The issue of morality is at the forefront of Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Throughout the text, Finn is presented with clashing ideals of what is moral and socially acceptable. He learns that civilization expects one set of morals, and as a youth, he is educated to believe this is right. As he ages and gains experiences in life, he learns that the reality of life is not as morally righteous as he expected, given the focus of society on morality. The tension between what is stated to be right or wrong, compared to what is actually deemed acceptable is a major issue within the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and one which emphasises the irony of a hypocritical set of morals. This tension, one that provides both internal and external conflict, is a thought provoking one which helps define the text, given the time period in which it was written.
Finn is given multiple opportunities to decide for himself what is and is not moral. His own experiences come to mirror, to some degree, those of Jim. Each of these opportunities provides Finn a chance to examine the difference between what meets the ethics of society – what he has been told is right – and what he believes is right, based on his feelings and empathy. The main background for this examination is Finn’s relationship with his father, and Finn’s decision to stay with Jim during their respective escapes. In both situations, Finn goes against what he has been raised to believe. Both times, his struggle is internal, due to the external source of the society’s code of morals. In both instances of struggle, Finn focuses on doing what is right – the issue arising from the definition of right. Does society have absolute control over what is right, or is it a s…
…h his father (nearly slave-like), desires freedom for the sake of self-preservation. While this is wrong, he justifies it because of the element of self-preservation. When faced with the questions of whether or not to free Jim (who is supposed to be sinful, one of the society’s justification for enslavement), Finn recalls his own search for self-preservation. This hypocrisy and tension provide an interesting dialogue within Finn, one that remains relevant in the present day, and was certainly more so in Twain’s time.
Smith, David. “Huck, Jim, and American Racial Discourse.” In The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. Volume C. New York: Norton, 2012. Pp 317- 319.
Twain, Mark. “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” In The Norton Anthology of American Literature. Ed. Nina Baym. Volume C. New York: Norton, 2012. Pp 130-309.