Huckleberry Finn's Struggles with Conscience
Since Mark Twain published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in 1885, critics have considered it an excellent example of a story tracing the journey of a young man from childhood to adulthood. Through the years, readers have enjoyed seeing Huck grow from a young, carefree boy into a responsible young man with a decent sense of right and wrong. The "adventures" appeal to readers who had to make some of the same tough decisions Huck did in struggles with conscience.
When readers first meet Huck, he is living with the Widow Douglas and trying his best to conform to her rules. For example, when he wanted to smoke, "She said it was a mean practice and wasn't clean, and I must not try to do it any more" (4). Huck's immaturity shows in his reaction to her rule. He felt that she was "finding a power of fault in me for doing a thing that had some good in it" (4). Huck is struggling with his conscience early in the novel. He knows that the widow is right, but his reaction is still childish.
Another character who tries to help Huck is the widow's sister, Miss Watson, who lives with them and was trying to teach Huck spelling. From Huck's standpoint, "Miss Watson she kept on pecking at me, and it got tiresome lonesome" (5). Huck's immaturity is obvious as he expresses his dislike of how Miss Watson wanted him to sit up straight and stop fidgeting. Huck's immaturity is clear in the beginning of the book.
All of Huck's discipline leaves his life as the book progresses, and Huck's father shows up to take him to live in a cabin in the woods. All of the bad habits from his past
return. Even though Huck does not miss the rules of the Widow Douglas, he realizes that he cannot go back to his old life either. He decides to run away and teams up with one of the widow's runaway slaves named Jim. They decide to travel down the river to seek Jim's freedom. Huck faced a moral conflict in this part of the story. His whole life Huck had been told that black people are different and not to help them in any way. On the other hand, inside Huck thought that Jim was no different and felt he needed to help him. He said, "People would call me a low-down Abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum--but that don't make no difference" (43). Huck is beginning to show signs of maturity in that he is making decisions based on what he feels is right rather than on what other people have told him throughout his life. His conscience is beginning to mature.
Two characters claiming to be part of the French monarchy begin to travel with Huck and Jim. They travel from town to town finding ways to con people out of their money. Although Huck tolerates it at first, he begins to realize their acts are unethical. This is an example of how Huck is maturing and realizing right from wrong. He says, "I ain't opposed to spending money on circuses when there ain't no other way, but there ain't no use in wasting it on them" (143). Huck was angered that the men would take his money and spend it all on drinking. Huck did not realize that his developing conscience was what was causing his anger.
Throughout the story Huck provides hints about his religious beliefs. He shows signs of developing conscience when he reveals
his thoughts on salvation and damnation: "It made me
shiver . . . It warn't no use to try and hide it from Him . . . my heart warn't right . . . you can't pray a lie" (205).
Huck's journey toward maturity is evident when he shares his thoughts about Tom Sawyer at the end of the novel: "Here was a boy that was respectable and well brung up . . . and yet here he was, without any more pride, or rightness, or feeling, than to stoop to this business, and make himself a shame and his family a shame, before everybody. I couldn't understand it no way at all. It was outrageous . . . " (224-25). This is one of Huck's more mature statements in the novel. He knows how smart Tom Sawyer is and does not understand why Tom would not put his talent to good use.
Readers begin to see a different Huckleberry Finn towards the end of the book. Instead of an immature, self-centered boy who broke many rules, Huck had changed into a person who began to care about others and turned out to be an individual who was a good human being in general. It is this change from a boy into a man through a series of struggles with conscience that makes The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn a favorite of people of all ages.