“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, by Mark Twain, is a classic American novel, considered by some to be the finest example of American literature. It follows Huck and Jim, a poor Southern white boy and a runaway slave, as they travel down the Mississippi River in a quest for freedom. Sometimes regarded as a simple children’s story, “Huckleberry Finn”, while still existing on that level, also has an abundance of symbolism and meaning that’s not immediately apparent. The novel contains ideas and observations that Twain felt were significant to the culture and the people he was writing to. The primary theme of the book (most appropriate considering the time period in which it was written) is the struggle between freedom and slavery.
Huckleberry Finn experiences this struggle as the adults around him attempt to “sivilize” him and force him to conform to their ideas of appropriate behavior. Witnessing their hypocrisy, their interest in being SEEN as good respectable people over actually BEING good respectable people, Huck instinctively dismisses and rebels against their teachings. He resists being molded into something that’s pleasing to others but not himself, against becoming a slave to the person everyone else wants him to be, forever prevented from expressing who he truly is.
Perhaps more literally, Jim also must struggle for freedom. A slave all his life, he becomes a runaway, forced to rely on a white boy whose attitudes and ideas have been molded all his life to view blacks as inferior. He’s struggling against society, which literally attempts to enslave him as someone whose only purpose is to serve his superiors (whites), whose life means nothing more than to serve as a piece of property.
Both Jim and Huck fight for their own forms of freedom when all outside forces are trying to enslave them. Both merely want to be the masters of their own lives and persons, without external control. Not only is this concept a key theme in the novel, but in the South throughout it’s history.
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