Advanced English III
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
For just about everyone, there are things that a person wants to hear and things that they don’t. We all like to hear about our own ability and proficiency, but shy away from critiques against our character. We flock to hear fictitious stories overflowing with imagined excitement, but somehow bore when we are introduced to the real world. Because of this, it becomes a challenge for any author to address both what society wants
to hear and what it
. However, this feat is achieved in
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
, where Mark
Twain employs characterization and point of view to portray both an adventure story and a social commentary. He uses this entertaining yet meaningful method to point out that society’s view of “civilization” is skewed, and that the meaning of being civilized is a changing variable from person to person.
The variety of different characters Twain in
tabs the story as a social
commentary, as it allows for visible contrast between different versions of civilization. Society’s view of being civilized, which included being clean, mannerly, religious, wealthy, prudent, and even “average”, is sought after by many in the story Miss Watson, for example. She strove constantly to put herself in an acceptable position in the ladder of social norms, and tried with staunch fervor to bring Huck there along with her. “Her sister, Miss Watson, a tolerable slim old maid, with goggles on . . . took a set at me now with a spellingbook. She worked me middling hard for about an
hour . . . Miss Watson would say, “Don’t put your feet up there, Huckleberry;” and “Don’t scrunch up like that, Huckleberry set up straight;” and pretty soon she would say, “Don’t gap and stretch like that, Huckleberry why don’t you try to behave?”” (Twain 9).
Twain later shows the reader that these societal pieces of “civilization” are more shallow than valuable by allowing Huck to live a second, less civilized lifestyle out in the woods, and then comparing Huck’s attitude about the two.
“Two months or more ran along, and I didn’t see how I’d ever got to it so well at the widow’s, where you had to wash, and eat on a plate, and comb up, and go to bed and get up regular, and be forever bothering over a book, and have old Miss Watson pecking at you all the time. I didn’t want to go back no more . . . It was pretty good times up in the woods there, take it all around” (Twain 27). Miss Watson’s version of morals, however, are not ubiquitous throughout the novel. In the variety of different characters, many different ideas of civilization are followed and/or achieved. Some good examples that show a contrast of these ideas include the Grangerford family and the slave Jim.
The Grangerford family, as introduced in the middle of the novel, was described by Huck as follows: “Col. Grangerford was a gentleman, you see. He was a gentleman all over; and so was his family” (Twain 94). Huck also adds, “It was a mighty nice family, and a mighty nice house, too. I hadn’t seen no house in the country before that was so nice and had so much style” (Twain 89). The Grangerfords were very decent people with a very decent amount of wealth, and as such they fit pretty well into society’s pictureframe idea of civilization. However, the author subtly uses them to make social comment by adding in one twist to their characterization, one twist that makes the reader question what is defined in the
word “civilized”; he adds a rivalry. Twain writes, “There was another clan of aristocracy around there five or six families mostly of the name of Shepherdson. They was as hightoned and well born and rich and grand as the tribe of Grangerfords” (95). The ...