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Essay/Term paper: The adventures of huckleberry finn: early influences on huckleberry finn

Essay, term paper, research paper:  Huckleberry Finn

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Early Influences on Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel about a
young boy's coming of age in the Missouri of the mid-1800's. The main character,
Huckleberry Finn, spends much time in the novel floating down the Mississippi
River on a raft with a runaway slave named Jim. Before he does so, however, Huck
spends some time in the fictional town of St. Petersburg where a number of
people attempt to influence him.
Before the novel begins, Huck Finn has led a life of absolute
freedom. His drunken and often missing father has never paid much attention to
him; his mother is dead and so, when the novel begins, Huck is not used to
following any rules. The book's opening finds Huck living with the Widow
Douglas and her sister, Miss Watson. Both women are fairly old and are really
somewhat incapable of raising a rebellious boy like Huck Finn. Nevertheless,
they attempt to make Huck into what they believe will be a better boy.
Specifically, they attempt, as Huck says, to "sivilize" him. This process
includes making Huck go to school, teaching him various religious facts, and
making him act in a way that the women find socially acceptable. Huck, who has
never had to follow many rules in his life, finds the demands the women place
upon him constraining and the life with them lonely. As a result, soon after he
first moves in with them, he runs away. He soon comes back, but, even though he
becomes somewhat comfortable with his new life as the months go by, Huck never
really enjoys the life of manners, religion, and education that the Widow and
her sister impose upon him.
Huck believes he will find some freedom with Tom Sawyer. Tom is a
boy of Huck's age who promises Huck and other boys of the town a life of
adventure. Huck is eager to join Tom Sawyer's Gang because he feels that doing
so will allow him to escape the somewhat boring life he leads with the Widow
Douglas. Unfortunately, such an escape does not occur. Tom Sawyer promises
much--robbing stages, murdering and ransoming people, kidnaping beautiful women-
-but none of this comes to pass. Huck finds out too late that Tom's adventures
are imaginary: that raiding a caravan of "A-rabs" really means terrorizing
young children on a Sunday school picnic, that stolen "joolry" is nothing more
than turnips or rocks. Huck is disappointed that the adventures Tom promises
are not real and so, along with the other members, he resigns from the gang.
Another person who tries to get Huckleberry Finn to change is Pap,
Huck's father. Pap is one of the most astonishing figures in all of American
literature as he is completely antisocial and wishes to undo all of the
civilizing effects that the Widow and Miss Watson have attempted to instill in
Huck. Pap is a mess: he is unshaven; his hair is uncut and hangs like vines in
front of his face; his skin, Huck says, is white like a fish's belly or like a
tree toad's. Pap's savage appearance reflects his feelings as he demands that
Huck quit school, stop reading, and avoid church. Huck is able to stay away
from Pap for a while, but Pap kidnaps Huck three or four months after Huck
starts to live with the Widow and takes him to a lonely cabin deep in the
Missouri woods. Here, Huck enjoys, once again, the freedom that he had prior to
the beginning of the book. He can smoke, "laze around," swear, and, in general,
do what he wants to do. However, as he did with the Widow and with Tom, Huck
begins to become dissatisfied with this life. Pap is "too handy with the
hickory" and Huck soon realizes that he will have to escape from the cabin if he
wishes to remain alive. As a result of his concern, Huck makes it appear as if
he is killed in the cabin while Pap is away, and leaves to go to a remote island
in the Mississippi River, Jackson's Island.
It is after he leaves his father's cabin that Huck joins yet another
important influence in his life: Miss Watson's slave, Jim. Prior to Huck's
leaving, Jim has been a minor character in the novel--he has been shown being
fooled by Tom Sawyer and telling Huck's fortune. Huck finds Jim on Jackson's
Island because the slave has run away--he has overheard a conversation that he
will soon be sold to New Orleans. Soon after joining Jim on Jackson's Island,
Huck begins to realize that Jim has more talents and intelligence than Huck has
been aware of. Jim knows "all kinds of signs" about the future, people's
personalities, and weather forecasting. Huck finds this kind of information
necessary as he and Jim drift down the Mississippi on a raft. As important,
Huck feels a comfort with Jim that he has not felt with the other major
characters in the novel. With Jim, Huck can enjoy the best aspects of his
earlier influences. As does the Widow, Jim allows Huck security, but Jim is not
as confining as is the Widow. Like Tom Sawyer, Jim is intelligent but his
intelligence is not as intimidating or as imaginary as is Tom's. As does Pap,
Jim allows Huck freedom, but he does it in a loving, rather than an uncaring,
fashion. Thus, early, in their relationship on Jackson's Island, Huck says to
Jim, "This is nice. I wouldn't want to be nowhere else but here." This feeling
is in marked contrast with Huck's feelings concerning other people in the early
part of the novel where he always is uncomfortable and wishes to leave them.
At the conclusion of chapter 11 in The Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn, Huck and Jim are forced to leave Jackson's Island because Huck discovers
that people are looking for the runaway slave. Prior to leaving, Huck tells Jim,
"They're after us." Clearly, the people are after Jim, but Huck has already
identified with Jim and has begun to care for him. This stated empathy shows
that the two outcasts will have a successful and rewarding friendship as they
drift down the river as the novel continues.


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