In Mark Twain’s classic novel, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, freedom is the prominent theme. Written over a ten year period, and completed in 1884 during post-civil war re-construction, the novel focuses on American society in the pre-civil war period (c. 1840), and in particular the issues of race and slavery. The novel’s two central characters, Jim a runaway slave and Huck a runaway boy are both seeking freedom. “ It is, as Marx so capably argued, what the book is about, but his own judgment that freedom in Huckleberry Finn "specifically means freedom from society and its imperatives," (Schmitz). For the two, freedom from “society’s imperatives” has very different meanings. Huck seeks freedom from civilization and the rigors of life with the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson as they try to make him into a young gentleman. Jim seeks freedom from slavery and the opportunity to reunite with his wife and children. Although neither attains the freedom they were seeking, the journey down the river allows Huck to develop as a human being and attain an “inner freedom” from the pro-slavery attitudes and prejudices in which he was raised.
Huck’s initiation into adulthood shows his inner struggle to be free from the grips of society. Huck is stuck in a world in which he feels alienated. While in captivation (by the Widow Douglas), Huckleberry is not the person who he wants to be. He cannot seem to escape the grips of society. As he points out, “Jim can say as soon as he escapes from Ms. Watson, ‘I owns myself,’ while Huck is still ‘owned’ by the expectations of society that he become a gentleman and he is being forced to grow up against his will and conform. Huck desires the freedom to be a child, as illustrated in the following quote: The freedom Huck strives to attain is his right to be a child…….. The unregenerate poetic child alive in his body and sensitive to the mystery of being in the world. Miss Watson correctly perceives the subversive nature of this desire, and she moves to suppress it with the conventional weaponry of dutiful elders: grisly textbooks, uncomfortable chairs, "smothery" clothes, and incomprehensible lessons pounded home from a dogmatic religiosity. (Schmitz)
Due to his relationship with an abusive father, Huck is imprisoned by the idea of survival. A healthy person, as demonstrated by noted psychologist Abraham Maslow, is able to meet self-actualization needs. However, Huck Finn on the table of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs is stuck at the bottom in “safety needs”. When he finally feels secure, he will move from safety needs to love and belongingness needs. However, in order to fulfill these safety needs, Huck must escape from society and his father. He eventually does go on the raft with Jim, and he grows as a human being and finds belongingness in a friendship with Jim. He is able to find freedom from the prejudices of a pro-slavery era. Throughout the novel, Jim is portrayed by Twain as good, honest, and wise. He is the best character in the story; however, he is trapped in the stronghold of slavery in America in the 1840’s. He runs away from Miss Watson because he believed she was going to sell him down the river to New Orleans. Jim is trying to escape slavery and find a place as a free man in society. He also hopes to buy back his wife and children. Initially in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, others regard Jim as an object to laugh at and play jokes on; slavery is presented as a natural institution. The idea is introduced immediately after Jim runs away and speaks of himself as property, “I’s rich now, come to look at it. I owns myself” (Ch. 8). Slavery is such a common institution in the novel, that Huck believes it is natural. The only way that Huck is able to hold off those who want to capture Jim, including the King and the Duke, is to claim Jim as his rightful property. The peculiar notion that one person can actually own another, body and soul is...
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