The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, is a novel about ayoung boy’s coming of age in the Missouri of the mid-1800’s.
The maincharacter, Huckleberry Finn, spends much time in the novel floatingdown the Mississippi River on a raft with a runaway slave named Jim.Before he does so, however, Huck spends some time in the fictional townof St. Petersburg where a number of people attempt to influence him. Before the novel begins, Huck Finn has led a life of absolutefreedom. His drunken and often missing father has never paid muchattention to him; his mother is dead and so, when the novel begins, Huckis not used to following any rules. The book’s opening finds Huck livingwith the Widow Douglas and her sister, Miss Watson. Both women arefairly old and are really somewhat incapable of raising a rebellious boylike Huck Finn. Nevertheless, they attempt to make Huck into what theybelieve will be a better boy.
Specifically, they attempt, as Huck says, to”civilize” him. This process includes making Huck go to school, teachinghim various religious facts, and making him act in a way that the womenfind socially acceptable. Huck, who has never had to follow many rules inhis life, finds the demands the women place upon him constraining andthe life with them lonely. As a result, soon after he first moves in withthem, he runs away. He soon comes back, but, even though he becomessomewhat comfortable with his new life as the months go by, Huck neverreally enjoys the life of manners, religion, and education that the Widowand her sister impose upon him.
Huck believes he will find some freedom with Tom Sawyer. Tom isa boy of Huck’s age who promises Huck and other boys of the town a lifeof adventure. Huck is eager to join Tom Sawyer’s Gang because he feelsthat doing so will allow him to escape the somewhat boring life he leadswith the Widow Douglas. Unfortunately, such an escape does not occur.Tom Sawyer promises much-robbing stages, murdering and ransomingpeople, kidnapping beautiful women-but none of this comes to pass.
Huckfinds out too late that Tom’s adventures are imaginary: that raiding acaravan of “A-rabs” really means terrorizing young children on a Sundayschool picnic, that stolen “joolry” is nothing more than turnips or rocks.Huck is disappointed that the adventures Tom promises are not real andso, along with the other members, he resigns from the gang.Another person who tries to get Huckleberry Finn to change isPap, Huck’s father.
Pap is one of the most astonishing figures in all ofAmerican literature as he is completely antisocial and wishes to undo allof the civilizing effects that the Widow and Miss Watson have attemptedto instill in Huck. Pap is a mess: he is unshaven; his hair is uncut andhangs like vines in front of his face; his skin, Huck says, is white like afish’s belly or like a tree toad’s. Pap’s savage appearance reflects hisfeelings as he demands that Huck quit school, stop reading, and avoidchurch. Huck is able to stay away from Pap for a while, but Pap kidnapsHuck three or four months after Huck starts to live with the Widow andtakes him to a lonely cabin deep in the Missouri woods.
Here, Huckenjoys, once again, the freedom that he had prior to the beginning of thebook. He can smoke, “laze around,” swear, and, in general, do what hewants to do. However, as he did with the Widow and with Tom, Huckbegins to become dissatisfied with this life.
Pap is “too handy with thehickory” and Huck soon realizes that he will have to escape from thecabin if he wishes to remain alive. As a result of his concern, Huck makesit appear as if he is killed in the cabin while Pap is away, and leaves to goto a remote island in the Mississippi River, Jackson’s Island. It is after he leaves his father’s cabin that Huck joins yet anotherimportant influence in his life: Miss Watson’s slave, Jim. Prior to Huck’sleaving, Jim has been a minor character in the novel-he has been shownbeing fooled by Tom Sawyer and telling Huck’s fortune. Huck finds Jimon Jackson’s Island because the slave has run away-he has overheard aconversation that he will soon be sold to New Orleans.