Civilized Frauds and Noble Runaways
Most people often assume that the aim of civilizations is for humanity to function together, jointly and cooperatively, so that humans produce and experience the benefits of moral people who live and act together. However, in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the reverse is true. The swap in societal stereotypes is apparent in the king and the duke’s production of the Royal Nonesuch as well as Huck and Jim’s pleasant journey down the Mississippi after escaping the family feud between the Grangerfords and the Shepardsons. Leading up to the performance of the Royal Nonesuch, the king and the duke attract an all-male audience in a small town in Arkansas for a so-called “tragedy”, and make signs promising lewdness in the performance. Conversely, the protagonists of the novel, Huck and Jim, are depicted as noble characters on the outskirts of society, as they lead a carefree existence down the Mississippi River. The central irony in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is that in the midst of a “sivilized” society, uncivilized members abound, particularly those who are racist, conniving, and ill-mannered; whereas Huck and Jim, who have escaped society, are more righteous, sincere, and morally sound than any of the other “sivilized” characters who populate the traditional southern communities the novel depicts.
Civilization is the most advanced form of human organization, a truth universally acknowledged by society, and one that assumes humans are not savage; the sounds and setting in the river/raft and the Royal Nonesuch passages defy the standard definition of civilization. As Huck and Jim are floating down the Mississippi River on their raft, far from the confines of civilization, the atmosphere of the river seems idyllic. No dialogue is exchanged between Huck and Jim – only description of the sounds and setting of the Mississippi. Huck hears sounds such as the “bull-frogs a-cluttering” (177), or the “song-birds just going it!” (178), evoking primarily soft and natural reverberations. Many instances of light sibilance also appear in the description of the setting, like “sometimes you could hear a sweep screaking” (178), or “a snag there in a swift current” (178), representing the subtle sounds of the river. Huck and Jim are able to appreciate the true beauty of nature in its rawest form, without the intrusion of society. In contrast, the setting of the Royal Nonesuch is completely fraudulent. The king is not actually performing on a stage, but is foolishly prancing around on a platform in the courtroom that the king and the duke build to look like a real stage for true performances. Unlike the peaceful sounds encountered in the river/raft scene, the courthouse during the Royal Nonesuch performance is filled with cacophony as the “tragedy” is “acted” on the stage. When the king goes out onto the stage and prances around naked while being “painted all over” (206), the audience “roar(s) and clap(s) and storm(s), and haw-haw(s)” (207). Once the men in the audience realize they have been duped, they “sing” (207) out, shout, and create another incredibly boisterous combination of sounds that portray great immaturity and unrefined manners. However, there is one moment of silence during the final night of the Royal Nonesuch when the duke and Huck run from the courthouse. As Huck and the duke escape from the town and are on the raft “gliding down stream” (208), a description reminiscent of Twain’s language is used from the river/raft scene. In other words, absconding from the wild and somewhat savage people in the civilization of the town to the unvarnished and quiet river gives a sense of relief and peace to the reader.
In the cases of Huck and Jim on the river, time feels tranquil and without haste, while time is structured and intense during the king and the duke’s production of the...
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