Mark Twain’s masterpiece, “The Adventure’s of Huckleberry Finn” is nothing but an attack on the romanticism which fueled the Civil War. Twain wishes to return to the basics of human understanding. In capturing realism through the eyes of a prepubescent boy of a lower class, Twain is capable of transmitting reality without fear for shame; children are honest, knowing not which ills are meant to be emphasized until society has trained them, a process which generally takes more years than eleven, the age of Huck Finn. In attacking romanticism, Twain uses “The Adventure’s of Huckleberry Finn” to refer to three ideas; nature, as compared to society, offers tranquility; society will inevitably corrupt those strongly attached, and trusting individual intuition as opposed to investing in other’s theories will bring more success than otherwise. These themes, supporting the philosophy of transcendentalism, appear throughout the book in innumerable quantities, leading one to believe Twain’s “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” promote transcendentalism. It may be further noted Mark Twain spent a greater portion of his life America’s rivers, creating a significant likelihood that Twain felt nature was in many ways good for the soul.
Nature is a symbol for any avoidance of society’s influence and is principle in “The Adventure’s of Huckleberry Finn”. According to transcendental ideology, society presents pressures to which humans find themselves straining to conform. The stress such a task may create, due to rejected natural instincts an individual would previously hold, and the noise of society, whether it be the disturbance in the air waves after dozens of people flock to purchase things they don’t actually need, or gossip over people who shrug of this mindless quest to become mass produced, is astronomical. Huckleberry, an orphan previously persecuted by his abusive, swaggering, alcohol guzzling father, daunted by the only true friendship he has ever experienced, is perhaps persecuted by white noise, or the thoughts and intentions of other people.
Huckleberry Finn expresses pure leisure at only one instance in “The Adventure’s of Huckleberry Finn”, and that was when he was in nature’s loom. Huck’s sentiments may be summarized in one quote, “We said there warn’t no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don’t. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.” (Twain 113). Much of his time escaping is invested on rafts; when Finn is evading his father, after creating a scene suggesting he is dead, and upon leaving the island with his friend, Jim, in attempts to alleviate himself from society’s demands. It seems if Huckleberry can only reach the river, throughout many occurrences in the book, he may somehow become liberated from the strife of society. Another important symbol is the island, Kravits expressing it’s freedom, a reality in which Huck may live in a setting in which what he wants, to be true to himself, matters. It all comes back to nature, the most basic component in transcendentalism.
Once connected with nature, or rather, the lack of societal pressures, Huckleberry Finn may connect with the true manner which is himself. In this case, because the subject of rediscovery is an eleven-year-old lower class citizen, his true self may be less clean than what society desires. Huckleberry speaks of always internally rejected his disciplinarian’s ways and wished for an alternative. Upon reaching the point in which Huck could merely be himself, he found bliss; ” I got into my old rags and my sugar-hogshead again, and was free and satisfied.” (Twain 1). This draws attention to a Transcendental point; who is to say what is right? Is it society’s duty to instruct people on the manner in which they must live their life? Not to say Transcendentalism does not stress attempting to be the best one may be, but the philosophy defiantly stresses the importance of individuality, something which should develop away from society, for who is to say society is always right? Huck goes as far as to express joy in the care of his father, merely because he is closer to his element. Taking into consideration the drunken mess his father becomes and the abuse he must avoid, Huck says “It was pretty good times up in the woods there, take it all around.” (Twain 32).
The importance of nature is obvious in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” as it presents the only opportunity for Huck to experience true paternal love. In the society Huckleberry lives, it would be unlikely for his care to be given to anyone not coming from an affluent household, as Huck himself has acquired quite a sum of money. This conclusion may be reached considering many do not have the money Huck does, and whoever would care for him would most likely desire a chance at some of his treasure, and those first in line to claim money are generally those who already have. If the reasons for Huck’s care are merely for his monetary value, society leaves little room for a caring adult to adopt Huck. It is away from society, on previously uninhibited island that Huck meets his surrogate father, a runaway slave'”Jim. Where Widow Douglas, Huck’s previous guardian, scolded Huck for every fault he possessed due to his uncultured background, and Pap, Huck’s biological father, belittled and meant to torture his son for progressing, Jim showed love.
One of the first instances of this may be observed in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” when the river carries a house past Jackson’s Island, where Jim and Huck are dwelling temporarily. Jim quickly discovers Pap is laying dead in one of the chambers sailing past and hides the atrocity from Huck, knowing what torment the boy may feel from witnessing his dead father. Calmly, Jim tells Huck there is a dead man and for him not to look. Then he covers rags over the body so that Huck will not be tempted, even after he has suggested he not look. (Twain 67). Of course, Jim did not have to do this, but it displays his care for Huck. On another instance, Jim responds as a caring parent would; after Huck and Jim are separated in a thick fog and are reunited, Jim expresses the joys of a father seeing his son come back from the dead, “Goodness gracious, is dat you, Huck? En you ain’ dead — you ain’ drownded — you’s back agin? It’s too good for true, honey, it’s too good for true. Lemme look at you chile, lemme feel o’ you. No, you ain’ dead! you’s back agin, ‘live en soun’, jis de same ole Huck — de same ole Huck, thanks to goodness!” (Twain 112). His tone is ecstatic, diction kind, as the employment of words such as “honey” bring a sense of tenderness. These reactions would never have surfaced from Widow Douglas or the now deceased Pap, and a deeply racist society would never have allowed Jim to have grown so close to Huck, or Huck to Jim, because of their varying skin tones.
A theme which continues to crop up in Huckleberry Finn is society as a corrupter. The first example is Pap, a wretched father, for his is neither caring nor an appropriate role model. Instead of showing pride in Huck’s achievements in school, Pap says “I’ll take it out of you.” (Twain 26). This is undoubtably due to society’s ideals; Pap, poor and aging, is christened by society as useless. By belittling his son, Pap may achieve one social norm; a parent’s superiority over his child. Pap is tainted beyond repair through society’s label. He had been criticized to be completely lost, lest he survive a gunshot wound and be forced to revisit the proceedings of his life. (Twain 30).
Like Pap, most members of societies in “the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” feel they must demonstrate superiority over other members of societies, as standard society will reward the most intelligent, or most affluent, or punish those who seem to be less keen. This may be witnessed when the Duke and the Dauphin present a small town with a horrid show. Instead of the townspeople warning their neighbors against the tasteless show wish may steal their money, the con artists convince the crowd to trick their friends into seeing their show. They claim, “Then we’ll all be in the same boat. Ain’t that sensible?” (Twain 202). Their manipulation of truth, convincing the disgruntled crowd that their disappointment and embarrassment will cancel out with the next crowd’s dismay shows that “Actual truth is irrelevant; what counts is successful persuasion about the truth.”(Budd 1). Or, though many may feel trusting a random show no one has ever heard of before is a poor choice, if society begins to stress attending the show is a good idea, many will follow suit. Huck’s comment on such occurrences is that most people behave like the King and his henchman; ” . . .all kings is mostly rapscallions, as fur as I can make out.” (Twain 125).
Members of society typically feel as though they must prove superiority. And not just once, over and over again. The Duke and the Dauphin were not finished with taking generous people for all they were worth. The most powerful pressure of society is to be affluent, but how can one rise from the class they were born into? During the time period Huck Finn was written, it may be impossible. Feeling this pressure, the Dauphin convinced the members of a church he was a reformed pirate, wishing to save the souls of all the other pirates he knew, though he lacked the funds to do so. His story managed to touch the hearts, and wallets, of all present; he managed eighty-seven dollars and seventy-five cents (Twain 177). The evils of society become illuminated.
The final facet of Transcendentalism is that trusting individual intuition as opposed to investing in other people’s thoughts will bring success. This may be displayed through Tom Sawyer. Throughout “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, Tom relies too heavily upon other people’s interpretation of reality, mainly the authors of romantic novels. This will eventually lead to a major downfall, though Twain hints at this through the usage of more age appropriate strife, such as the failing of his band of “robbers”. Such errors in Tom’s plots occur when he suggests things, such as ransoming prisoners, when he does not actually know what “ransom” means. This raises questions as simple as “Ransomed? What’s that?”(Twain 13) which he of course can not answer. This created tension between those who choose to question and those who wish to believe. Huck Finn expressed Tom’s lack of credit when his companion claimed the presence of Arabs and elephants roaming about their little town. Tom is so vehement in his beliefs that it seems unlikely Huck and Tom’s friendship may survive when Huck expresses quite simply, ” . . .as for me I think different.” (Twain 20)
In supporting Transcendentalism, Twain uses “the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” to demonstrate rewarding those who support their original convictions. Because the author is dealing with juveniles, the argument may be supported with something as trivial as Huck declaring he does not believe in genies (Twain 20). As Twain enjoyed humor, the rewards of staying true to oneself may also be seen when Jim denies Tom’s invitation to incorporate rattlesnakes to make his life more dramatic and glorious; “Why, Mars Tom, I doan’ want no sich glory. (Twain 235). Toward the end of the book, Tom, who has come to represent society’s ideas, has come to appear negative (Scott 1).
It seems only appropriate within “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” Huck feels most relieved when he trusts himself. He stresses over assisting Jim, a runaway slave, though after every instance of becoming closer to his friend, Huck feels more at peace. He makes a point of stressing never having felt badly for his decisions of trusting himself over society as well. After he apologizes to Jim, an act society would have regarded as disgusting due to Huck’s white skin and Jim’s darker skin, Huck says ” . . .I warn’t ever sorry for it afterward, neither.” (Twain 84). This same reaction is met when Huck decides to go to Hell for helping Jim escape. It is a significant moment because all of Huck’s life he has been threatened for eternal fire for helping a slave, and it is a very real experience for him. Though, when he finally decides he will help Jim, ripping up the letter he previously wrote which would enable Jim’s owner to track him, he ” . . .never thought no more about reforming.” (Twain 206).” Twain is stressing the importance self reliance.
Budd, Louis J . “Reading Huckleberry Finn: The Rhetoric of Performed Ideology” CUP 1991 [http://literature.proquestlearning.com/quick/displayMultiItem.do?Multi=yes&ResultsID=1123AE02035&forAuthor=0&QueryName=reference&ItemNumber=5]
Mark Twain – Victor Fischer – Lin Salamo – Walter Blair – University of California Press – 2003
Scott, Kevin Michael. “There’s more honor”: Reinterpreting Tom and the Evasion in Huckleberry Finn.” Studies in the Novel (Denton)Summer 2005, Vol. 37, Iss 2, pp 187 [http://literature.proquestlearning.com/quick/displayMultiItem.do?Multi=yes&ResultsID=11239F05386&forAuthor=0&QueryName=criticism&ItemNumber=3]