Analysis of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from a Moral Approach

Essay, 2016

8 Pages, Grade: A


‘Man is the only Slave. And he is the only animal who enslaves. He has always been a slave in one form or another, and has always held other slaves in bondage under him in one way or another. In our day he is always some man's slave for wages, and does that man's work; and this slave has other slaves under him for minor wages, and they do his work. The higher animals are the only ones who exclusively do their own work and provide their own living.’ The greed for power has its roots in human nature. Some people would do anything to accumulate power for themselves. They wouldn’t hesitate to take advantage of other people in order to achieve their goals. They would make no bones about their feelings. They don’t care if they hurt others, because they don’t consider them to be equal. The only thing they care about is power. Only the best one can survive in this world, but they need those people to secure that power for themselves. They need to fool them, to persuade them about their inferiority and uselessness. My question is: How many lives must be taken to realize that it isn’t the way we should follow? Looking down on people, using them for our own success and teaching that new generations will bring just unhappiness and suffering. In this essay I would like to point out some reasons for keeping other people in bondage and justification of this practice, as well as on moral values which are violented by such a practise.

In this essay I want to prove the moral value of the book ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’. According to moral approach literature and study of literature teach us the most fundamental, essential values of human moral. In the centre is the nature of man. It doesn’t consider literature to be just art, but it concentrates on the didactic function of literature. Some philosophers believed that literature can foster virtue. It is a source of moral and spiritual inspiration. Thank to literature we can become better people.

Mark Twain is a penname for Samuel Langhorne Clemens, one of America’s greatest authors. He treated in his novels many burning problems of his time. One of them was slavery. Mark Twain grew up in a slave state Missouri. He admitted that as a schoolboy he had no aversion to slavery. He didn’t know there was anything wrong about it. He was a child, who could not review the situation. He only knew what adults told him. In that time preachers assured that God approved slavery and the evidence can be found in the Bible. Even his uncle possessed 20 slaves. He had a first-hand experience of slavery. He also became a witness of several brutal murders of slaves which were committed by the slave’s owners. On the other hand Mark Twain was witness of his mother’s sympathy for a little slave boy, who was working for his family. She called the boy poor thing and she felt pity for him, because he would never see his mother again. She explained these facts to Mark and he was never mean to the little boy again. In his former behaviour he copied the behaviour patterns he saw by adults. That is why, he did not question the dominant ideas of his childhood. Thanks to his mother’s explanation, little Mark started to sympathize with this boy. He wasn’t able to see that his former behaviour was bad until his mother had explained it to him. Later on, he married Olivia Langdon, who came from an abolitionist family. Through her family he met activists who fought for women's rights and social equality.

Racism was defined as a belief that all members of each race dispose of particular characteristics, abilities or qualities, which are specific to that race. Some people are persuaded that it is more than just a sociological phenomenon. It is a religious faith in which differences are emphasized rather than similarities.

Prejudices were present in our society since the existence of human race. The great Greek philosopher Aristotle believed in ‘natural slaves’, it means that some people are slaves by nature, while the others by law or convention. However, the obvious boom of the racism was observed in the 19. century, when Charles Darwin’s evolutionary studies were published. He believed that some races are superior to the others. Such thoughts led to one of the greatest disasters in human history. The hatred towards other races caused the World War II, which is known as the mass killing of Jews – Holocaust. And which social group supported the patriotic ideas the most? Young unexperienced people, who cannot judge by an objective experience. Those children and teenagers who rely on adults, because they know better than they do. The attempt for master and ideal race failed, but its impact is visible till present days. We were all marked by these events, which has shown that human mind always be susceptible to manipulation and prejudices against people, who are different. Appearance doesn’t have to be the main reason for bias, but it is unconditionally evident and the most serious one.

But not only Europe has witnessed the evils of racism – prejudices, misuse, racial hatred and death. In America racial misunderstandings led to an armed conflict as well. The Civil War took place in 1861 and it lasted four years. It was an important event in American history, which determined what kind of nation America would be. The North with its ideas of freedom and equality gained the victory. The chains, in which African Americans were tied up, were broken. African Americans didn’t have to perform their duties on large plantations anymore, while somebody else directed and oversaw them. They were freed, but were they truly free? Although the victory of the North put an end to the slavery and it became illegal. Mark Twain once wrote that Lincoln's Proclamation did not only set the Black slaves free, but set the white man free also. In my opinion he meant that white people were free from the sin they were committing. However, the battle wasn’t over yet. Prejudices survived and it took long time till the final victory was claimed over racial discrimination. Many people had to face injustice, had to suffer, had to be punished till African Americans received the same rights as the white citizens. This episode of American history is known as the Civil Rights movement, which ended segregation and started the process of integration of African Americans. Inequality remains. Although Barack Obama was the first African American who was elected to the presidential office of the United States, there are still many others African Americans who earn less than white people, even if they have the same education. Many black families live from hand to mouth.

Furthermore, we shape minds of next generations, of young people. We should serve as a good example for them. We should teach them what is right and what is not as fair. Children learn from our behaviour schemes, they try to copy our opinions, our behaviour and our manners. Their sense for distinguishing between good and bad is still developing. We should think whether we wish for an enlightened generation or a generation liable to racial hatred, which can be easily manipulated. (It was according to the old saying ‘Give a nigger an inch and he’ll take an ell.’)

The book ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ appeared two decades after the slavery in America was abolished. In that period the former slaves were free, but they didn’t have the same rights as the white people and the oppression of the blacks continued. Especially in the South new racist laws were enacted, even though slavery itself was outlawed. The power of blacks was limited and people still didn’t accepted them. The plot of ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ took place in the town Hannibal and on the River Mississippi. The period before the Civil War is depicted. The main character Huckleberry Finn floats down the River Mississippi with a runaway slave Jim. The book wasn’t accepted in the time of its publication. Its content was considered to be a very controversial. So the book was banned for coarse language and low moral tone.

New freedom, which former slaves received, didn’t save them from being oppressed. The Reconstruction period didn’t improved their social status and conditions, in which they lived. The book might not depict only local conditions before the Civil War, but it might highlight the situation which followed – the new kind of oppression during the Reconstruction period. This might be the reason, why the ban was imposed on this book. It is too provocative and too true. On the first sight the book might seem to be racist – racial prejudice and stereotypes can be found in many chapters. On the contrary the legacy of ‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ is anti-slavery. The reader must distinguish between what is actually said and what is actually meant. During Huckleberry’s journey down the River Mississippi different types of social and personal slavery are shown. It is beyond doubts that the book puts many questions. Whether it is possible for human being to be a part of society without being influenced and misled by its moral, more precisely, amoral principles. One of the striking motifs is looking for liberation of all types of slavery, which present obstacles for seeing the true nature of things, phenomena and even people. Is it possible to bring our conscience with social beliefs in accordance? How to keep clear conscience, when society operates on wrong stereotypes and how to soothe following compunctions?

As mentioned above, children can hardly judge things. In their judgement they follow social conventions and beliefs. That is the reason, why Huckleberry considered Jim to be a great problem, when he met him, after he had escaped from his abusive father. He promised Jim his loyalty, but soon enough he realized he had done a serious mistake. (‘Well, dey’s reasons. But you wouldn’ tell on me ef I ‘uz to tell you, would you, Huck?’ ‘Blamed if I would, Jim.’ ‘Well, I b’lieve you, Huck. I-I run off.’) This mistake could destroy his own future, in case that somebody would find out he was helping an escaped slave. Huckleberry would be reckoned Jim’s accomplice. People would call him a low-down Abolitionist – name for person who is in favour of abolition of slavery. On the one hand he is afraid, what would happen, if somebody learnt the truth, on the other hand he doesn’t want to denounce Jim. He even lied when it is needed, in order to protect Jim. (‘He’s white.’ ‘I reckon we’ll go and see for ourselves.’ ‘I wish you would,’ says I, ‘because it’s pap that’s there, and maybe you’d help me tow the raft ashore where the light is. He’s sick – and so is mam and Mary Ann.) In those times it was bigger crime to help a slave, to hide him, to shelter him or to give him food, than to steal something. Those people who helped to return a slave were offered generous rewards and slave stealers were branded, could lose their property or had to serve a jail sentence. The worst form of punishment represented execution for those slave stealers who gave weapons to slaves during the journey. We can hardly imagine how difficult it must have been for Huckleberry to decide Jim’s accompany. How would you decide if you were Huckleberry? He bore the responsibility for his decision, maybe he was afraid, but he did the right thing.


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Analysis of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from a Moral Approach
Matej Bel University in Banská Bystrica
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ISBN (eBook)
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analysis, adventures, huckleberry, finn, moral, approach
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Bc. Iveta Mašlonková (Author), 2016, Analysis of the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from a Moral Approach, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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