In one of his well-known novels, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain discusses the theme of striving for happiness. The main character of the literary work, youngster Huckleberry Finn, is a social outsider who wants to stay that way. Although the widow Douglas and her sister Miss Watson attempt to educate him, the boy misses his freedom. In this respect, Huck is an innocent adolescent in the sense that he is untutored in social rules and norms. Nevertheless, the lack of social skills and education do not interfere with him being a real human who will always stick up for his friends in the time of trouble. To convey this particular message, Twain uses a first-person narrative to underline the way Huck thinks and makes logical decisions. In addition, the author applies specific literary devices such as symbolism and metaphor. Therefore, through the example of his young character, a first-person narrative and literary devices, Twain shows the readers that it is a person’s deeds that show the true nature of a human rather than adherence to social rules common in the 19th century.
Huck is an extreme social outsider who is trained by a widow to become a valuable member of the American society. The woman gives the youngster decent clothes and an opportunity to study at school attempting to civilize him in such a way. However, it is difficult for a boy to conquer all social constraints because his previous life which was full of adventures seems to be more attractive to him. To display the difficulties of the civilized world Huck faces with, the author also uses a first-person narrative. In such a way, Twain expresses not only the thoughts and intentions of the boy, but also his ability to think logically and make important decisions. Thus, the writer attempts to convince the reader that the life of the character is a much better teacher than the widow and her sister. Living in the society of the 19th century, Huck witnesses prejudices, injustice, selfishness, and slavery that provided experience rather distant from the lessons of proper speaking. Therefore, the first-person narrative style shows that being a social outsider does not mean a lack of reason.
At the same time, Twain applies symbolism to demonstrate to what extent his character is innocent. In Chapter 18, the boy notes, “We said 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” (Twain, 1994, p. 56). Huck and Jim’s raft symbolizes their pursuit for freedom. To be more precise, the raft is the characters’ desire to be independent to be able to control their lives. Moreover, it can be regarded as a vehicle of choice as they personally manage the direction. Huck also says that a raft belongs to neither man nor land, which makes him free of anyone’s impact. Eventually, this vehicle in the middle of the river is the only place where white and black youngsters can speak together and feel equal. In this respect, Huck’s idea of freedom differs from the generally established beliefs of the white respectable society. Therefore, Twain does not only persuade the reader to believe in the character’s innocence, but to represent a much wider theme of slavery.
Nevertheless, being an outsider in the society does not mean being deprived of a sharp mind and self-sacrifice. Although Huck does not succeed in matching the expectations of the society, in the most critical moment of his life, he chooses to be a true friend. To show the audience the depth of Huck’s uncertainty and difficulty in decision-making, the writer uses both the first-person narrative style and such literary device as metaphor.
Hesitating whether to let Miss Watson know where Jim is and thus return to the previous life, Huck faces the dilemma:
I took… up [the letter I’d written to Miss Watson], and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: “All right then, I’ll go to hell” – and tore it up. (Twain, 1994, p. 138)
This quote conveys the moral culmination of Twain’s novel. At first, the boy writes the letter to Miss Watson thinking that if he came back home it would be better than remain in the current situation. He carries this letter in his hand, but the voice of reason does not allow him to make the next step. The character suddenly realizes that once he has sent this letter, his friend Jim will be sold and thus he tears it up. This passage, namely Huck’s hesitation and eventually making the decision shows that he is willing to put his life in danger to help his friend. The boy prefers “hell” to living in the widow’s house. At that time, white men did not risk their lives for black people. Instead of that, whites exploited the latter as slaves and this was the social norm of the 19th century. Huck metaphorically calls the civilized world “hell” because, in a normal society, people do not enslave others for their benefit. Therefore, the character comprehends that he does not want to be part of such “civilized” world.
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Thereby, Twain’s young social outsider is a true representative of the educated and progressive man the writer wanted to see in the 19th century. Applying a first-person narrative and such literary devices as symbolism and metaphor, the author forces the audience ponder the issue of slavery and social injustice through the perspective of Huck’s innocence. This novel is worth reading by many generations to learn that staying a decent human is more valuable than any social norm or vision which often appears to be distorted.