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Satire: The Exposure of Southern Life Essay

Mark Twain wrote the renowned nineteenth century novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as a humorist, with intentions solely entertain the reader. Although the author warns at the start of the book, “persons attempting to find a moral in this narrative will be banished”, he submerses the reader into Southern society to evaluate their values (Notice). Satirists seek to find motives behind people’s actions and by dramatizing the contrast between appearance and reality; they strive to aware readers of the unpleasant truths within society. With both satire and irony, Twain exposes the selfish qualities of Southern society and their unreligious morals through his realist perspective. Twain is able to expose the selfishness in Southern society during the nineteenth century using several examples of satire and irony. During Huck’s journey along the Mississippi River, he comes across two lying and scheming “rapscallions” (153). The most infamous occurrence with the Duke and the King is when they scam the mourning Wilks family for Peter’s fortune.

The mere thirst for money is enough to drive the scam artists to commit a heartless and guiltless act, one that takes advantage of the helpless and grieving. It was one that, according to Huck, was “enough to make a body ashamed of the human race” (162). Through pathos and satire in the Wilks scam, Twain displays the selfishness and greediness of Southern society as a whole. Twain, a realist and a humorist, also demonstrates human selfishness when Huck asks several men to help his family on the raft. When Huck mentions that his father is sick, they say, “we are right down sorry for you,” but they are more concerned with their well-being (90). Ironically, Huck had known that the men would refuse to step foot on the raft, causing them to offer money instead. Huck, a young childish boy, is able to analyze and use the immoral qualities of man to his advantage. With the irony in Huck’s cleverness, Twain exposes human’s corrupt values such as selfishness to the reader in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Lastly, the self-centered tendencies of man are also shown through Tom Sawyer and his elaborate and “stylish” plan to steal Jim (233). At the conclusion of Tom’s never-ending scheme, he reveals that Jim was “set free in [Miss Watson’s] will” two months prior (289). Even though Tom Sawyer knows Jim is already a free man, he hides this from Huck and uses “Jim’s capture [as an] occasion for a game” (Leo Marx296). Through this ironic scheme, Twain portrays Tom’s selfishness and that of Southern society that concludes the novel. Throughout this novel, the author embeds many ironic and sometimes upsetting instances in his writing to satirize and expose his view on Southern society values. As the satirical analysis of religion unfolds in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain exploits the morals of Southern society. Various events in the book lead the reader to believe that in the nineteenth century; religion was more of a social norm.

Though strictly enforced, the morals woven throughout the Bible were ignored by those who practiced them. Miss Watson, a typical Christian woman, works to better Huck through religious morals and tells him “all about the good place” (3). However, Miss Watson is the proud owner of a slave, Jim. Twain exaggerates Miss Watson’s goodness, “a perfect specimen of the dominant culture”, to satirize slavery and its immortality (Marx 298). Similarly, the Phelps family owns several slaves and treats Jim as a prisoner. When Huck says that a black person was killed during a boat malfunction, Mrs. Phelps replies that, “it’s lucky, because sometimes people do get hurt” (221). Twain satirizes slavery in such a manner that makes the reader question the morals of Southern society.

How could humans, those whom believe strongly in religion, “be so cruel and inhumane to his fellow man?” (“Huck Finn: A Treasure Trove of Satire”) Twain suggests through “the satire of religious hypocrisy” that humans during this time period personify immoral values (“Huck Finn: A Treasure Trove of Satire”). Miss Watson and the Phelps are portrayed as “well intentioned Christian people” but are easily swayed by society to believe that slavery is not only acceptable, but preferred (“Huck Finn: A Treasure Trove of Satire”). Aside from slavery, Mark Twain also pokes fun at religion in Southern society through the malicious feud between the Grangerfords and the Shephardsons. When both families attend church, the men bring their guns and “stand them handy against the wall” (109).

Twain ironically adds that the sermon that day was on “brotherly love” and how the Shephardsons had a lot to say about “faith and good works” (109). It’s both humorous and ironic that two families, which purposely and brutally kill one another, attend the same church and believe in harmony amongst human beings. Twain’s mockery of religion is a repetitive theme throughout the novel and demonstrates how Southern society’s morals contrast with those that they practice in church.

Satire is a style of writing that blends criticism with humor and wit. Mark Twain works to provide humor as well as expose the flaws in human nature, specifically in Southern society. The reader travels with Huck on his journey as he matures and analyzes immoral tendencies in man, such as self-centeredness and religious hypocrisy. With The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the reader explores Twain’s realist view on society through satire and irony and allows them to scrutinize Southern life in the 1800’s.


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