Who Is Huckleberry Finn?
Who is Huckleberry Finn? At the beginning of Mark Twain’s novel, Huckleberry Finn, he seems to be a stereotypical child from the early 1800’s, living the carefree life of a young adolescent boy. But upon closer inspection, Huck is actually a character with complexities and major personal changes experienced throughout the novel. The “personal-journey” structure that is necessary for Huck’s transformation is a characteristic of the bildungsroman genre, which according to Suzanne Hader, author of The Bildungsroman Genre: Great Expectations, Aurora Leigh, and Waterland, is a story of a single individuals growth and development within the context of defined social order (Hader 1). The reality of Huck’s own social order is one of racism, abuse, and hypocrisy. With this foundation he grows up indifferent and uninterested towards the social systems within that society. But through the process of self-discovery (Hader 1), which is present in the bildungsroman genre, Huck grows to develop his own opinion on the ways of the world around him. Following the many characteristics of the bildungsroman genre, Mark Twain’s novel, Huckleberry Finn, displays a personal transformation in regards to Huck’s attitude towards societal codes-specifically those involving African-Americans- Jim, and his own personal code of morals.
The society of Huck’s time was a complicated web of codes and unwritten rules, especially when applied to African- Americans. It was acceptable to burn a dog, but unthinkable to respect a black man. As witnessed through Pap’s drunken exclamation, “Thinks I, what is the world a-comin to? (Twain 27)”, simply over a black man’s right to vote, one can see the type of atmosphere Huck is in. It was environment that not only encouraged prejudices and racism, but fully allowed slavery and the dehumanization of the African-American race. At the beginning of the novel, Huck often refers to Jim, Miss Watson’s slave, as my old Jim (Twain 108). This simple yet powerful statement reflects the racist views of the Southern society- one built on prejudice that young people, such as Huck, never though to question.
Huck’s indifferent approach to societal issues is shaken, though, when he began the journey to freedom with Jim. Following the bildungsroman genre, Huck’s process of discovery consists of repeated clashes between the protagonist’s (Huck’s) needs and desires and the views enforced by an unbending social order (Hader 1); that is, Huck’s realization of the humanity of Jim blatantly objects to the beliefs of the vast Southern population. Huck begins to come to this realization after going through multiple situations in which Jim continually discredits the stereotype of African-Americans; Jim’s loyalty and kindness, among other upright qualities, help to show Huck the wrongness of society. This newfound respect for Jim and other African-Americans is perfectly summarized in Huck’s later thoughts- “He was a mighty good n*****, Jim was (Twain 150)” and “I knowed he was white on the inside…(Twain 271).” While both quotes still show the stain of years of prejudice, Huck has overcome a deformed conscience to become respecting of African-American people.
As Huck began to see past the traditional prejudices of society, he was able to see Jim as a real person. At the beginning of the novel, Huck sees Jim as a piece of property- someone to be tricked and teased (Catey 1). This belief, which had been an unquestionable part of Huck’s life thus far, made it difficult for Huck to truly accept Jim as a human being. For a long while, Huck feels as if he is sinning against everything he has ever been taught by helping Jim (Catey 1). Huck’s intense guilt led many, including the book, Huck Finn: A Teacher’s Guide, to believe that Huck finally apologizing to Jim is actually the climax of Huckleberry Finn. Huck states: It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to...
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