Huck Finn reaserch notes
Huck Finn's much-discussed "moral crises" in chapters 16 and 31 of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are conventionally regarded as climactic moments in the ongoing drama of his moral growth. Underwriting such readings is the notion that they reveal Huck's dynamic character, his dawning recognition of Jim's humanity and his gradual rejection of his society's racism. But running beneath and opposing this narrative of Huck's moral growth is a counter narrative of moral backsliding, within which Huck persists in denying the legitimacy of his relationship with Jim; he continues, in other words, to see Jim as a "nigger" and himself as, even worse, a "nigger-stealer." “I got to feeling so mean and so miserable I most wished I was dead [...] Every time he danced around and says, "Dah's Cairo!" it went through me like a shot, and I thought if it was Cairo I reckoned I would die of miserableness. (124)”
Twain makes an odious parallel between Huck's being "enslaved" by a drunken father who keeps him locked in a cabin and Jim's legal enslavement. Regardless of how awful and wrong it is for a boy to be held physically captive by his father, there is a profound difference between that and slavery. By making them into a parallelism, Twain applies a veneer to slavery which obscures the fact that, by definition, slavery was a horror. Such a parallelism also allowed Twain's contemporaries to comfortably evade responsibility and remorse for the horror they had made.
Even allowing for the fact that the novel is written from the limited first-person point of view of a fourteen-year-old boy (and at fourteen it is not possible to take anything seriously except oneself), the author must be held responsible for choosing to write from that particular point of view. If the novel had been written before emancipation, Huck's dilemma and conflicting feelings over Jim's escape would have been moving. But in 1884 slavery was legally over. Huck's almost Hamlet-like interior monologues on the rights and wrongs of helping Jim escape are not proof of liberalism or compassion, but evidence of an inability to relinquish whiteness as a badge of superiority. "I knew he was white inside," is Huck's final assessment of Jim (chap. 40).
To be moral. It takes an enormous effort of will to be moral, and that's another paradox. Only to the extent that we make the effort to be moral do we grow away from adolescent notions of freedom and begin to see that the true nature of freedom does not lie in "striking out for the territory ahead" but resides where it always has--in the territory within.