One of the Great American Novels, Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was first published 10th December 1884. It is told in the first person by Huckleberry “Huck” Finn, a friend of Tom Sawyer and narrator of two other Twain novels (Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective) and is a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. It features colorful description of people and places along the Mississippi River and satirizes the Southern antebellum society. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an often scathing look at entrenched attitudes, particularly racism and has been studied by serious literary critics since its publication. It was criticized upon release because of its coarse language and became even more controversial in the 20th century because of its perceived use of racial stereotypes, despite strong arguments that the protagonist & tenor of the book, is anti-racist & explores notions of race and identity & highlights the hypocrisy required to condone slavery within an ostensibly moral system.
While some scholars suggest that Jim was a good-hearted, moral character, others have criticized the novel as racist.Huck struggles not only with the challenges of his strenuous journey, but also with the 19th century social climate and the role it forces on him regarding Jim. Throughout the story, Huck is in moral conflict with the received values of the society in which he lives, and while he is unable to consciously refute those values even in his thoughts, he makes a moral choice based on his own valuation of Jim’s friendship and human worth, a decision in direct opposition to the things he has been taught. Mark Twain in his lecture notes proposes that “a sound heart is a surer guide than an ill-trained conscience”, and goes on to describe the novel as “…a book of mine where a sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision and conscience suffers defeat”.To highlight the hypocrisy required to condone slavery within an ostensibly moral system, Twain has Huck’s father enslave him, isolate him, and beat him. When Huck escapes – which anyone would agree was the right thing to do – he then immediately encounters Jim “illegally” doing the same thing. Some scholars discuss Huck’s own character, and the novel as a whole, in context of its relation to African-American culture as a whole. John Alberti quotes Shelley Fisher Fishkin who writes in her 1990’s book Was Huck Black?: Mark Twain and African-American Voices, “by limiting their field of inquiry to the periphery,” white scholars “have missed the ways in which African-American voices shaped Twain’s creative imagination at its core.” It is suggested that the character of Huckleberry Finn illustrates the correlation, and even interrelatedness, between white and black culture in the United States.
The story begins in fictional St. Petersburg, Missouri, on the shore of the Mississippi River, sometime between 1835 and 1845 (when the first steamboat sailed down the Mississippi). Two young boys, Tom Sawyer & Huckleberry Finn, have each come into a considerable sum of money as a result of their earlier adventures (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer). Huck has been placed under the guardianship of the Widow Douglas, who, together with her sister, Miss Watson, are attempting to civilize him. Huck appreciates their efforts, but finds civilized life confining. His spirits are raised somewhat when Tom Sawyer helps him to escape one night past Miss Watson’s slave Jim. However, his shiftless father “Pap”, sudden reappears who is an abusive parent and drunkard. Although Huck is successful in preventing him from acquiring his fortune, Pap forcibly gains custody of him and moves him to his backwoods cabin. Although Huck prefers this to his life with the widow, he resents his father’s drunken violence and his habit of keeping him locked inside the cabin so he escapes, elaborately fakes his own murder, and sets off down the Mississippi River.While living quite comfortably in the wilderness along the Mississippi, Huck encounters Miss Watson’s slave Jim on an island called Jackson’s Island. Huck learns that Jim has also run away & is trying to make his way to Cairo, Illinois, and then to Ohio. At first, Huck is conflicted over whether to tell someone about Jim’s running away, but as they travel together and talk in depth, Huck begins to know more about Jim’s past and his difficult life &, Huck begins to change his opinion about people, slavery, and life in general.
Huck and Jim take residence In a cavern on a hill on Jackson’s Island. When they can, they scrounge around the river looking for food, wood, and other items. One night, they find a raft they will eventually use to travel down the Mississippi. Later, they find an entire house floating down the river and enter it to grab what they can and also find a dead man, shot in the back while apparently trying to ransack the house. Huck find out the latest news in the area, and is worried by what he learns, so he returns quickly to the island where he tells Jim of the impending danger. The two immediately load up the raft and leave the islands. Huck and Jim become separated. Huck is given shelter by the Grangerfords, a prosperous local family & becomes friends with Buck Grangerford, a boy about his age, and gets involved in the Grangerfords blood feud against another family, the Shepherdsons which comes to a head when Buck’s sister, Sophia Grangerford, elopes with Harney Shepherdson. In the resulting conflict, all the Grangerford males from this branch of the family are shot and killed, and Huck narrowly avoids his own death in the gunfight,
After reuniting with Jim they Sail farther south on the Mississippi River, and rescue two cunning grifters, who join Huck and Jim on the raft. The younger of the two swindlers, a man of about thirty, introduces himself as a son of an English duke (the Duke of Bridgewater) and his father’s rightful successor. The older one, about seventy, then trumps the Duke’s claim by alleging that he is the Lost Dauphin, the son of Louis XVI and rightful King of France. He continually mispronounces the duke’s title as “Bilgewater” in conversation.The Duke and the King then join Jim and Huck on the raft, committing a series of confidence schemes on the way south. To allow for Jim’s presence, they print fake bills for an escaped slave; and later they paint him up entirely in blue and call him the “Sick Arab”. On one occasion they arrive in a town and advertise a three-night engagement of a play which they call “The Royal Nonesuch”. The play turns out to be only a couple of minutes of hysterical cavorting, not worth anywhere near the 50 cents the townsmen were charged to see it. ThenA drunk called Boggs arrives in town and threatens a southern gentleman by the name of Colonel Sherburn. so Sherburn kills him and almost gets lynched. By the third night of “The Royal Nonesuch”, the townspeople are getting fed up but the Duke and the King have already skipped town, and together with Huck and Jim, they continue down the river.
ln the next town they decide to impersonate two brothers of Peter Wilks, a recently deceased man of property, and manage to convince nearly all the townspeople that he is one of the brothers, a preacher just arrived from England, while the Duke pretends to be a deaf-mute to match accounts of the other brother. One man in town is certain that they are a fraud and confronts them. Afterwards, the Duke, suggests that they should cut and run. The King boldly states his intention to continue to liquidate Wilks’ estate.However Huck likes Wilks’ daughters, who treat him with kindness and courtesy, so he tries to thwart the grifters’ plans by stealing back the inheritance money. The arrival of two new men who seem to be the real brothers throws everything into confusion when none of their signatures match the one on record. The townspeople devise a test, which requires digging up the coffin to check. When the money is found in Wilks’ coffin, the Duke and the King are able to escape in the confusion. They manage to rejoin Huck and Jim on the raft & Huck resolves to free Jim, who is being held at the plantation of Silas and Sally Phelps. Huck intercepts Tom on the road and tells him everything, Tom joins Huck’s scheme & develops an elaborate plan to free Jim…