How are the women in Huck Finn's life alike in the role they play in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

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stolperia's profile pic

stolperia | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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The main women in Huck's life all fulfill the same basic role, trying to "civilize" Huck - all without success. Starting with the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson and continuing right on through to Aunt Sally and Aunt Polly, they all attempted to act as the mother-figure that Huck didn't have and to bring him to a different way of life.

The Widow Douglas, she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me

Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can't stand it. I been there before.

Sophia Grangerford and the three Wilks sisters (Mary Jane, Susan and Joanna) are lesser characters in the story, but do fulfill a different role for women. All were young and under the care of family members, but all were also independent enough to make decisions and take action without consulting their elders. Huck admired their ability to shape their lives themselves - as he did with his own way of life.


booboosmoosh's profile pic

booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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In Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, to my mind, most of the women are not terribly strong in character or intelligence, except for Mary Jane, and the minor character of Mrs. Judith Loftus.

We can credit the Widow Douglas with being a "decent" person in taking Huck in, but in trying to "sivilize" him, she does not know much about attempting to change one's character, as seen with her "failure" with Huck. At the end of the novel, Huck chooses to travel down the river, rather than returning to the Widow Douglas. Huck wants to “light out for the territory ahead of the rest” which indicates that her kind of "civilizing" isn't for him.

When Huck thinks of the Widow, he admits that her expectations of him wore at him (were "raspy"), but that she was his idea of a decent woman. I think it is important to remember that Huck thinks he is a "low-down" person because he believes it is wrong to wish Jim free. Huck, ironically, is Twain's hero in that he does not accept the biases of society; but Huck is highly critical of himself. So we can perhaps question the "true" goodness of the Widow—and if nothing else, how "good" she is for him.

We don't meet Miss Emmeline Grangerford as she is dead when Huck meets up with the family, but she was a young woman who seems to have been excessively morbid in her poetry and art work. While Huck admires the work she left behind, we find that she was not interested in poetry or drawing for the sake of the art…"just so it was sadful."

Miss Watson is a highly religious woman, but hypocritical in her belief that she can righteously own and sell another human being (Jim). We may be able to forgive her in that after Jim runs away and before she dies, she feels badly in how she has treated him, setting Jim free in her will.

Aunt Sally Phelps (Tom's aunt) is particularly gullible as Tom, in particular, takes advantage of her seeming naivete and/or perhaps her lack of intelligence. Huck feels bad about misleading Aunt Sally (who believes Huck is Tom), but Tom—the thoughtless young man that he is—thinks nothing of lying outright to his aunt (who think he is his cousin Sid). They almost have Aunt Sally jumping through hoops, and Huck finds later that it is all for Tom's entertainment. Aunt Sally doesn't have a clue.

On the other hand, Mrs. Loftus is very smart. Whereas Aunt Sally would never have caught on, Mrs. Loftus shrewdly discerns that Huck is not a girl when he shows up at her home dressed as one— looking for information about his "murder." She watches how he threads a needle, notices his good aim when trying to kill a rat, and that he throws his legs together to catch something in his lap, rather than opening them to let the skirt catch it for him. She never gets the truth of Huck's identity from him, but Mrs. Loftus is extremely observant and seemingly intelligent.

Lastly, Mary Jane Wilks, one of the sisters that the King and Duke try to rob of their inheritance, is kind and trusting, and is at first taken in by the King and the Duke. However, when Huck tells her what the two con men are up to, she is quick to follow Huck's directions in finding a way to "save the farm," so to speak, catch the King and the Duke, and allow Huck to escape from the men unharmed. She even agrees to defend Huck if he is caught by the law. Mary Jane is a quick-study in understanding Huck's plans, and a woman of her word in that she keeps Huck's revelations to herself as promised.

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