Huckleberry Finn character

Author: Mark Twain

Novel: The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain created a character who exemplifies freedom within, and from, American society. Huck lives on the margins of society because, as the son of the town drunk, he is pretty much an orphan. He sleeps where he pleases, provided that nobody chases him off, and he eats when he pleases, provided that he can find a morsel. No one requires him to attend school or church, bathe, or dress respectably. It is understandable, if not expected, that Huck smokes and swears. Years of having to fend for himself have invested Huck with a solid common sense and a practical competence that complement Tom’s dreamy idealism and fantastical approach to reality (Tom creates worlds for himself that are based on the stories he has read). But Huck does have two traits in common with Tom: a zest for adventure and a belief in superstition.

Through Huck, Twain weighs the costs and benefits of living in a society against those of living independently of society. For most of the novel, adult society disapproves of Huck, but because Twain renders Huck a likable boy, the adults’ disapproval of Huck generally alienates us from them and not from Huck himself. After Huck saves the Widow Douglas and gets rich, the scale tips in the direction of living in society. But Huck, unlike Tom, isn’t convinced that the exchange of freedom for stability is worth it. He has little use for the money he has found and is quite devoted to his rough, independent lifestyle. When the novel ends, Huck, like Tom, is still a work in progress, and we aren’t sure whether the Widow Douglas’s attempts to civilize him will succeed (Twain reserves the conclusion of Huck’s story for his later novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn).

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