The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, written by Mark Twain, mainly takes place on the Mississippi River, as Huck and Jim pursue their freedom. They persevere through many obstacles and learn life lessons along the way. Twain uses these characters to depict the significance of friendship over society’s moral structure. He demonstrates characteristics of both Romanticism and Realism in his novel to express his ideas of that time period. Romanticism is based on the importance of feelings, imagination and individual creativity, whilst Realism is intended to portray the lives of the common man, the ethical struggles and social issues of real-life situations. Huckleberry Finn is essentially a Realistic novel because of Twain’s careful detail in the descriptions of the setting and characters. He does this to make it as close as possible to the actual surroundings and events of the time period. Throughout his novel, Twain uses Romanticism primarily within the character, Tom Sawyer. Sawyer is an adventurous romantic that comes up with all sorts of plans and ideas, mainly from books that he’s read. Tom finds inspiration in these myths, and conveys them into his own elaborate schemes.
When Tom and Huck are trying to rescue Jim, Huck proposes a plan, but is rejected by Tom: “Work? Why, cert’nly it would work, like rats a-fighting. But it’s too blame’ simple; there ain’t nothing to it. What’s the good of a plan that ain’t no more trouble than that?”(327). Twain shows how Tom drags everything out, just to make it more fun or adventurous, while Huck just wants to get the job done. As the novel progresses, Huck learns that feelings triumph over reason and the beliefs of society. Towards the end of the book, Huck is faced with a difficult decision. He is torn by his friendship for Jim and the belief that helping a runaway slave is a sin. He decides to write a letter to Miss Watson, explaining where Jim is, but isn’t satisfied: “All right, then, I’ll go to hell”(304). Although Huck believes that it’s a sin to help a runaway slave, he puts his feelings for Jim first, and decides that he’ll do anything to help him. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain displays Realism in many aspects of his writing; the description of the setting and characters, and how the characters communicate.
He reveals how Huck’s moral conflict with those of the society around him. Twain satirizes this society, and mocks the hypocrisy of people involved in Romanticism. He also illustrates how Huck forms moral beliefs during a difficult time of his life. Twain primarily displays realistic qualities throughout his novel, by using various elements such as the characters’ dialect and how their speech is written. He realistically uses these dialects in grammar and word choice, and also in the characters that display them. Less educated characters like Jim speak using slang: “Say, who is you? Whar is you? Dog my cats ef I didn’ hear sumf’n. Well, I know what I’s gwyne to do: I’s gwyne to set down here and listen tell I hears it ag’in”(5). Twain uses proper dialect to fit the character, time period and location to emphasize that this novel is truly that of a Realistic one. As the novel progresses, Twain utilizes the idea of the Romantic Hero while using satire to mock Tom Sawyer, proving further that Huckleberry Finn is primarily a Realistic novel.
When trying to rescue Jim, Huck believes that they should take the more efficient path, but Tom responds: “Well, hain’t you ever read any books at all? – Baron Trenck, nor Casanora, nor Benvenuto Chelleeny, nor Henri IV, nor none of them heroes?”(335). Tom devises a complicated plan that is so difficult to fulfill, that even he gives up on certain parts, and merely pretends that he is doing them. Even worse, Jim eventually gets out of prison and ends up helping Tom make the preparations for his own escape. Furthermore, he connects with the reader by providing examples of issues that occur in real-life situations. Twain also satirizes religion, and the way that people seem to outdo themselves in public, but disregard those religious values when they aren’t beneficial to them. In the novel, the Grangerfords and the Shepardsons, two rivaling families, provide a necessary example of this religious hypocrisy.
When these families go to church, “the men took their guns along, and kept them between their knees or stood them handy against the wall. The Shepherdsons done the same” (109). Although the families are in church, they still don’t trust each other. Also, after agreeing that the sermon on brotherly love was a good one, the two families go out and continue fighting each other. In the beginning of the novel, Pap tries to prevent Huck from going to school, because he feels as if Huck is trying to be better than him. While Pap, being a romantic, distrusts progress, Huck seems to look towards progress, even though he does this only to spite Pap. Nevertheless, Huck continues to go to school: “He catched me a couple of times and trashed me, but I went to school just the same, and dodged him or outrun him most of the time”(33). Because of Huck’s negligence, Pap hunts him down, and disciplines Huck with regular beatings.
Twain demonstrates how Huck matures throughout the book, and how his character changes. In the beginning, Huck believes that slaves are inferior, but grows fond of Jim, and changes his thinking to that of a real human being; caring and compassionate. He stops playing degrading tricks on Jim, and treats him with more respect. Also, when Huck begins to feel guilty about freeing Jim, he decides against returning Jim. Through this, Huck shows that he is willing to defy God to do what he feels is right. Huck transforms from being a troublemaker that idolizes Tom Sawyer, to a boy that can think for himself, and understand the difference between right and wrong.