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“In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain constructs a journey in which Huck Finn learns many lessons about himself and the society in which he lives. Discuss in reference to 4 key episodes.”
Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a schematic, satirical novel based on the physical, emotional and spiritual journey of the “rogue hero” Huck Finn. In the novel, Twain reveals what he believed were the inadequacies of the society at the time and creates an individual who resisted its flaws. In doing so, Twain exposes many aspects of the physical journey, one of which is the ability to learn. The physical journey down the Mississippi river is a catalyst for development, revelations and learning. Huck Finn is taught many valuable lessons about himself, his relationship with society and the nature of the society in the southern states of America in the nineteenth century. Many critics have been lead to believe that through this learning journey, Twain is countenancing a positive model for social reform through an increased sense of individual moral autonomy and a breakdown of the dichotomies in society, namely the racism involved with slavery and the hypocrisy created by artificial class structures.
The most significant of the lessons learnt, occur as Huck juxtaposes what he feels is right (through a practical application of his ethics), against the moral values held by society in general. When he does this, he is not lead by the example society sets for him, he formulates his own moral conscience and stakes his true and genuine individualism. Examples of these situations are; during the feud between the Grangerfords and the Shepardsons, during the “mob scene” in a town in Arkansaw, during the Duke and King’s attempt to exploit the Wilks girls and also when Jim is found and captured again. Twain’s continual usage of irony, satire, southern vernacular and the “innocent” narrator highlights the paradoxes present, the differing perspectives on the physical journey and the lessons learnt by society and the central characters to the readers, both contextually and also for the contemporary audience.
The first of the above mentioned episodes occurs during Huck’s visit to the Southern aristocratic family- the Grangerfords. The family emblematise the southern aristocratic values, not only through their wealth but through their hypocrisy. The façade of the Southern gentility, the class hierarchy, sentimentalism as well as inhumane activity are critiqued throughout Huck’s observation of the family. The schematic structure of the novel allows for each stage to represent a stage in the development in Huck’s morality. Throughout the episode, Twain positions Huck and the reader in order so that they will learn from the hypocrisy and the cruelty of this echelon of society. These lessons are couched within the recurring motif of social reform through individual experience and the development of responsibility, compassion, and moral autonomy. These lessons are simultaneously learnt by Huck in response to the Grangerford family and their violent, historically founded feud.
Huck eventually comes to have a stronger appreciation of human life, human feeling, sincerity and realism. Simultaneously, the physical journey is represented as a unique learning experience where obstacles and difficulties may be placed in front of you, however due to the ability of every human to question and make choices, lessons can be learnt from every situation. When these lessons are learnt practically, as one must do during a physical journey, the lessons are able to be internalised and acted upon. The façade of the family is constructed from the outset as Huck observes their possessions and their class. This can be seen through Huck’s comment, “Col. Grangerford was a gentleman, you see. He was a gentleman all over; and so was his family. He was well born… and...
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