Wealth and money and the lack of both are concepts that are seen at various moments throughout Mark Twain’s novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In the novel, there are some characters and families that extremely rich and rank high in status. The Grangerfords, a family who allows young Huckleberry Finn to stay with them, are such a family. To Huck, their home is like a palace.
Then there are other characters, who are dirt poor and have no status whatsoever.
Slaves, such as Jim, and other characters throughout the novel are portrayed as the poor – those without a penny to their name and some who are not even free; they belong to other people. By placing these two dissimilar things, those rich and those poor, side by side, these characters and the comparison all emphasize the disparity between the rich and the poor and provides a logical connection between the two concepts.
The text of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain juxtaposes the rich and the poor by describing Huck and Jim’s views of material possessions and wealth to implicitly critique materialism and striving for wealth.
Twain begins his novel by having Huckleberry Finn give some background information on himself. He is very quick to mention that Huck Finn is a wealthy young man.
Huck states “Tom and me found the money that the robbers hid in the cave, and it made us rich. We got six thousand dollars apiece—all gold” (Twain 5). This amount of money is larger than any other amount of money mentioned in the novel, which makes them all seem insignificant compared to Huck’s money. Huck has a relaxed attitude toward wealth and money, because he has so much of it. Huck does not view money as a necessity, but more as a luxury. A little later in the novel while Huck and Jim are travelling, the two find various objects from a nearby boat wreck, which consisted of mostly clothes, books, and cigars.
To readers, this lot may not seem like much but to Huck and Jim, it was much similar to a treasure. According to Huck, the two “hadn’t ever been this rich before, in neither of our lives” (71).
Here, Huck feels that he is rich, not from money, but from the “truck” (71) he and Jim found. Huck disregards the six thousand dollars and states that after finding the valuables on the boat that that is the richest he and Jim had ever been. Twain shows readers here that money cannot buy happiness. Huck was happy with just the little clothes and book the two found. Here, Twain criticized society’s view of wealth. Money and wealth was a big part of society in Huck’s time.
A person’s reputation and status depended on their wealth, and those with money were always striving to get more. Twain portrayed these characters, such as Mrs. Loftus, a woman who wanted her husband to search the island Huck and Jim were on for runaway slaves to earn a profit, as greedy. Huck did not view things this way, though, and also did not strive for more money. He was rich from things that genuinely made him happy. Jim’s views regarding wealth plainly contrast with Huck’s. In one scene of the novel,
Huck tries to get Jim to talk to a magical hairball to tell him about his father, but Jim persuades Huck that the magical hairball “wouldn’t talk without money” (19). Huck then tell Jim he only has a counterfeit quarter, but Jim takes the money from Huck anyway and says he would manage it so the hairball would think it was good.
Jim took Huck’s money because in his mind, money is equivalent to freedom. Jim is trying to buy his family out of slavery and for him, the rest of his life is going to be a search to be wealthier. Later in the novel, while Huck and Jim are having a discussion, Jim brings up superstitions, a topic he knows plenty about, and Jim states that “ef you’s got hairy arms en a hairy breas’, it’s a sign dat you’s agwyne to be rich” (44).
Jim believes that since he was rich once before, with fourteen dollars, and that his arms and breast are hairy, that his is going to be rich once again. Jim is portrayed as constantly wanting more and more money, to become wealthier.
He sees this as the way to freedom. Becoming wealthier would also raise his status in society, so Jim’s constant striving for wealth is what he views as the way to freedom. Twain once again criticizes the role of wealth in society, by having Jim state that he is “rich now, come to look at it. I owns myself, en I’s wuth eight hund’d dollars” (46). Although Jim does still want to become wealthier to gain his freedom, he still believes that his rich in other aspects.
He feels that he owns himself now, and that he is worth eight hundred dollars; that is what his slave owner, Miss Watson, was going to sell him for. Twain here provides another way that money is not equivalent to happiness. Jim still finds happiness in the fact that he does not belong to anyone and feels worth something, and money cannot buy that.
Wealth and status had an immense impact on the society of Twain’s time and still has an impact on our society today. Twain’s criticisms in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn still hold a message that can be applied to today’s society; money cannot buy happiness. Twain revealed this message through having his characters view money and wealth and status in completely different ways. He also made his characters realize that they are rich without money, proving to readers that happiness can be found in other ways, and is not just something that comes with gaining more money or wealth.