When writing, a person’s inner thoughts come to life. It happens whether they mean it to or not. The author might accidentally choose certain words that bring their own feelings to light, or they could come right out and say how they feel. The point is that every author, no matter how good, will project what they believe onto their writing. Mark Twain does this in The adventures of Huckleberry Finn on numerous occasions. In a time of extreme patriotism and narrow-mindedness Twain made the nation rethink their most basic of beliefs. In a bold move, Twain chronicled his beliefs pertaining to religion, slavery, and civilization.
Each time his “profanity saving” pen touched paper he acted as the nation’s conscience. Mark Twain, through the use of wit and satire, challenged the most basic of American beliefs for nearly half a century Religion was a common target of Twain. “What put twain off about religion was its bossiness and it’s alignment with corrupt community values…” (Blount 53). In Huckleberry Finn these beliefs are evident in the character of the Widow Douglas. Though she is a professed Christian she takes no stock in the Christian principles of acceptance and focuses instead on the “bossiness” aspect of Religion.
The widow was against practices that she took no part in. It could either be that she thought she always did the right thing or possibly that she determined right and wrong. The former of these two options would make her incredibly arrogant, quite possibly a trait twain wanted to pass off as a Christian trait. Huck said it best when he said “of course that was all right, because she done it herself” (Twain 2). One of the most overt examples of religious hypocrisy was presented through the Grangerfords and Shepherdsons. The two feuding families who killed each other went to church together.
Next Sunday we all went to church, about three mile, everybody a-horseback. The men took their guns along, so did Buck, and kept them between their knees or stood them handy against the wall. The Shepherdsons done the same. It was pretty ornery preaching – all about brotherly love, and such-like tiresomeness; but everybody said it was a good sermon, and they all talked it over going home, and had such a powerful lot to say about faith and good works and free grace and preforeordestination, and I don’t know all… (Twain 99) This passage and the whole ordeal of the Grangerford vs.
Shepherdson feud was Twain employing irony to get his point across. Twain brought forth an interesting point in this passage. Everyone wants to be nice and have brotherly love; however, no one is willing to put it into practice because that would interfere with their petty squabbles. Twain certainly felt contemptuous towards religion, so it is logical that he should feel the same towards the civilization which predicated it. Mark Twain believed that for the most part people were ignorant, and spiteful. He was an extremely progressive thinker and believed that there should be no distinction between blacks and whites.
Civilization was against him though. The dogmatic views of the time said that blacks were genetically inferior to whites. Twain showed through his portrayal of Jim that this was not so. Countless times in the book Twain makes it apparent that Jim is not stupid, merely uneducated. A good example of this is when Jim argues Huck to a stalemate regarding languages. This reiterates Twain’s belief of nurture over nature. His discourse on the civilization of the time was insightful on so many levels. He saw faults were others saw none.
The prejudices of his time would eventually come back to splinter the nation in the 1960’s. Civilization, of course, is made up of the common man. Logically if Twain disapproved of civilization he would disapprove of the people who made up this civilization. Twain remarked on his fellow man by saying “All I care to know is that a man is a human being – that is enough for me; he can’t be any worse. ” (Qtd. in Lacayo 47) That is not setting your standards very high considering all the terrible thing Human Beings have done to each other over the years.
He thought of the common man as a coward. This is reflected through Sherburn’s speech in the book. “The average man is a coward” (Twain 131). Twain satirizes the belief of southern bravery by calling the southern man all talk and no action. Moreover, even though Sherburn is the one condemning the common man, he himself was one. He killed Boggs for no reason other than that Boggs was annoying him. However, the most contemptible of all the men presented in the book were the Duke and the Dauphin. Constantly they conned people out of their money and this is how Twain shows how cruel
men are to one another. Certainly one of the dirtiest of their tricks was convincing the Wilks orphans that they were their dead father’s brothers. It takes a profoundly unscrupulous person to cheat an orphaned child out of their inheritance. When the Duke and the Dauphin ran the royal nonesuch and cheated those people out of their money it was certainly wrong. Even worse than that though was when the people found out they had been cheated, rather than admit they were fooled, the people proceeded to do the same to their fellow townsmen.
Twain shows the common man as a coward who is so obsessed with being right and powerful that he will cheat his fellow man out of money and trick him into being as wrong as he was. By the time Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn Slavery had been abolished for 20 years. He had to place the novel in the antebellum period because slavery provided the story with a plot line. Twain was an avid abolitionist so these beliefs would naturally find their way into his novel. As Stephen Carter said “Twain’s racial pitch was not perfect” (Carter 57).
Nevertheless Twain presented Jim as a feeling person concerned for his, and his family’s, well being. His portrayal of Jim as stupid was merely to get his point of nature vs. nurture across. Towards the end of the book when Jim is imprisoned by Aunt sally, Huck and Jim have the opportunity to free him. However Tom wants to have fun so he keeps Jim imprisoned to satisfy his own need to play games. Twain also brings to light another facet of Jim. When he and Huck are on Jackson Island they go through a house and find the dead body. Jim covers it up so Huck can’t see it. The body is later revealed to be Huck’s father.
There are two options here. Either Jim wanted to manipulate Huck so that he would continue the journey with him, or Jim covers up the body to protect Huck emotionally from the sight of his dead father. Both of the options make Jim seem to be an Individual capable of higher thinking. Mark Twain held a belief that travel and ignorance are incompatible. As he himself said. It liberates the vandal to travel- you never saw a bigoted, opinionated, stubborn, narrow minded, self conceited, almighty, mean man in your life but he had stuck in one place since he was born. (Qtd. in Dykman 54)
Huck was a good example of this. Though he did not know it, the widow’s teachings had started to seep in and he believed that it was a sin to help a slave to escape. As Huck traveled with Jim he gradually began to shed these beliefs. Huck became more open minded as the story continued, finding faults with things that he wouldn’t have before he started on his journey. Huck now had his own thought processes rather than someone else and it was because he had traveled and heard from what all the different people on the Mississippi had to offer him. Twains beliefs were a vital part of the Novel.
With his discourse on religion, civilization, slavery, travel, and the common man He attempted to point a nation in the right direction. A direction that was free of prejudices, and ignorance. For nearly 50 years he was the conscience of a nation. Some say that as his career progressed he went from being a funny man to a crusader. However, perhaps he was always a crusader and his humor masked it. The book uses subtle plot twists and turns to make the reader agree with him. When looking at Huckleberry Finn seriously you can see that every adventure was another of Twain’s beliefs in the form of a story.
Courtney from Study Moose
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