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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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1 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Themes, Literary Devices, and Character in the Early Chapters

2 A Bitter Battle Book First and foremost, Twain’s classic is a novel that contains a battle, and that battle belongs to Huckeberry Finn, the main character. Twain presents us with a young man who attempts to escape a society that offends his senses and threatens his very well-being.

3 Twain’s Presentation of Civilization
Twain’s early message is clear: Civilized society is boring, confining, and hypocritical.

4 Three Pieces of Evidence
The lines are drawn as early as chapter one. Huck tells us that upon being adopted by the Widow Douglas his life becomes “rough living … considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways.” She requires he dress in confining clothing that causes him to “do nothing but sweat and sweat,” and will not allow him to smoke despite her own use of snuff.

5 Examination of Evidence, Part I
Although Huck describes the Widow’s living as “decent,” the reader should not be misled: Huck cannot abide the dull routine of polite society, finding that the “regular” routines of the day are “dismal” and “rough” on him. Huck’s choice of the word “dismal” reveals his view that the hour-by-hour appointments of the educated and wealthy are bleak, depressing, and dispiriting. Claiming that they are “rough” on him indicates that his spirit is broken down in the presence of Widow Douglas.

6 Examination of Evidence, Part II
He attempts to find solace in escape, preferring rags in the countryside to starched collars in town. The clothing he is required to wear in the presence of the widow is not only stiff because of the habits of laundering, but is accompanied with rules of propriety. Therefore, when Huck says it causes him to “sweat,” he not only means literally from the fabrics, laundering, and physical discomfort, he also means that the rules of conduct that surround and govern him cause him unease.

7 Additional Evidence for Part II
A prime example of this is when Miss Watson pecks at Huck for his behavior. She is relentless as a feeding bird as she points out his physical faults: “Don’t put your feet up there Huckeberry … Don’t scrunch up like that Huckeberry – sit up straight … Don’t gap and stretch like that Huckleberry—why don’t you try to behave?” She annoys him to the extent that when she says he could go to “the bad place” he responds he wishes he could go there because of the torment he receives in the house.

8 Examination of Evidence, Part III
Despite his observation that the Widow is “decent,” Huck cannot abide her hypocrisy. While she allows herself the use of snuff she does not allow Huck to smoke – a habit he took on easily at a younger age and that provides him relaxation and help in thinking. The contemporary reader understands the adverse effects of tobacco on the body, but a modern reading cannot ignore the fact that Huck observes even in the widow that vices cross social boundaries, and he sees it unfair that she should not follow the same rules she sets for him.

9 Literary Device: Humor Through Irony
The irony Huck observes in the habits of one wealthy woman introduces a major literary device employed by Twain: satire. Satire in the novel primarily takes the form of irony, and in the chapters surrounding Huck’s kidnapping and imprisonment, Twain employs situational irony.

10 Situational Irony Defined
Situational irony occurs when the author presents within the plot a situation that builds an expectation in the reader. The author plays to conventional wisdom or common understanding, in a sense setting up the reader for the common expectation yet surprising the reader with dramatically different events. When the unexpected occurs, the reader is faced with a surprise, often with a humorous result.

11 Example of Situational Irony
Shortly after Huck discovers Pap’s bootprint he finds himself face-to-face with an abusive father who aims to return Huck to his rightful place – among the low in society. Pap warns Huck not to return to school or he shall be beaten. When Huck does go to school and Pap is unable to secure Huck’s treasure, Pap kidnaps the boy and secures him in a backwoods cabin across the river. While there, Huck endures beatings and threats to his very life, one evening narrowly escaping death from his father, who attacks the boy in a drunken stupor.

12 Interpretation of Evidence
When the reader observes this situation, it is natural to feel sympathy for Huck, the boy whose body takes the blows given by the physically abusive father. It is also natural to wish that Huck could escape or overcome his father’s maltreatment. However, Twain’s situational irony surprises the reader and causes the reader to see another of Twain’s comments on society: It is worse than what most would consider “rough” living.

13 Building Evidence of Twain’s Message
Despite his aversion to his father’s behavior around town – which causes him to go to school just to spite his father - and the beatings he endures while at the cabin, Huck still prefers his father’s company and the “easy” life he leads at the cabin to the life in town with the widow and Miss Watson. Huck narrates, “… it warn’t long … till I was used to being where I was, and liked it—all but the cowhide part.”

14 Further Evidence and Interpretation
For further evidence of Huck’s slight “reversion” to backwoods living, see the fourth paragraph of chapter six. The irony here is that for the reader, the “easy” life would be in town under the care and supervision of the widow, where there is food provided and a free education that can lead to a future. In contrast, Twain’s young narrator sees life among “society” as so objectionable that he would rather endure beatings – the “cowhide” - and imprisonment in a cabin.

15 Irony at Work to Produce Humor
The list of objections Huck presents seems minor to the mature reader. The reader is slightly entertained by the fact that Huck prefers no rules surrounding clothing and behavior and language. He prefers living the “easy” life of the hunter-gatherer who goes days without bathing and wears filthy clothes if any at all. The lifestyle to many sounds abhorrent: dirt, grime, and the uncertainty of food.

16 Further Evaluation of the Irony
However, within this irony the message from Twain is clear and similar to the one he presents with the earlier commentary on the clothing: society presents objectionable requirements that confine an individual. Huck’s narration makes the requirements of “civil” society sound ridiculous compared to the simple life lived off the land. In fact, it is only Pap’s three-day absence when he leaves Huck locked up that finally scares Huck into wanting to escape.

17 Dramatic Irony Defined
Another type of irony employed by Twain is dramatic irony. With dramatic irony, a character lacks a piece of knowledge that the reader, or another character, possesses. Because of this lack of knowledge, the reader observes the character’s behavior and reaction to events with heightened anticipation and humor, as the reader is “in on” something that the character is not.

18 Dramatic Irony on the Raft
An example of dramatic irony involves the conversation between Huck and Jim about kings, dukes, Solomon, and the French language. Jim becomes interested in how much royalty makes, and Huck informs him, “they can get a thousand dollars a month if they want … everything belongs to them.” After Jim’s inquiry about what they do to earn this money, Huck continues, “They don’t do nothing! The way you talk! They just set around!”

19 The Irony: Huck & Jim’s Knowledge
The dramatic irony is based on what both characters do not know. Firstly, Jim is in complete ignorance about the history, habits, and income of royalty. His dramatic shock and reaction to Huck’s information provides entertainment, especially because he takes whatever the boy says at face value. The fact he believes Huck is humorous because Huck himself, with only a partial formal education, provides Jim with partial truths.

20 The Irony: The Reader’s Knowledge
The reader is aware that while kings were (and are) wealthy, Huck has misinterpreted the extent of their rule and kingdom. While everything within a kingdom may “belong” to a king, the way Huck presents it to Jim makes it sound like the entire world is ruled by kings. This scene is one place in the novel where Twain editorializes about the ineffectiveness and behavior of America’s own political leaders. These politicians are later represented by the characters of the duke and king.

21 Explanation: The Joy of Partial Knowledge
Huck expresses shock and an air of superiority when he says, “The way you talk!” He asserts his own knowledge with a phrase that means, “I can’t believe you are so without knowledge that you don’t know this.” Again, Twain employs dramatic irony, and here the character without knowledge that provides the humor is Huck. His own superior attitude emphasizes the absurdity of his misinformation: That kings “don’t do nothing” and “just set around” oversimplifies the function of kings yet captures the way a child would imagine the easy life of royalty. The reader enjoys seeing Huck attempt to teach Jim with partial truths, because the reader’s own knowledge allows him/her to see the humor in Huck’s education and beliefs.

22 The Humanization of Jim
While discussing the conversation on the raft, this is a good time to address the relationship between Huck and Jim. Firstly note that Jim and Huck speak to one another with full honesty and without reservation. While on the raft, and especially in this conversation, Jim does not follow the strict rules of society that dictate he lower himself before a white boy. In fact, he argues vociferously for his opinion that “Sollermun” could not have been the wisest king, and his logic that all men should speak the same language carries with it just enough common sense to seem acceptably logical.

23 Jim’s “Rules” as a Slave
As a slave, Jim had to abide by a strict code of behavior so that whenever he interacted with a white person he had to verbally and physically ensure the white person’s superiority. Verbal requirements included calling young white boys “master” and elder whites “mister,” “missus,” “sir,” and “ma’am.”

24 Jim’s Reaction to Dukes and Kings
When Huck informs Jim that dukes and kings go by “your majesty, your grace, and your lordship” he is amazed at the new level of formality required because the white royalty follow rules similar to his own. This information is not a surprise to the reader, but Huck tells us that Jim’s eyes “bugged out,” indicating keen interest and shock. Jim’s lack of knowledge and physical reaction provide humor to the reader through dramatic irony.

25 Why Jim Is Not a Comic Figure
It may appear that Jim is presented in a negative light by Twain—that Jim is a kind of buffoon or protective clown riding along on the raft with Huck. Yet this is far from the case. It has already been shown that they felt free to express their opinions while on the raft. Twain is able to provide Jim with honest, human feelings and reactions. In doing so, he ensures that the reader is not left with an image of Jim as a comic figure.

26 Jim Goes Along with Huck
When Jim and Huck are reunited after the fog separates them overnight, Huck pretends to have been on the raft the whole time, and Jim at first plays the role that his upbringing and society have dictated: he believes the white boy and plays along with Huck’s lie.

27 More Summary Huck dodges Jim’s queries about the fog and tying up to the towhead with outright lies, eventually claiming, “you did dream it, because there didn’t any of it happen.” After a few minutes of silence Jim replies with, “Well, den, I reck’n I did dream it,” verbally giving in to Huck’s lies and seemingly letting go of his own arguments against them.

28 Leading Into Jim’s Lesson
Yet it is only a few moments later that Twain reveals Jim’s intelligence and feelings of humiliation, upending the notion that the Black man is a mere creature below his white master. When Huck brashly asks Jim what the debris left on the raft from the towhead debacle represents, Huck thinks he will have a fine time watching Jim attempt to understand what undoubtedly looks like concrete evidence of the “dream” Huck presented. Instead, Jim teaches Huck one of the book’s most enduring lessons.

29 How Jim Humbles Huck and Becomes Human
Read the final three paragraphs in chapter fifteen to see how Twain humanizes Jim and humbles Huck.

30 We Empathize with Jim A human feels, and their feelings cause us to empathize with him/her. Jim’s consideration of Huck’s lie causes him to respond openly and honestly. He shows that he is hurt by Huck’s trick, and this greatly affects Huck. The reader sees that Jim is not dumb enough to believe everything he is told, and he even has the temerity (gall) to give Huck a scolding through his final interpretation.

31 Twain’s Lesson This scolding/shaming brings Huck around to see Jim as a true companion. Huck’s lesson is a lesson for all who have ever used an advantage given by society to make a fool of someone. That target feels as keenly as the oppressor. This scene is also an indication that the river is a freeing force, as Jim’s opinion and feelings are free to be shared. The river is where new rules are drawn governing friendship.

32 The Theme of Friendship
The relationship between Huck and Jim blossoms in the course of the novel.

33 Early Chapters At the start, Huck allows Tom to play a simple trick on Jim, but there is no repercussion In chapter 15, Huck’s mean trick regarding the night in the fog results in shame for Huck and a further evening of their relationship as Huck apologizes. Here, Huck first imagines Jim to be gullible and foolish, but when he sees that Jim is neither, his attitude toward the slave shifts.

34 Later Chapters When Huck discovers Jim after running from the Grang/Shep affair, he is overjoyed Huck fights against one of the strongest rules of society when he considers betraying Jim, yet his own internal morality wins Huck says he would rather go to hell than betray Jim – and that is true friendship

35 The River as a Symbolic Device
The river functions as a distinct symbolic device: It is Huck’s baptism – he escapes a smothering society into freedom; this is further supported by the way Twain paints the negative influence of religion The river is something pure and separate from corruption

36 Evidence Huck states, “There warn’t no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don’t. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.” On the river, the customs and rules found on land do not apply. Jim and Huck are free from the oppressive rules such as those surrounding Jim’s behavior and the dictates of “civil” society

37 Contrast to Land On land we find hypocrites, frauds, cowards, and fools Example in how Huck sees the Grang/Shep families Example in how Huck sees the king and duke swindling

38 Superstition Be careful to note that Huck is just as superstitious as Jim Their belief in superstition reflects a strong belief in nature and the cosmos rather than the rules set down by organized religion. Huck and Jim look to nature for signs giving away their fortune and future

39 Evidence The way Jim interprets the events on the night of the fog
The birds signaling the arrival of a storm on Jackson Island The snake skin Hairy arms/chest

40 Twain’s Suggestion Often, Jim’s predictions do come true, revealing Twain’s suggestion that it is better off for Huck to trust his heart and his folk beliefs than organized religion This is further supported by the fact that Huck’s dedication to Jim provides a “happy” resolution to the novel as opposed to troubling – Huck’s dedication to his friend rejects religion and dogma

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