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Twain, through this novel, reveals a boy’s initiation into manhood. Huck’s existence on the raft teaches him about life as it really is. Whenever he goes on shore, he sees the cruelty of society and man’s inhumanity to his fellow man. When he returns to the raft, he feels the peace of nature and the nobility of the black slave that shares his journey.
Southern society has taught Huck that slaves are sub-human creatures with no feelings, only a piece of property to be bought and sold. At the beginning of the novel, Huck buys into this philosophy without question. He cannot believe that he is helping “a nigger” escape to freedom. It is against everything he has been taught (and he knows Tom Sawyer could never do it.)
Huck is amazed to learn that Jim cares deeply about his family, just as a white person cares for his (and more than Pap ever cared for Huck.) He is even more amazed that Jim can have his feelings hurt when Huck plays a trick on him. He never believed that Blacks had feelings. But every time that Huck goes on shore, he loses some of his innocence; he begins to understand the hypocrisy of society. He sees the Grangerfords killed by the Shephardsons, and he sees the Duke and Dauphin easily dupe the townspeople out of their money.
Instinctively, Huck realizes that Jim is wiser and worth more than many of the white people on shore. When he is forced to make a decision about turning Jim in or standing by him, Huck decides not to betray his friend, even if it is against everything he has been taught by society and even if he goes to hell for it. By the end of the novel, Huck knows for sure than he cannot fit into the civilized way of life or partake in the hypocrisy of society. He knows himself well enough to realize he must move on. As a result, at the end of the novel, he sets out for new lands to the west, seeking a place that offers truth and freedom.
Mark Twain’s attitude toward racism in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not entirely obvious. He develops his view through satire and humor. Throughout the book, Twain implies that racism is simply a part of southern society at that time and while it is not to be condoned, it must understood and accepted. For example, the continual use of the word “nigger” in the book accustoms the reader to the southern attitude of racial superiority. After a short amount of time, the reader is no longer shocked and outraged at the use of the word and begins to understand the situation and culture in which the book is set. Also, Twain uses Huck’s morality to express his opinions.
On pages 212-214, Huck begins to experience an internal struggle. He is confused because his entire life he has been taught that slaves are nothing more than property, yet Jim seems to be more than that, serving as both friend and a surrogate father to Huck during their journey. Huck’s conscience is nagging at him, convinced that he has betrayed Miss Watson, yet he can’t seem to find the courage to abandon Jim after all they’ve gone through together. Finally, at the end of the book, the racism that was so common previously seems to soften and fade.
Once Jim is freed, there is no apparent resentment or opposition against him. He is welcomed into the Phelps’ home as an important guest and is treated with courtesy and respect. The same man that was chained with just bread and water to eat now dines with the family and has few worries. Twain refuses to altogether judge the attitude and actions of the characters with regard to racism, and instead considers it a ‘necessary evil.’