The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain tries to take the reader into American slavery. But, by the end of his novel, the reader finds himself following the childish adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. The novel is about a boy growing up in southern societies, just before the American Civil War. Huckleberry, a freed slave, and Jim, a young boy, form a close friendship as they travel together down the Mississippi River. Jim is taken prisoner by Huck at the end of this book. Twain’s protagonist Tom Sawyer is well aware of Jim’s fate. Huck convinces Tom to use his elaborate schemes to “free Jim” for the adventure Tom longs for. The story was distracting from the social issues Twain had to address at the beginning of his novel. Many believe Twain’s seamless denunciation of racism is a result of Huck’s moral revelations. But, it becomes evident that racism is no longer an issue in the novel. The plot diverts to Tom Sawyer’s imagined adventures and Huck’s growth as a character. Jane Smiley, literary critic, states that “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is lacking in greatness.” There is much more to American history from the canonization of it than canonization (Smiley). The truth is that the novel is more glorified than the ideas for which it is being praised. Twain’s social commentary on 19th century Southern society in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been praised by many. However, Twain failed to understand the American incomprehension of race.

Huck, at the beginning, idolizes Tom Sawyer. He is open to doing whatever Tom asks. Huck, even though he changes a lot in character, Huck instantly reverts to his sidekick from the beginning. Jim, who has already started to appear like Huck’s sidekick becomes even more marginalized in the novel. This is despite the fact that Jim’s character is vital to Twain trying to convey. Tom’s influence is what the novel’s supporters claim caused Huck to lose his character and halt meaningful plot progress. Huck is forced to make a choice between saving Jim and letting his owner know. Huck tears up the note that he wanted to send to Jim and says “Allright, then, i’ll go to Hell” (Twain 228). Defenders of the novel will argue that this is a significant character development for a boy who, having been taught to believe that helping escaped slaves would bring him to eternal damnation in hell, had never had to look after anyone else. Twain could have closed the book with this conclusion. In the next chapters, Twain rewrites everything he has built. Huck made that important decision but it doesn’t mean anything if Huck does not take action. Tom applies pressure to Huck and he caves. Huck did not resolve to play any more jokes on Jim. Huck continues to follow Tom’s lead, creating unnecessary obstacles and making Jim suffer with snakes, spiders and rats. Huck can’t speak for Jim in front of his friend if he isn’t able to. Huck knows Tom is being a nuisance but he is passive. Huck loses everything that made him such a great protagonist. Huck has become a less complex character than the one the reader had grown to love. The problem lies in society’s perceptions and praises it gets for its condemnation of racism. Huck’s failure to keep his promises to Jim and giving in to society’s expectations is supposed to show the absurdities of racism. This is a poor reflection of America’s social situation. Jane Smiley says that society believes that Huck should feel positive about Jim and love him. Also, that he thinks of Jim as a man. (Smiley). They think they can congratulate themselves for having a protagonist who can show basic human decency. The opposition loves to glorify this novel and thinks they can take credit for a protagonist who can demonstrate basic human decency. Huck’s development is largely due to his refusal to accept what is told to him and making decisions about right and wrong. Huck and Jim form a friendship that helps him to understand racism and other social issues. Huck sees Jim’s humanity even though he is beginning to understand it. However, Twain does not do enough to address these issues. Twain also doesn’t deserve praise for his denunciation of racism. Huck was able to treat Jim with more compassion and respect, but Huck is going in the wrong way. Huck doesn’t learn how to relate the concept to African Americans or slaves. Huck is astonished when Jim speaks about his family. It doesn’t seem natural to me, but it is what I believe” (Twain 177) Huck seems to think Jim is an exception. Jim is closer to “white folks” then people of color. Jim’s humanity is evident. Huck learns to be kind to Jim, not as an African American. Huck doesn’t learn respect for people of color even if he did. Huck believes that helping Jim is morally wrong and that Huck is guilty of it. Huck says that Tom offered to save Jim. It was unbelievable to me. Tom Sawyer is a ***** cheater!” (Twain 220). Huck still has much work to do before becoming one of the most important literary figuresheads for racial egalitarianism. Twain, however, doesn’t encourage any further learning. Twain cuts Huck’s character development like this and doesn’t give Huck any meaningful conclusion. Huck doesn’t triumph in racism. The novel is still highly praised by many. The fact that Huck cannot completely change his childhood is more relevant and indicative of the time period. Twain fails to mention that Huck was not absolved of his moral obligations. Smiley states that Huck deserves credit for recognizing that all Americans, blacks and whites, are human. Huck doesn’t even acknowledge this fact by the end. This novel is a reminder that the reader must not only respect it but also ignore Twain’s “revelations,” which perpetuates a negative perception of racism.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’s readers and critics both love Mark Twain’s efforts to understand the deep-rooted problems in southern society. Twain’s novel is flawed in many ways. Through Huck’s growth and revelations, Twain attempts to instill realizations about racism on the reader. Twain doesn’t expect readers to learn these moral lessons if Huck is shown to have regressed in his character and is unable use what he learned. Huck doesn’t value Tom’s thoughts more than Jim is. Huck can respect Jim only if he sees Jim more like an African American than a white man. Huck also needs to show some kindness towards Jim and show some humanity to society’s praises for Huck’s progress in social understanding. Huck’s basic human decency towards Jim shouldn’t be considered the highest point of the country’s response to American slavery. Twain’s flaws in the novel are misrepresented to be revelations and solutions to society’s problems. Maybe this shows that even though equality has improved, Americans still adhere to the same flawed novel.


  • rhysgraham

    Rhys Graham is an educational blogger and professor who writes about topics such as literacy, mathematics, and science. He has written several books, including one on the history of science. He is also the co-founder of the website Learn Out Loud, which helps educators create and share classroom activities.