The issue of morality is at the forefront of Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Throughout the text, Finn is presented with clashing ideals of what is moral and socially acceptable. He learns that civilization expects one set of morals, and as a youth, he is educated to believe this is right. As he ages and gains experiences in life, he learns that the reality of life is not as morally righteous as he expected, given the focus of society on morality. The tension between what is stated to be right or wrong, compared to what is actually deemed acceptable is a major issue within the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and one which emphasises the irony of a hypocritical set of morals. This tension, one that provides both internal and external conflict, is a thought provoking one which helps define the text, given the time period in which it was written.
Finn is given multiple opportunities to decide for himself what is and is not moral. His own experiences come to mirror, to some degree, those of Jim. Each of these opportunities provides Finn a chance to examine the difference between what meets the ethics of society – what he has been told is right – and what he believes is right, based on his feelings and empathy. The main background for this examination is Finn's relationship with his father, and Finn's decision to stay with Jim during their respective escapes. In both situations, Finn goes against what he has been raised to believe. Both times, his struggle is internal, due to the external source of the society's code of morals. In both instances of struggle, Finn focuses on doing what is right – the issue arising from the definition of right. Does society have absolute control over what is right, or is it a situational, empathetic sense?
For society, what is right and wrong is straight forward. Obedience to one's superiors is one issue that should not be contentious by society's standards. This is highlighted by Finn's relationship with his father, and later, whether or not to help Jim escape. In the former, his reunion with his father is something he finds he can get used to, at first, despite the drunkenness1. As time passes, Finn realises how far gone his father is – with continual mistreatment and his father's constant drinking – and finally chooses to escape2. With Jim, Finn's reaction to Jim's running away is initially shock3. He sticks to his word to not turn Jim in, despite the illegality of that decision4. In both cases, Finn and Jim are treated poorly by their superiors, but this is both legal and right because society has deemed it as such.
In both cases, Finn goes against accepted law, and predominant moral codes. Despite the law having stated he should stay with his father, and his initial enjoyment of the relaxed atmosphere, Finn realizes that his own well being is of more value to him. It is at this point that Finn realizes that it is better for him to take care of his well being, than to follow...