The romanticism of wandering, freedom, and estrangement from social norms attracted a number of authors; and this cohort of writers who extolled vagrancy includes Mark Twain with his “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”. A number of critics and experts refer to the specified piece of literature as a picaresque novel1, or a virtually never-ending narrative that depicts a first-person account of a journey of a social outcast or antihero who goes through a variety of challenges and dangerous adventures and finally finds him/herself changed and maturated2. The present paper presents “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” as a picaresque literary work and argues that the protagonist and narrator, marginalized and separated from society by his own will, not merely escape a number of hazards, but also learns social values and norms by his own experience, owing to the presence of Jim, the person to take care of and responsibility for.
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One of the important characteristics of the picaresque novel is the first-person narrative. In “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, the main character speaks from his own point of view, not merely reporting the facts and main events, but also evaluating and reflecting upon them. Therefore, the novel provides the protagonist’s original explanations of his acts and interpretations of his voyage, so his voice is the strongest and determines the mood of the novel. As Boone writes, Huck has strong “practical wisdom” 3: for instance, the boy does not understand why he should be concerned about the fate of Moses if this Biblical character passed away many years ago. At the same time, this wisdom does not prevent the boy from growing up into a kind-hearted teenager; whereas the first part of his quest is fully dedicated to the realization of his dream about absolute liberty, the second part is composed mostly of Huck’s attempts to protect Jim and bring the fugitive slave to a free state4.
In addition, Huck seems realistic character given his simple colloquial language, which he uses when outlining his views on social institutions; for instance, Huck obviously rejects religion lacking the knowledge about its purpose and value: “I judged I could see that there was two Providences, and a poor chap would stand considerable show with the widow’s Providence, but if Miss Watson’s got him, there wasn’t no help for him any more.”5. As one can assume, Huck’s inimitable language and subjective viewpoint allow understanding the essence of vagabond’s life. For instance, if the novel was narrated from the third-person point of view, it would necessarily include the negative judgment and society’s rejection of Huckleberry’s personality and behavior and the protagonist would not seem sympathetic enough to begin living his life and seeing the world through his eyes.
Furthermore, Huckleberry Finn is basically an antihero, or a picaro, in the classical meaning of this term. The primary evidence supporting this statement is the reluctance of the widow, who represents the public opinion and social norms, to accept Huck just as he is: “The Widow Douglas she took me for her son and allowed she would civilize me; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways [..]” 6. His caregivers, including the widow, her sister, and Huck’s teacher, are interested in making the protagonist similar to them and inculcating him with the commonly shared beliefs and stereotypes. As a representative of the bottom strata of society, Huck obviously believes some of the typical habits attributed to this class are natural (for instance, playing “robbers”).
By a sudden whim of fortune, the boy becomes an owner of considerable fortune, but the wealth does not approach his lifestyle and preferences to those of the 19th-century middle class, as he feels uncomfortable sleeping in the bed, wearing fashionable and expensive clothes and studying at school. Due to the fact that Huck is not satisfied with his civilized life, he tries to compensate for his lost freedom by imitating robberies with Tom Sawyer’s gang. Objectively, robbery is a delinquency or divergence from certain social “norm”, so Huck feels more confident in his illusionary dimension of marginalization and the antisocial is natural for him. In this sense, Boone suggests that the protagonist seems to balance between the civilized and the criminal world and does not adopt the values of either world when they are being imposed on him: “Huck’s practical, and ever-provisional, rejection of the widow and Miss Watson’s moral techne needs no further explanation; but Huck also gets involved in a dialogue with Pap, and in this conversation, Huck will discover Pap’s too technical morality and will provisionally reject it”7. Since Huck lives at the edge of law and at the edge of criminality, one can assume that his outlook is not fully formed, so the teenager needs more experience of interacting with different social circles and more edifying adventures.
The novel, in its main part, depicts Huck’s wandering down the Mississippi river on the raft, and it needs to be noted that the boy is not able to control the river and has to move with the stream. In this sense, the stream represents his fate, which depends greatly on the luck and chance rather than on the protagonist plans and decisions. His escapades begin when the boy fakes his own death, flees his father’s cabin and accidentally encounters Jim, who has run away from his owners. Since this point, Huck’s moral learning and maturation begins.
Huck and Jim’s first blissful days on the island are marked with the boy’s childish acts and mischievous behavior. For instance, he impersonates a girl in order to win Mrs.Loftus’s trust and get some food from the woman. Although his trick is discovered, Huck does not reveal his true identity, inventing a more or less plausible story about mean farmer’s apprentice. Obviously, the practice of telling lies is negatively judged in the society, and Huck deceives for egoistic purpose, i.e. in order to safeguard himself from being returned to his Pap. Furthermore, Huck’s practical joke on the island results in Jim’s injured leg, as the former creates a situation in which a snake bites the runaway slave8. In addition, when Huck and Jim are drifting past the wrecked vessel, it is Huckleberry who convinces Jim that the two of them should search for treasures inside the ship. As one can understand, Huck is not ready yet to assume the responsibility for his own and Jim’s life and fails to consider the possible consequences of his actions when planning them.
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Furthermore, Huck is also exposed to the ugliest and most intolerable sides of human behavior. In particular, in the floating house, “Jim and Huck find a dead man and house frequented by thieves and prostitutes”9. They also find a murdered man, probably shot in his back by the treacherous companion. Although Huck originates from the bottom of the society, this is the first encounter with the “big evil”, or with a quintessence of human vices. Furthermore, when drifting downriver, Huck and Jim find a wrecked ship with three robbers looting and arguing; it is clear from their conversation that they are going to let the victim of the ship accident get drowned. These two happenings at least give Huckleberry the idea of the wrong path he is not willing to take. Therefore, although the two wanderers first steal the boat from the thieves, Huck soon feels a twinge of conscience and asks the ferry watchman to rescue the bandits.
However, Huck still treats Jim as an inferior and therefore allows himself to play a truly malicious trick on the African American. Huck separates from Jim and the raft, which results in the partial destruction of their only transport. Jim gets extremely distressed, so Huck finds himself concerned about the man: “ It made me feel so mean I could almost kissed HIS foot to get him to take it back. It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger; but I done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterwards, neither. I didn’t do him no more mean tricks, and I wouldn’t done that one if I’d a knowed it would make him feel that way”10.
One of the significant moral dilemmas Huck faces is his twofold perception of Jim as both the property of Miss Watson and his pal and companion. As a white member of the racialised society, Huck never had a chance to think over the true role and position of slaves and thus seems to share the common view on people of colour as the free livestock or workforce. However, when Jim addresses the protagonist as friend, Huck realizes that there are no fundamental differences between the personalities of slaves and free people and that he and Jim are literally in the same boat and are therefore equals. As Boone writes, “Through the phronesis Huck engages in with Jim on the river. Huck becomes open to Jim and a bond is established so that Huck’s hexis is revised to lend credence to the idea of Jim’s worth as a friend instead of as the widow’s property”11.
However, when the main character meets the two slave hunters, he finds it difficult to not give Jim up. In this ethical situation, he hears the voice of his ex-guardian’s morality: “The voices of the widow and Miss Watson aren’t quoted by Huck during his dilemma, but they are evident as Huck’s deliberates on Providence, prayer and Hell” 12. In addition, he also recollects Jim addressing him as a friend and makes decision in favor of the runaway slave, appearing to be ready to go to Hell for Jim’s salvation. This moral choice is a prominent example of situational, case-sensitive and humane morality, which differs from widow’s norms of piety as well as Pap’s moral anarchism. Although Huck is aware of the commonly shared belief that lying and taking the other’s property is an unacceptable endeavour , the main character prioritizes human life as well as the life and freedom of his friend and is thus determined to protect him.
Huck’s experience with the Grangerfords gives him a lesson of irrational, yet socially approved violence and motivates him to challenge the social beliefs, expectations and norms even deeper. In fact, the ostensibly peaceful and harmonious family of Grangerfords is literally consumed by the blood feud with the other clan, and it needs to be admitted that nobody knows the actual reason for this hostility. As Huck witnesses the shooting that includes the murder of young and obviously innocent people from both families, he realizes the ridiculousness of blind tributes to tradition. This episode implies that Huck acted in a proper way, when refusing to obey blindly and passively to the mores, imposed by the widow and Miss Watson when hiding Jim.
Despite his virtuous endeavour, Huck still remains the same picaro, who steps over rules and laws for apparently noble purpose. However, he still remains sensitive and warm-hearted and thus feels uneasy when observing the murder of the abusive drunkard, the attended lynching of Mr. Sherburn and the “drunken” performance of the clown in the circus. This means, after witnessing several deaths including the murder of his friend Buck, Huck develops a deeper understanding of the value of life and feels anxious when it is endangered.
Another illustration of Huck’s maturing case-sensitive morality is his response to the King and Dauphin’s trick with the heritage of the Wilks sisters. Although the two swindlers are Huck’s companions, he obviously disapproves of their intention to deprive the vulnerable, gullible and kind sisters of the heritage they deserve, and Huck feels “ashamed of the human race”13. Therefore, Huck uses the con men’s own weapon against them and steals the money which they received through faking the identities of the Wilks brothers. Moreover, he reveals to Mary Jane the truth about her two “uncles” and helps her arrange the situation in which the two pilferers are driven out in a safe way. However, it needs to be noted that his moral development is still incomplete at this stages, since Huck gets surprised when seeing Jim’s grief about the separation of the enslaved family, sold by the Dauphin and the King. Brought up in the highly stratified society, Huck never had a chance to consider whether slaves have family bonds and can develop true attachment and love for their siblings and to question the “rightness” of splitting families.
One of the determinative ordeals Huckleberry goes through is the episode in which Jim is sold by the two outlaws. The main character rushes to rescue him without any vacillation and seems determined to free Jim at any price. For this purpose, Huck, when taken by the Phelps as their nephew Tom Sawyer, begins to live Tom’s life and successfully plays his role. Thus, he is forced to mislead the two kind and hospitable people, striving for saving Jim’s life and freedom, which already have absolute value in his eyes. On the other hand, as real Tom Sawyer arrives, he negatively influences Huck so that the latter falls into the romantic dreams about liberating captive Jim. Due to the fact that Huck agrees to help Tom, whose plans derive predominantly from the adventure books, Jim spends more time imprisoned in the shed. Having almost forgotten his past friendship with Jim, Huck seems to view him as a non-living object. Nevertheless, the two boys risk their lives for Jim and Tom even gets wounded in his leg. In exchange, Jim sacrifices his freedom for saving Tom and taking him to a place where the boy receives appropriate treatment, and from this gesture of humanity, Huck learns that Jim is “white inside”14.
The final insight and last stage of coming of age comes when Huck discloses that both his father and Miss Watson are dead. The death of Pap symbolically means the elimination of Huck’s criminal inclinations and his purification from the traits, associated with the twisted morality inherited from the parent. The passing away of Huck’s ex-caregivers point to the idea that Huck is both free and prepared enough for this freedom. The protagonist has learned to distinguish the slightest nuances of the right and wrong and is thus ready to travel further on his own.
Thus, the analysis suggests that the first-person account, the theme of escapades and traveling as well as moral and psychological growth approach the novel “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” to the picaresque genre. The evolution of the main character’s conscience is possible owing to the presence of Jim, who, in spite of his age and physical strength, is even more vulnerable than Huck so the protagonist ascends from individualism inherent to white Americans, to the sense of team thinking and team responsibility.
Associated content. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: a Picaresque Novel”. 2009. Web.
Hardee, A. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Literary Analysis. 2009, Web.
Boone, N. «Openness to Contingency: Huckleberry Finn and the Morality of Phronesis”. 2009, Web.
Twain, M. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 2009. Web.
- Associated content. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: a Picaresque Novel”. Web.
- Hardee, A. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Literary Analysis. Web.
- Boone, N. «Openness to Contingency: Huckleberry Finn and the Morality of Phronesis”. Web.
- Associated Content, p.5.
- Twain, M. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Web.
- Twain, Ch.1, par.2.
- Boone, p.4.
- Twain, Ch.10, par.3
- Hardee, p.7.
- Twain, Chapter 15, par.24.
- Boone, p.6.
- Boone, p.7.
- Twain, Ch.24, par. 21.
- Twain, Ch.40, par.23.