"The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"
EARLY INFLUENCES ON HUCKLEBERRY FINN
Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel
about a young boy's coming of age in the Missouri of the mid-1800's. The
main character, Huckleberry Finn, spends much time in the novel floating
down the Mississippi River on a raft with a runaway slave named Jim.
Before he does so, however, Huck spends some time in the fictional town of
St. Petersburg where a number of people attempt to influence him.
Before the novel begins, Huck Finn has led a life of absolute
freedom. His drunken and often missing father has never paid much
attention to him; his mother is dead and so, when the novel begins, Huck is
not used to following any rules. The book's opening finds Huck living with
the Widow Douglas and her sister, Miss Watson. Both women are fairly old
and are really somewhat incapable of raising a rebellious boy like Huck
Finn. Nevertheless, they attempt to make Huck into what they believe will
be a better boy. Specifically, they attempt, as Huck says, to "sivilize"
him. This process includes making Huck go to school, teaching him various
religious facts, and making him act in a way that the women find socially
acceptable. Huck, who has never had to follow many rules in his life,
finds the demands the women place upon him constraining and the life with
them lonely. As a result, soon after he first moves in with them, he runs
away. He soon comes back, but, even though he becomes somewhat comfortable
with his new life as the months go by, Huck never really enjoys the life of
manners, religion, and education that the Widow and her sister impose upon
Huck believes he will find some freedom with Tom Sawyer. Tom
is a boy of Huck's age who promises Huck and other boys of the town a life
of adventure. Huck is eager to join Tom Sawyer's Gang because he feels
that doing so will allow him to escape the somewhat boring life he leads
with the Widow Douglas. Unfortunately, such an escape does not occur. Tom
Sawyer promises much--robbing stages, murdering and ransoming people,
kidnaping beautiful women--but none of this comes to pass. Huck finds out
too late that Tom's adventures are imaginary: that raiding a caravan of
"A-rabs" really means terrorizing young children on a Sunday school picnic,
that stolen "joolry" is nothing more than turnips or rocks. Huck is
disappointed that the adventures Tom promises are not real and so, along
with the other members, he resigns from the gang.
Another person who tries to get Huckleberry Finn to change is
Pap, Huck's father. Pap is one of the most astonishing figures in all of
American literature as he is completely antisocial and wishes to undo all
of the civilizing effects that the Widow and Miss Watson have attempted to
instill in Huck. Pap is a mess: he is unshaven; his hair is uncut and
hangs like vines in front of his face; his skin, Huck says, is white like a
fish's belly or like a tree toad's. Pap's savage appearance reflects his
feelings as he demands that Huck quit school, stop reading, and avoid
church. Huck is able to stay away from Pap for a while, but Pap kidnaps
Huck three or four months after Huck starts to live with the Widow and
takes him to a lonely cabin deep in the Missouri woods. Here, Huck enjoys,
once again, the freedom that he had prior to the beginning of the book. He
can smoke, "laze around," swear, and, in general, do what he wants to do.
However, as he did with the Widow and with Tom, Huck begins to become
dissatisfied with this life. Pap is "too handy with the hickory" and Huck
soon realizes that he will have to escape from the cabin if he wishes to
remain alive. As a result of his concern, Huck makes it appear as if he is
killed in the cabin while Pap is away, and leaves to go to a remote island
in the Mississippi River, Jackson's Island.
It is after he leaves his father's cabin that Huck joins yet
another important influence in his life: Miss Watson's slave, Jim. Prior
to Huck's leaving, Jim has been a minor character in the novel--he has been
shown being fooled by Tom Sawyer and telling Huck's fortune. Huck finds
Jim on Jackson's Island because the slave has run away--he has overheard a
conversation that he will soon be sold to New Orleans. Soon after joining
Jim on Jackson's Island, Huck begins to realize that Jim has more talents
and intelligence than Huck has been aware of. Jim knows "all kinds of
signs" about the future, people's personalities, and weather forecasting.
Huck finds this kind of information necessary as he and Jim drift down the
Mississippi on a raft. As important, Huck feels a comfort with Jim that he
has not felt with the other major characters in the novel. With Jim, Huck
can enjoy the best aspects of his earlier influences. As does the Widow,
Jim allows Huck security, but Jim is not as confining as is the Widow.
Like Tom Sawyer, Jim is intelligent but his intelligence is not as
intimidating or as imaginary as is Tom's. As does Pap, Jim allows Huck
freedom, but he does it in a loving, rather than an uncaring, fashion.
Thus, early, in their relationship on Jackson's Island, Huck says to Jim,
"This is nice. I wouldn't want to be nowhere else but here." This feeling
is in marked contrast with Huck's feelings concerning other people in the
early part of the novel where he always is uncomfortable and wishes to
At the conclusion of chapter 11 in The Adventures of
Huckleberry Finn, Huck and Jim are forced to leave Jackson's Island because
Huck discovers that people are looking for the runaway slave. Prior to
leaving, Huck tells Jim, "They're after us." Clearly, the people are after
Jim, but Huck has already identified with Jim and has begun to care for
him. This stated empathy shows that the two outcasts will have a
successful and rewarding friendship as they drift down the river as the