November 4, 1998
Junior English (Period 5B)
Huck Versus the World
Are tough decisions the price one must pay as he grows up? The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, a novel written by Mark Twain, is a story about a boy named Huck who, throughout his travels with a runaway slave named Jim, faces many difficult decisions. Much of the book deals with slavery—which was still perfectly normal, since the story takes place before the civil war. Throughout his life, Huck must decide whether to live by what his heart or what his conscience tells him. Mark Twain believed that his book told a story in which someone's moral values win out over their wrong prior beliefs. Three instances that illustrate how Huck's sound heart overcomes his deformed conscience are his decision not to turn Jim in, his choice to help a murderer rather than seek personal gain, and his vow to treat Jim like the true friend he is.
One instance where Huck's sound heart overcomes his deformed conscience is his decision, after much consideration, not to turn Jim in. Most everyone Huck encountered had some way of justifying slavery, even just by having a slave. Huck's deformed conscience, which basically tells him he ought to turn Jim in, feeds and grows off of the justification of that which is wrong—which, in this case, happens to be slavery. Even Miss Watson, a religious woman, keeps a slave: “...en I hear old missus tell de widder she gwyne to sell me down to Orleans, but she didn't want to, but she could git eight hund'd dollars for me, en it 'uz sich a big stack o' money she couldn' resis’” (Twain 43). However, as convincing and powerful as his conscience is, Huck knows in his heart that the enslavement of a race is a far greater sin than simply stealing. Huck faces the challenge again later on, when he must decide whether or not he's going to send that letter to Miss Watson. He struggles with his conscience about returning Jim to Miss Watson, but his love for Jim—not just as a friend, but as a human being—overcomes his misled conscience once again: “It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I=d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it” (214). After a moment's pause, Huck's mind is made up, and he declares, “All right, then, I'll go to hell” (214) …and he tears up the note. This sacrifice proves that Huck would rather save Jim than save himself.
Another example that illustrates the extent of Huck's willingness to follow his heart instead of his conscience is his willingness to set aside personal desires to help someone else. Actually, when Huck and Jim first find the boat, the Walter Scott, Huck suggests going onboard and looking around. Huck suspects that he and Jim will find something that they can use, and Huck explains his thinking to a worried Jim: “…we might borrow something out of the captain's stateroom. Seegars, I bet you—and cost five cents apiece, solid cash” (66-67). However, Huck and Jim put this plan aside for a moment when they come to realize just what else is happening. Huck and Jim happen to overhear a conversation between three murderers. Two of the murderers, Bill and Jake, are going to kill the third one, named Jim Turner, who was planning on turning in all three in the group. Huck realizes that these are not exactly the best people to be around, but he knows in his heart that even very sinful people deserve to live. Jim is a bit hesitant to have anything to do with these criminals, but Huck explains: “I’m unfavorable to killin’ a man as long as you can git aroun’ it; it ain’t good sense, it ain’t good morals. Ain’t I right?” (69) In addition to just helping the one man who is in trouble, Huck decides to help all three of them when he realizes that the boat is sinking and the three men are going to drown. As a matter of fact, Huck's logic of why the man deserves to have his life spared can be applied to all three men (it is morally wrong to kill someone, unless it must be done to save another), and he finds a watchman to go down to the wreck and help out the three cutthroats. Huck has to lie to get help, but he knows that lying is justified when it is used to help other people.
One last example of the victory of Huck's heart over his conscience is his decision to reform his thinking and not play any more tricks on Jim. However, before his heart wins over his conscience, he actually goes through a short time span in which his conscience really has gotten the better of him. Huck, being the occasional practical joker, decides to try and trick Jim into thinking that he (Huck) had never actually fallen off the raft but that Jim had dreamt the whole thing. Sneaking onto the raft while Jim sleeps, Huck awakens Jim and pretends that he has never left the raft: “Gone away? Why, what in the nation do you mean? I hain't been gone anywheres. Where would I go to?” (84) While Huck means this as an innocent joke, he is not aware that Jim really had been worried about him. When Huck is unable to explain how all the garbage got on the raft, Jim becomes aware that Huck has been lying. Jim talks about how the trash symbolizes lying, and how lying breaks up relationships. Jim is brutally honest with Huck: “When I got all wore out wid work, en wid de callin' for you, en went to sleep, my heart wuz mos' broke bekase you was los', en I didn' k'yer no' mo' what become er me en de raf. En when I wake up en fine you back ag'in, all safe en soun', de tears come, en I could 'a' got down on my knees en kiss yo' foot, I's so thankful. En all you wuz thinkin' 'bout was how you could make a fool uv ole Jim wid a lie” (86). This touches Huck right to his heart—and he realizes just how lucky he is to have a loving and faithful friend like Jim. Huck vows to never play tricks on Jim again, and he really is honest: “I wouldn’t done that one if I'd 'a' it would make him feel that way" (86).
Mark Twain was correct when he said that his novel described the victory of someone whose sound heart overcame their deformed conscience's wrong prior beliefs. Not only did his story illustrate victory, but it made a very good point, as well: When making a decision, what is in the heart is what truly counts. Twain also proved that decisions are rarely easy; one has to decide between what society says is correct and what their heart says is correct. Mark Twain also used the character of Jim to prove many other points. Jim may have been a slave, a social outcast because of his position in society, but he was a human being—and Huck had the heart to treat him as such. Mark Twain forcefully illustrates the depth of Jim and Huck's friendship—they are two friends who will make sacrifices. Huck saw to it that nothing stood between Jim and his freedom, and Jim guided Huck as a true friend would do. Perhaps Jim's sound heart helped Huck realize what truly counts.