From the beginning of the story to the end, Huckleberry Finn’s morals change rather dramatically and the novel focuses largely on this. Forced to reconcile his personal feelings of friendship for an escaped slave (Jim) with what society has told him is “right,” Huck learns through the course of the story to trust his moral instincts. As the story progresses, we see Huck’s character develop strong morals that eventually lead to his reconciliation.
Early in the book, Huck is shown to have a low level of maturity and is very naïve. He relies more on the opinions of others more so than his own. Huck seems to know the rightful place of a slave, especially growing up in the American South. But this changes, in time, when he meets a runaway slave named Jim on Jackson Island. Huck knows he is defying society by not turning Jim in, but he continues to stay by Jim’s side and feels he can’t betray him as their friendship grows. This is an internal moral struggle for Huck, because he knows to society he is “wrong,” but to him their friendship made it “right.”
While floating down the Mississippi, Huck and Jim come across a shipwreck. Huck, being the young, curious boy he is wants to explore it. Jim on the other hand is very reluctant to do so, but he feels obliged to follow Huck along anyways because he is a slave and Huck is white. On the wreck the two find a gang of robbers and a tied up man, they decide to leave immediately at this site. Huck and Jim then steal the robbers boat, but Huck feels a little guilty for doing this. So he makes up a story to a ferryboat watchman that his family was on the wreck and they needed help. The watchman showed up on the site just to discover that it sank, and the robbers most likely dead. Compassion is a key part in developing good morality and at this point Huck’s morality is slowly taking shape because he feels compassion for others.
During a terrible storm, Huck and Jim are separated. Jim searches for Huck, but he cannot pinpoint him, so he goes to sleep. Huck eventually arrives on the raft to find Jim sleeping. Once Jim woke up Huck told him that the whole storm fiasco was just an elaborate dream he had, but Jim soon discovers he is lying and becomes upset. Seeing this, Huck felt guilty for hurting Jim’s feelings and apologizes. This is a pivotal point in the novel because Huck realizes that he has feelings for this slave. Once again he knows society would see this as “wrong” and just plain crazy. Huck is having another internal conflict, but feels that his friendship with Jim is morally “right” contrary to what society would think.
Huck’s moral dilemmas are rooted in conflicting systems of morality: that of his upbringing and that of his own natural feelings of friendship for Jim. “I was paddling off, all in a sweat to tell on him; but when he says this, it seemed to kind of take the tuck all out of me. I went along slow then, and I warn’t right down certain whether I was glad I started or whether I warn’t. When I was fifty yards off, Jim says: “Dah you goes, de ole true Huck; de on’y white genlman dat ever kep’ his promise to ole Jim.” Well, I just felt sick. But I says, I GOT to do it – I can’t get OUT of it. Right then along comes a skiff with two men in it with guns, and they stopped and I stopped.” This a good example of Huck’s moral conflictions.
At the climax of the novel, Huck as an epiphany. When Jim gets turned in by the conmen (the Duke and the King), Huck is devastated. Confused at what to do, Huck writes a letter that is intended for Ms. Watson, the letter reads: “Miss Watson, your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. Huck Finn.” After wrestling with his morals and consciousness, Huck makes his most important moral decision yet, when he states: “All right, then, I’ll GO to hell” – and tore it up. He ultimately helped Jim escape.
In the end, Huck acted on the highest level of morality regardless of society’s laws and ideas. Early in the story Huck displayed childish traits and a skewed morality because of how he grew up. But Huck changed entirely in his time spent with Jim. When life was forced upon Huck he had to develop and “grow up” rather fast. He quickly progressed from a naïve boy to a mature morally correct young man. Most humans strive for the betterment of themselves and society as a whole, and this is what makes Huck’s final reconciliation so compelling.
University/College: University of Arkansas System
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 5 January 2017
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