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Civilization Vs Freedom in Huckleberry Finn

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Many people see civilization as several different things. Civilization is essentially just a person’s way of living with things like laws, culture, living habits, education, etc. Although, obviously these ideas on how people live change throughout history, one’s life, and even where in the world they live. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, there is so much to be said about civilization through many different character’s perspectives. By exploring the value of civilization in this novel, there is always pressure to live a common way in the ‘norm’ of civilization, and in this book, one of Huckleberry Finn’s adventures was to find his common way of living. He had been through many influences attempting to forcibly change him, also an unstable life for a child in the past, and finally, his adventure accompanied by an unexpected friend leading him too valuable life lessons. Huckleberry Finn’s adventure taught him many things about civilization in his time and he went beyond the ‘norm’ of common society to find his own.

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Huck does not just learn to be civilized on his own, he is forced to change by Miss Watson and Widow Douglas. While Huck is with them they try to make him more civilized. Later in the book, there is mention that Huck does not have a family so he is essentially being cared for by Widow Douglas and Miss Watson. They took Huck in and since they seem to be more civilized and proper people, they try to teach Huck the same way. Huck said that Widow called him “a poor lost lamb”(Twain 1) while he was with her. She did things like make Huck change out of his old rags that he wore to put new clothes on, made him pray, and stopped him from smoking because “it was a mean practice and wasn’t clean”(page 2). Huck complains about the clothes Widow Douglas makes him wear because they make him ‘sweat and sweat, and feel all cramped up'(page 1). Miss Watson is a maid in the eyes of Huck so she also tried to teach Huck how to spell, taught him their basic manners like “don’t put your feet up there, Huckleberry”(page 2) and “don’t scrunch up like that, Huckleberry–set up straight”(page 2), and “don’t gap and stretch like that, Huckleberry–why don’t you try to behave?”(page 2). Miss Watson and Widow Douglas “meant no harm by it”(page 1). Huck is very against becoming civilized like them because he likes his old life of freedom where he could be ‘kind of lazy and jolly, laying off comfortable all day, smoking and fishing, and no books nor studies…my clothes…all rags and dirt'(page 24), but instead while living with the Widow he “had to wash, and eat on a plate, and comb up, and go to bed and get up regular'(page 24). Although these may seem like normal things in society, Huck was not used to it and craved his freedom again. There is also a lot of Hypocrisy in the civilization that Widow Douglas is trying to set into the life of Huck. For example, the Widow forbids him from smoking but yet she does so herself. Also a much larger issue for Huck is that while the community claims to be so religious they participate in dehumanizing the black race with slavery. Huck refuses to give in to the normal ways of society as he prefers his own and realizes the discrimination between races.

In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck does not want to accept the ways of ‘civilized’ life and so he knows that it will not work for him. Huck does not agree with some of the rules and conventions of common society like religion, school, and other things pushing him to become more civilized. He feels uncomfortable in the presence of Widow Douglas when she forces her ways on him. Huck prefers to be dressed in his old rags and sugar-hogshead because he felt free and fully satisfied with his way of life. Huck had always grown up fending for himself because he was raised in the woods, not to mention he had basically raised himself because his father Pap was a drunk. The ways of civilized life never appealed to Huck because he deeply believed that his way of living was all he needed. Huck lived off of freedom and the ability to do whatever he wanted, which is why he dislikes the new rules put in place by Widow Douglas. Huck was also not one for an education because he believed the things that are found in a book at school could not help him in life and since he was raised out in the wild that is how he learns best. Huck does not want to be a part of a society where his beliefs and chosen lifestyle are not supported. Another reason civilization does not fit Hucks’s personality is his way of finding solutions to conflicts on his own, for example, his choice not to turn in Jim shows that he understands why Jim wants to escape by relating his own problems to Jims. Huck sees Jim as a friend while everyone else sees him as a slave and he knows that Jim is not treated right in this so-called ‘civilized society. In this book, Huck is someone willing to conform to his own standards rather than agreeing to the set standards of civilized society. Since Huck does not agree with the society he can view different perspectives and sympathize with classes thought to be lower than himself, such as Jim. During his quality time with Jim down the river, he learns the difference between what is morally right and wrong.

There is tons of fun adventure in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and it all started with freedom and racism. Yes, Huck and Jim’s adventure started while sailing down the Mississippi River together on a raft, and that is an adventure all in itself, but other things happened to them which brought them closer in their friendship and to their goal of freedom. For example, the steamboat separating them and getting into mischief with criminals were lessons to be learned for them. Huck always wanted a real adventure and he was tired of pretending. For Jim, this adventure was all about escaping the racism and slavery that he experienced in the town. Jim was a slave to Miss Watson and Widow Douglas and he was tired of it so he ran away. Jim’s feelings connected with Huck’s because Huck was tired of being told how to act based on the ways of society. Huck saw the discrimination against Jim because of his race and so when he had the chance to turn Jim in he decided not to because this was his chance to finally escape, he had a friend now and they were both in search of the same thing, freedom. Though Huck and Jim’s circumstances behind why they want freedom are completely different, both of them are willing to risk everything to get it. For example, Jim is escaping from the racism and slavery in the town and Huck is escaping from his drunk abusive father Pap, and the ‘civilized’ Widow Douglas. Huck escapes his father Pap, runs away from those trying to civilize and care for him, travels down the Mississippi River, and rescues Jim from slavery. From all of Huck’s experiences, he sees that society is in fact not civilized in the way they treat Jim and all black people. These events lead him to his freedom and final realization of what it truly means to be civilized.

In conclusion, Huckleberry Finn and Jim are both in search of their freedom. While on an adventure down the Mississippi River Huck learns new values in life and can sympathise with Jim about the need to escape a society full of racism, slavery, and discrimination. The influences trying to change him, his rough past as a child, and the adventure with a new friend to find the freedom he can learn from. Huck learns that the society that was once so civilized to him, in reality, was really full of power, prejudice, slavery, and privilege over the black race.

In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, there are two huge connections to How To Read Literature Like A Professor by Thomas Foster. One connection is about “If She Comes Up, It’s Baptism”. There is a connection between the river and this chapter of HTRLLAP. First off, this chapter describes that water could mean a metaphorical baptism in literature. Baptism is like someone being partially or fully immersed in water, symbolizing purification or forgiveness of some sort. The river could relate to this because both Huck and Jim are in search of their freedom and that is what this river represents, is their way to freedom. Even though they aren’t wet or being immersed in the water it is still all around them and is a symbol of freedom. Just the major involvement with the water makes this metaphorical baptism. The second connection can be made to “Every Trip Is A Quest (Except When It’s Not)”. The big quote in this chapter of HTRLLAP is “the real reason for a quest is always self-knowledge”(Foster 3). In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck and Jim are both on their quest for freedom as previously mentioned and so there must be something that Huck Finn and Jim learned during their time together on the river. Huck’s self-knowledge that he gains is that the once civilized town he lived in turns out to be discriminatory towards Jim and his race, but Jim realizes that Huck is different and can see the side of him that the others do not and this is why they can share this adventure to freedom together. Racism still goes on in our society today along with many bias judgments against people just as in Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, Victor Frankenstein’s monster is feared and judged because of his looks as one man “shrieked loudly, and quitting the hut, ran across the fields with a speed of which his debilitated form hardly seemed capable”(Shelley 108)at the sight of him, much like people see Jim as a slave by the color of his skin. Racism, bias judgments, discriminatory thoughts/actions, status, and power appear very relevant in today’s society as it always has, it is in human nature that some search for their own freedom, but some look to take others away. 

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