Huckleberry Finn: the Truth Behind the Lies

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Huckleberry Finn: The Truth Behind the Lies
The famous romantic novelist, Mark Twain, is well know for his attitude towards social conformity and the mores of society. In Twain’s mind, it is human nature for people to want to do the right thing in life, without silly rules or protocol. Everyone has their falls from grace, but the human race is generally good, with some exceptions. In the novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, characters are frequently faced with dilemmas that challenge the morals they were taught to faithfully abide by, and most of these situations are resolved through the use of deception and lying. It is not the act of lying that defines the characters, but it is their motivation behind deceiving those around them that truly emphasizes their moral worth. Mark Twain seems to support the timeless moral adage, “The ends justify the means.” Many people disagree with this statement, but Twain exemplifies the reality that the chains that confine people to society’s rules must be broken by lying to survive or to protect another. Through Huck’s journey to self-discovery, Twain conveys his belief that defying society’s moral standards is necessary in certain situations in order to do the right thing. Much research has been done on the topic of morality in Twain’s point of view and how it has been expressed through the main character, Huck. Laurel Bollinger suggests that “Huck never moves into the realm of "abstract" morality; he never asserts a conviction that when two moral principles come into conflict, one will have priority because of the nature of the moral principle itself. Instead, he acts strictly through his sense of Sherrard 2

commitment to his friends” This is appealing to the romanticism in the novel. Huck makes his decisions purely based off of his instincts and connections to those around him, not off of the moral standards he is obligated to fulfill because of society. Albert E. Stone comments that “Huck is the image of the classic Good Bad Boy. The Good Bad Boy is, of course, America’s vision of itself, cruel and unruly in its beginnings, but endowed by its creator with an instinctive sense of what is right” Man is given an internal moral compass to guide him. Rules that are written are not what guide us to do what is right. It is the natural God given instinct to wan to do the right thing in life. This is why Huck perverts the truth. “The most obvious place to look at [Huck’s character development] is Huck’s changing attitude toward Jim, who he eventually comes to see as a fellow human being rather than a slave or an object of property” (Sewell 114). For example, as Tom Quirk suggests, it is ironic that Huck finds himself inferior to those around him because he decides to lie to protect his companion, Jim. He feels that it is a sin, but in this situation it is the more ethical choice to be made, even though society deems it unacceptable. Huck’s lies, while situational, are mostly told in order to ensure his own survival and the protection of Jim. From the beginning of the novel, Huck’s fascination with truth is displayed in his saying, “Mark Twain, he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another,” (Twain 13). To Huck, the idea of lying is not a big deal, so to speak. Huck lies to all the people around him when he fakes his death, but the only reason he does this is to escape the clutches of his alcoholic father. Huck’s survival is his first priority and if it were not for this deception, Huck would have continued to live in an abusive environment. His motive behind lying is survival. It is human nature to want to Sherrard 3

survive, and Huck’s instincts kick in telling him what he needs to do to survive: pretend to die in order to live. When he discovers Jim has run away, Huck decides to go against his morals and keep Jim’s secret to protect his friend. Although in southern...
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