Character, Values and Morals in Huckleberry Finn
Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn is perhaps one of the most controversial novels the North American Continent has ever produced. Since its publication more than a hundred years ago controversy has surrounded the book. The most basic debate surrounding Twain's masterpiece is whether the book's language and the character of Jim are presented in a racist manner. Many have called for the book to be banned from our nation's schools and libraries. Mark Twain's novel is about a young boy who was raised in the south before slavery was abolished, a place where racism and bigotry were the fabric of every day life. The novel is the account of how Huck Finn, who is a product of these times, transcended the morals and values of these times through his relationship with the escaped slave Jim. Huckleberry Finn is a mixture of satire and adventure story. It is a novel about growing up in a time and place that still haunts the living, the American past. It is about a past, and the origins of that past, that still lie heavy on the American conscience. This paper will examine the character, morals and values of Huckleberry Finn. It will discuss his relationship to the values of his society and the conflict that is produced between those values and the relationship that grows between him and Jim during their adventure.
The character of Huck Finn has become a kind of an American folk hero. He is a kid who knows how to live by his wits. Perhaps he is a younger American version of the wily Odysseus. He knows how and when to act and impersonate other people and perhaps most important for a boy in his situation, he knows how to lie. One must never lose sight of the fact that Huck is the product of his childhood and his environment. He is the son of the town drunk, who he calls pap. Huck's father is absent until he finds out that Huck has found some money. Pap is an outcast full of hate for blacks and pretty much for all of society. Huck, as a product of his society, speaks the language of his society. By choosing as his point-of-view a young boy from the slave south, Twain is able to present and challenge the values and assumptions of this time. Among the assumptions and values of the time that the reader encounters in the book are the strict definitions pertaining to Huck's world and the people who inhabit it:
The world of Huckleberry Finn presents a curious mixture of Calvinist principles and aristocratic ideals. . . . We meet most of the fundamentalist Christian sects from their Sunday schools to their Methodist and Presbyterian churches; from Revivalist camp meetings to lay preachers (like brother Phelps) and ministers (like the Wilks brothers). We meet representatives of all three classes from upper and lower orders of the ruling Whites to Blacks. For that is the first division: Whites (who are 'people') and Blacks (just 'niggers'). 'People', in their turn are...