Symbols and Themes

The Mississippi—The river is one of the most powerful symbols in the novel. It stands for freedom and independence, and carries Jim (who longs for freedom) and Huck (who loves his independence) onward. However, their serenity on the river is often disrupted by various incidents, whether mechanical (the steamboat), natural (the fog), or human (the king and the duke). Ultimately, the river must come to an end, and it is this end that puzzled Twain, which is one reason why the end of the novel proved so problematic for him. Indeed, the question is never really answered—and the reader is left wondering: Where does Huck go?

Education—Education is a theme that consistently comes up throughout the novel. At first, Huck rejects the conventional education offered him by the Widow and society, but gradually he comes to embrace it—and he even learns a few things from it. For example, Huck is able to read by the time he leaves town with Pap, and he has also learned compassion and love from the Widow—even if he does not quite understand the nature of evil and how to examine his own conscience.

Still, Huck learns an important education from Pap as well concerning human nature and the life outdoors. He is able to survive with the help of this knowledge and is able to participate in the various walks and modes of life. His education in sincerity and good will endear him to some, and his sharp, keen wit and ability to deceive endear him to others.

Finally, Huck’s moral education is guided by the spirit of the Widow, which follows Huck as he confronts a number of events. When his conscience begins to sting him, he receives another lesson regarding morality—and ultimately he learns that even the lawless need forgiveness, which is the highest wisdom anyone can hope to attain.

Adventure—No-one longs for Romance and adventure as much as Tom Sawyer, yet it is Huck Finn who has the real adventure of a lifetime on the Mississippi River. Huck’s upbringing is...

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