Violence in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

There were a plethora of events that occurred during the nineteenth century.

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Slavery was at its peak as Africans were being transported to the United States to work plantations. Cotton, sugar, and tobacco industries fueled the fire of society as the racial prejudice continued throughout the Civil War. In particular, the case of Scott V Sandford started that black people are not human and, therefore, cannot sue. The events of racial discrimination against blacks in the 1800s further influenced Twain’s writing.

Everyday racism impacted Twain’s idea to write The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. A former river boat captain, Mark Twain often traveled west to California. Incidents of racial discrimination sparked ideas of a work like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. According to Langston Hughes, Twain wrote the “first realistic depiction of a slave,” producing the timeless novel we know today. Mark Twain’s experiences that led him to write his novel can be related to why he wrote it.

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Incidents that Twain experienced with racial discrimination further catalyzed the novel we know now as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Upon writing a Southern perspective, Twain strived to illustrate a believable, accurate depiction of slavery during the 1800s. David Bradley states how Twain is not afraid to write about a “large issue in the country” that affects many (Bradley). In summation, Mark Twain’s writing directly impacted the novels we read today.

The classic novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, showcases a multitude of problems affecting society in the nineteenth century. Twain writes about pressing issues of the time, like weak government and racial discrimination, to paint a clear picture of the corruption of society of the time. The normalization of violence takes place many times in the novel and is the most prominent. Occurrences of everyday violence, such as  Buck’s death, Pap’s abuse of Huck, the duke and king mob, Tom being shot, racism towards Jim, and Pap’s death lead to Huck Finn’s development of maturity and compassion for others.

Amidst the feud between the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons, Huck experiences the gruesome deaths of two boys his age, After meeting the Grangerford family, Huck attends their church on Sunday to see that the men “took their guns along, so did Buck” for any needed protection (Twain 129). This quote reflects the deathly nature of the Grangerford-Shepherdson war, and the never-ending violence occurring right before Huck’s eyes. Twain guides readers to infer a conclusion based on the foreshadowing of the guns at church. Twain’s description of the gun violence is assisted with the explanation of how it is affecting Huck’s life.

With the illustration of the guns at church, Twain does not fail to tell readers how it is affecting Huck’s well being. (Embedded Example) Huck loses someone who he once considered a friend: “…Buck…he was mighty good to me” (Twain 136). The effects of the gang violence remains in Huck’s thought, shifting the development of his pubescent mind. Huck’s immaturity remains stagnant, as we notice when Huck feels “[he] was to blame” for the attack of his friend (Twain 136). However, for a moment, Huck has to be strong, as demonstrated when he was “covering up Buck’s face” out of respect for his lost friend, and even “cried a little,” illustrating Huck’s feelings toward Buck’s death. Huck’s sense of compassion and hurt from his friend’s death does not stray from his father, Pap Finn.

Pap locking Huck in the cabin exemplifies the common occurrence of child abuse present in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  After the attempt to save Huck from his abusive father, Pap locks Huck while “[he] was gone three days” in an isolated cabin with “[not] a window big enough for a dog to get through,” illustrating the appalling conditions at which Huck was left alone (Twain 29). For a child, being alone can affect mental and emotional stability, and may lead to mental illness. While in the cabin, Huck attempts escape to seemingly save his life, but was interrupted with the door being “thick solid oak slabs” and the chimney was “too narrow” to slip away (Twain 29). The experience of being locked in the cabin greatly affected Huck’s emotional and mental health.

Being locked in the cabin alone, Huck’s mentality and well-being are wrecked. Twain explains how Pap brings nothing but violence and fear into Huck’s life. The constant drunkenness brings bad habit and terror to Huck and the community: “Every time he got money he got drunk; and every time he got drunk he raised Cain around town” (Twain 28). Twain ensured that readers are well aware to the child abuse at the times. Child abuse, during that time, was left unnoticed and abusers were not given penalties or jail time. In the cabin, Pap “always locked the door and…locked [Huck] in” and even left Huck alone and “was gone three days,” leaving his son to fend for himself (Twain 29). However, the violent acts continue with the introduction of the duke and the king.

The duke and the king, problematic con artists, are followed by complications wherever they go. After the duke and the king lie to the townspeople about a show, the “raging rush of people” with “torches…and banging tin pans and blowing horns” while attacking the scam artists (Twain 269). Huck was even “sorry for them poor pitiful rascals” because he understands their pain. His understanding is demonstrated in the quote, “Humans can be awful cruel to one another” (Twain 269). We further see Huck’s developing understanding through this scene.

Readers notice Huck Finn’s advancing feelings of compassion and empathy. He describes it being a “dreadful thing to see” and how it was “nothing in the world that was human,” showing his maturity (Twain 269). When Huck witnesses the torturous acts towards the duke and king, this inspires him to feel compassion. We, as readers, can see how Huck has changed throughout the novel. These signs of empathy and benevolence throughout the novel can relate directly to Huck’s developing maturity, and can also be noticed when Tom is shot.

In chapter 40, Huck and Tom’s attempt to free Jim goes wrong when Tom is shot in the leg. This is a rather frightening experience for Huck, which Twain exhibits with the words, “bang, bang, bang!” (Twain 317). This being the second time Huck has witnessed a shooting, he is forced to compartmentalize them and do what he can to help. Huck’s feelings towards Tom’s harsh injury greatly differ from his own.

Huck’s actions towards hurt Tom further prove he is finally maturing, while Tom still views everything as a game. Tom was the “gladdest of all, because he had a bullet in [his leg]” despite his being being shot (Twain 318).  Huck, on the other hand, “didn’t feel so brash as [he] did before” because he knew “it was hurting him considerable, and bleeding” (Twain 318). Huck sees Tom as a friend, but he is definitely maturing faster than him. We can see this through the differing reactions to the gunshot injury, because Huck is taking it quite seriously. On the other hand, Tom sees Jim’s injury as a joke that fulfills his crazy, adventurous fantasies.

As the novel gradually comes to a close, we as readers still experience racist violence towards Jim.  He is seen “in [Sally’s] calico dress” and his “hands tied behind him” surrounded by a mob of people (Twain 328). Huck noticed that the townspeople “wanted to hang Jim” so they would not “make such a raft of trouble” (Twain 329). They “cussed Jim considerable” and “chained his hands too, and both legs” showcasing the stagnant racism and mob mentality of the townspeople (Twain 329). However, they quickly have a change of heart when they are informed of Jim’s heroic acts to save Tom Sawyer.

After witnessing Jim being terrorized, Sid jumps in to save him. He explains how Jim was “r[i]sking his freedom” to save Tom and Sid (Twain 330).  Sid even goes on to state that “a nigger like that is worth a thousand dollars, and kind treatment, too,” astounding the crowd, as a slave does not have the mental capacity to be such a hero (Twain 330). This scene represents the stereotypes of slaves in the 1800s and how commoners jump to those cruel conclusions.  They eventually praise and appreciate Jim for his courageous duties to help Sid and Tom, which are further displayed when he tells Huck about Pap’s fate.

As you recall, Jim and Huck had found a body in the abandoned cabin a while back in their journey.  Tom reveals to Huck that “[his] pap hain’t ever been back since” (Twain 338). Huck was not aware at the time, but Jim informs him that, in the cabin, “dat wuz [Pap],” so he “ain’t comin’ back no mo’” (Twain 338).  Jim knows what Pap has done to Huck, but that does not stop him from expressing empathy towards his loss.

Even though Pap was a horrible father and treated Huck very poorly, Jim, nevertheless, feels sympathy for Huck. While revealing the news about pap to him, Huck notices that Jim said it “kind of solemn” (Twain 338). This quote emphasizes the relationship between Huck and Jim, as Jim still has the capacity to understand that Huck lost his father, despite Pap’s abuse.  This last scene embodies the true meaning of the book, and how Huck and Jim’s relationship has broken social barriers and have stuck by each other through thick and thin.

In summation, there were many events that exemplified the normalization of violence in the nineteenth century. From the duke and king to Tom being shot, readers can see the violence throughout, as well as Huck gradually maturing. Mark Twain does a swell job at incorporating violent scenes without consequence to describe to readers what life was like in the 1800s.

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Violence in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. (2022, Jan 13). Retrieved from

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