American Lit., 2nd hour
14 May 2017
Huckleberry Finn: To Follow Society or Your Own Beliefs
Disclaimer: This is written about the book Huckleberry Finn, and contains numerous spoilers.
Throughout the novel, Huck has had an internal debate rage within him on whether he should do what society tells him, or if he should disregard society and do what his conscience says is right. The widow who takes care of Huck attempts to impart upon him ideals such as piety, manners, and being educated. Unfortunately she also participated in slavery and so, probably without even intending to, she normalized slavery, racism, and the idea that african americans are property, not people.
When Huck and Jim flee, they set out on the Mississippi River, a kind of neutral territory due to their not being other members of society saying that slavery is bad or good. Alone with each other on the river, Huck was able to come to his own conclusion via interactions with Jim. Without society stating it should be a certain way, Huck was able to come to his own conclusion and see that Jim was a person, not an economic resource, which is what the society they live in believes.
Huck’s mentality early in the adventure was of it being morally wrong to help Jim escape,as this quote shows, “What had poor Miss Watson done to you that you could see her n***** go off right under your eyes and never say one single word? What did that poor old woman do to you that you could treat her so mean? Why, she tried to learn you your book, and she tried to learn you your manners, she tried to be good to you every way she knowed how. That’s what she done.” (Twain 80). Huck says this quote after he started to go through some change. “They went off and I got aboard the raft, feeling bad and low, because I knowed very well I had done wrong, and I see it warn’t no use for me to try to learn to do right; a body that don’t get started right when he’s little ain’t got no show-when the pinch comes there ain’t nothing to back him up and keep jime to his work, and so he gets beat. Then I thought a minute, and says to myself, hold on; s’pose you’d ‘a’ done right and give Jim up, would you felt better that what you do now? No, says I, I’d feel bad-I’d feel just the same way I do now. Well, then, says I, what’s the use you learning to do right when it’s troublesome to do right and ain’t no trouble to do wrong, and the wage is just the same? I was stuck, I couldn’t answer that. So I reckoned I wouldn’t bother no more about it, but after this always so whichever come handiest at the time.” (Twain 83). Huck’s developing beliefs on slavery during his isolation from society is how the author, Mark Twain, shows the audience that slavery is not a natural state, but one that is instituted by society.
Many people throughout history struggled to decide whether they should follow their societies ideals or their own. An example of this is the German people when it was ruled by the Nazi Reich. Many Germans had struggled to decide if they should follow the example set by the society that was promoted by the government. Other examples could be the 18th and 19th century revolutions. Now defunct ideas such as divine right and feudalism had been so heavily ingrained into people for centuries, that many thought that it was wrong to revolt and obtain rule by the people, but individuals desires to stop being ruled by autocrats and to gain some say in how they are governed conflicted with those ancient beliefs. When I was thinking of examples to show individuals conflicting with society in history, I was unable to think of any in which the individual was wrong when looked at with modern insight. Can anyone else think of any?