Raised in an extremely racist society, Huckleberry Finn from the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, struggles between following his own morals and the morals he was raised with. Twain uses this struggle to highlight societies influences on individuals, as well as the pressure to follow the guidelines set by those around us. This struggle can be seen not only in the time of slavery, but in this day and age as well.
Throughout Huckleberry Finn’s life he has been taught that slaves are property and are not as complex as white people. This idea is contradicted when he runs away from home accompanied by his neighbor’s runaway slave: Jim. Slowly, Huck learns more about Jim and begins to see him as not only a friend, but also a caring and kind person. Huck struggles with the morality of helping Jim escape his owner, as he has been raised all his life with the idea that Jim is property and nothing more. This issue is most evident when Jim is captured and is going to be sold back into slavery: “It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: ‘All right, then, I’ll go to hell’ – and tore it up” (Twain 191). Huck wrestles with either letting Jim go back to his original legal status, or helping his friend escape slavery, essentially stealing. Eventually, he tears the letter he was writing to Jim’s owner and decides to help Jim escape, believing he will go to hell for doing so. I believe that by continuously showing this struggle between society and individual conscience Mark Twain is commenting on how society shapes people and their decisions. Even though the modern age now sees slavery as morally wrong, back in his time, Huck felt so morally unjustified that he would go to hell for helping Jim. This just shows how societal influences can shape people into living a certain way with certain values that may not be right from another perspective.
I think that this issue reached beyond Huck in the 1830’s South. Nowadays racism is still evident in society and stereotypes are perpetuated through societal influences. Other smaller examples include believing a sports team is better because of where you live, or your choice of political party or religion being based on society’s’ influence on yourself. The struggle between making decisions based on your own individual thoughts compared to the thoughts of society is a common struggle and can not only be felt by Huckleberry Finn, but also everyone in the modern age. I commend Twain for taking on this topic and showcasing how racism in the South in the 1830’s is ingrained and perpetuated through ritualistic racist ideas.