Social Ostracism in Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
In the words of Pap, “You think you’re better’n your father, now, don’t you, because he can’t [read and write]?” (2). In Mark Twain’s adventure novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck Finn escapes from civilized society to traverse the Mississippi River.
Throughout the book, Twain uses various themes such as social ostracism to comment on human nature and its role in shaping society. Sometimes mainstream society is not as right and moral as it believes, and when individuals try to justify it they push away their own humanity. Twain demonstrates this through the various lifestyles, comparing the intellects and beliefs of different social classes, and Huck’s conforming to each facet of society.
One of the first instances Twain uses to portray sociological exclusion reveals itself in the contrast of lifestyles. Throughout his life both prior to and after his “murder,” circumstances expose Huck to opposing ways of life including but not limited to rich vs. poor and simple vs. complex. Personifying middle-class society, Widow Douglass acts as a mother figure for Huck, deeming it her duty to “sivilize” (1) her adopted son, dressing him well and sending him to school. On the contrary, Pap observes that “You’ve [Huck] put on […] frills” and swears to take him “down a peg” (14). The two family icons pull Huck in opposite directions, but as influential as they may be, Huck knows he does not have a place in either world. If anything, Huck identifies more with the simplicity of Pap’s natural way of life than with the materialism of the middle-class of society.
Willfully shunning both Pap and Widow Douglas, Huck finds a way to “keep Pap and the widow from following” him instead of moving “far enough off before they missed [Huck]” (31). Furthermore, a contrast of the characteristics of men and women presents itself when Huck attempts a reconnaissance mission as a girl in St. Petersburg. Huck cannot go as himself because society would catch him and return him to what he escapes from, but the way men and women live is different enough that they cannot impersonate each other.
Although he practices and thinks he manages, Jim’s comment that Huck does not “walk like a girl” (41) does not do it justice. Almost instantly the woman Huck chooses to question sees through his disguise, explaining that His last hope in maintaining his anonymity crumbles when he states his name as “M—Mary Williams” (44) instead of Sarah Williams, attempting to cover up his mistake by claiming his name was Sarah Mary Williams. After critiquing his performance, the woman remarks that he “might fool men, maybe” (46), emphasizing the mental, physical, and social differences between the two sexes. They differ in the way they throw, catch, and in the way they thread a needle; the only part of his facade that Huck demonstrates well lies in the things country folk know, such as where the most moss grows on a tree. The...