novel. Generally, both Huck and Jim are very rational characters, yet when they encounter anything slightly superstitious, irrationality takes over. The power superstition holds over the two demonstrates that Huck and Jim are child-like despite their apparent maturity. In addition, superstition foreshadows the plot at several key junctions. For instance, when Huck spills salt, Pap returns, and when Huck touches a snakeskin with his bare hands, a rattlesnake bites Jim.
The theme of slavery is perhaps the most well known aspect of this novel. Since it's first publication, Twain's perspective on slavery and ideas surrounding racism have been hotly debated. In his personal and public life, Twain was vehemently anti-slavery. Considering this information, it is easy to see that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn provides an allegory to explain how and why slavery is wrong. Twain uses Jim, a main character and a slave, to demonstrate the humanity of slaves. Jim expresses the complicated human emotions and struggles with the path of his life. To prevent being sold and forced to separate from his family, Jim runs away from his owner, Miss Watson, and works towards obtaining freedom so he can buy his family's freedom. All along their journey downriver, Jim cares for and protects of Huck, not as a servant, but as a friend. Thus, Twain's encourages the reader to feel sympathy and empathy for Jim and outrage at the society that has enslaved him and threatened his life. However, although Twain attacks slavery through is portrayal of Jim, he never directly addresses the issue. Huck and Jim never debate slavery, and all the other slaves in the novel are very minor characters. Only in the final section of the novel does Twain develop the central conflict concerning slavery: should Huck free Jim and then be condemned to hell? This decision is life-altering for Huck, as it forces him to reject everything "civilization" has taught him. Huck chooses to free Jim, based on his personal experiences rather than social norms, thus choosing the morality of the "natural life" over that of civilization.
The concept of wealth or lack thereof is threaded throughout the novel, and highlights the disparity between the rich and poor. Twain purposely begins the novel by pointing out that Huck has over six thousand dollars to his name; a sum of money that dwarfs all the other sums mentioned, making them seem inconsequential in contrast. Huck demonstrates a relaxed attitude towards wealth, and because he has so much of it, does not view money as a necessity, but rather as a luxury. Huck's views regarding wealth clearly contrast with Jim's. For Jim, who is on a quest to buy his family out of slavery, money is equivalent to freedom. In addition, wealth would allow him to raise his status in society. Thus, Jim is on a constant quest for wealth, whereas Huck remains apathetic.
The majority of the plot takes place on the river or its banks. For Huck and Jim, the river represents freedom. On the raft, they are completely independent and determine their own courses of action. Jim looks forward to reaching the free states, and Huck is eager to escape his abusive, drunkard of a father and the "civilization" of Miss Watson. However, the towns along the river bank begin to exert influence upon them, and eventually Huck and Jim meet criminals, shipwrecks, dishonesty, and great danger. Finally, a fog forces them to miss the town of Cairo, at which point there were planning to head up the Ohio River, towards the free states, in a steamboat.
Originally, the river is a safe place for the two travelers, but it becomes increasingly dangerous as the realities of their runaway lives set in on Huck and Jim. Once reflective of absolute freedom, the river soon becomes only a short-term escape, and the novel concludes on the safety of dry land, where, ironically, Huck and Jim find their true freedom.
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The book Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, has many themes that appear throughout the text. One such theme is that people must live outside of society to be truly free. If one lives outside of society, then they do not have to follow all of its laws and try to please everyone. They would not be held back by the fact that if they do something wrong, they would be punished for doing it.
This theme relates to Huck Finn in a major way. When Huck is with the widow and is learning how to be civilized, he is always feeling uncomfortable. He doesn't like it much and wishes to go back to his normal life out in the wilderness. However, when he thinks about not doing something that the widow is trying to make him do, he remembers where he is, in society. If he doesn't do these things he will be an outsider and society will not accept him as much. As he is on the river, he lays back and relaxes all the time. Whenever he goes back into society, he finds that he can not live within its limits so he always denies who he really is and makes up some false identity all the time. When he finally runs from society at the end, one last time, it was clear that he believed that society was too much for him. Also that they would try to make him civilized again, which he didn't want, so he goes off alone to finally be truly free of his troubles and restraints.
This is also seen in the character Jim. While Jim is with Miss Watson, he is a slave. She isn't the one who made him that way, it was society. She was good to him and never did him any harm, but the fact is that no matter how good she was to him, he still was only a slave. When Jim runs away, he finally sees that there was a way to be truly free and that was to not live within society. When Jim is in the woods on the island, he just starts to realize what it is to be free and what it is like to live on his own. After he meets Huck in the woods he also realizes what it is like to have a friend. Society kept him from having both of these, freedom and friends. It wouldn't let him have friends because if anyone were to make friends with him that person would be condemned by society. As they are traveling down river, Jim doesn't know that he was really freed in the will of Miss Watson. This was a good thing, it gave Jim the idea what it was like to be truly free without any one saying he was, or society saying that he was still a slave.
Finally, the duke and the king are a different kind of example. The duke and king are criminals, which meant that if they lived within society they would be dealt with by law. As they are on the river, they have not to worry about society catching them. They were free men on the river, but whenever they would drag Huck and Jim on land to villages, they always get into trouble. They can also be considered to be society on the river. Before they came aboard Jim and Huck always lay around talking and having a good time, but when they came, they messed up there good time. At the end, these two get what's coming to them. this showed that when society finally caught up with them they had to get their punishment since it affected all of society.
In conclusion, Huck and Jim were totally free of any influence only when they were on the river, but when they went ashore that"s when trouble occurred. Mark Twain implies one issue throughout this story: if you live with in societies limits, you must follow its rules and its ways or else you will not be accepted. If you live out side of it, then you shall be truly free of any rules, customs, or influence that may guide you into trouble.
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