Social Ostracism in Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry FinnIn the words of Pap, “You think you’re better’n your father, now, don’t you, because he can’t [read and write]?” (2). In Mark Twain’s adventure novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck Finn escapes from civilized society to traverse the Mississippi River.Throughout the book, Twain uses various themes such as social ostracism to comment on human nature and its role in shaping society. Sometimes mainstream society is not as right and moral as it believes, and when individuals try to justify it they push away their own humanity. Twain demonstrates this through the various lifestyles, comparing the intellects and beliefs of different social classes, and Huck’s conforming to each facet of society.
One of the first instances Twain uses to portray sociological exclusion reveals itself in the contrast of lifestyles. Throughout his life both prior to and after his “murder,” circumstances expose Huck to opposing ways of life including but not limited to rich vs. poor and simple vs. complex. Personifying middle-class society, Widow Douglass acts as a mother figure for Huck, deeming it her duty to “sivilize” (1) her adopted son, dressing him well and sending him to school. On the contrary, Pap observes that “You’ve [Huck] put on […] frills” and swears to take him “down a peg” (14). The two family icons pull Huck in opposite directions, but as influential as they may be, Huck knows he does not have a place in either world. If anything, Huck identifies more with the simplicity of Pap’s natural way of life than with the materialism of the middle-class of society.Willfully shunning both Pap and Widow Douglas, Huck finds a way to “keep Pap and the widow from following” him instead of moving “far enough off before they missed [Huck]” (31). Furthermore, a contrast of the characteristics of men and women presents itself when Huck attempts a reconnaissance mission as a girl in St. Petersburg. Huck cannot go as himself because society would catch him and return him to what he escapes from, but the way men and women live is different enough that they cannot impersonate each other.Although he practices and thinks he manages, Jim’s comment that Huck does not “walk like a girl” (41) does not do it justice. Almost instantly the woman Huck chooses to question sees through his disguise, explaining that Hi…
…inds a way to fit in only to find that he doesn’t belong—belonging to all societies, yet none of them. The only place where he finds relative peace is on the river. It is the only place where there is nothing to struggle against. Huck is a misfit wherever he goes, rejecting and rejected by mainstream society and every other accepted society that he finds along the river.
Throughout his journey, Huck finds different ways of separating himself from society while being a part of it. He sees how quickly life changes and how lifestyles can affect a person. Further set apart by his views, Huck forsakes traditional beliefs for superstition and the balance of luck. Through his journey along the Mississippi River, Huck also understands how much intelligence changes. Feeling no affinity for any aspect of mainstream society he experiences, Huck willingly spurns what he knows as humanity for the society that suits him. At the close of his journey when Aunt Sally makes plans to “adopt [Huck] and sivilize [Huck],” Huck informs the reader that he has no desire to join high society—“[he] been there before” (220).
*The paranthetical documentation is for the Dover Thrift edition of the book.