Throughout The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, what does Huck struggle with emotionally?

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price7781 | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Associate Educator

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Throughout the novel, Huck struggles with what society says he should do.  From the very beginning, Huck has been asked to conform to the values and beliefs society thinks is right.  For example, when he goes to live with the Widow Douglas, she expects him to go to school, go to church, and to dress up.  Because Huck has been an orphan for most of his life, he fights against this “sivilizing” of him.  When he begins to feel restricted, he runs away from society to the primitive woods he loves so much.  We see this struggle with society’s expectations throughout the entire novel. One thing that Twain does as a clever device to show this conflict is whenever Huck goes on shore, he changes identity.  He becomes a girl, a boy with a Pa with small pox, the orphan, Jack, with the Grangerfords. Twain is suggesting that Huck can’t be his true self with society, and it is only on the river that he is the happy, content Huck. 

Probably the biggest emotional conflict Huck experiences is whether or not to turn in Jim as a runaway slave.  Huck is continuously involved in this internal conflict because he knows he is breaking the Fugitive Slave Act that says all runaway slaves must be returned to their owners.  Huck, however, is beginning to see Jim as a friend and father figure as they make their way down the river.  There are several instances when Huck almost turns in Jim, like to the slave hunters, but he doesn’t.  At the end of the second episode with the King and the Duke, Huck writes a letter to Miss Watson telling her that he has Jim.  However, he tears it up before sending it saying he will “go to hell” for saving Jim from a life of slavery.  As readers, we realize the dramatic irony of Huck saying he will go to hell.  Even though Huck thinks he is doing the wrong thing because society says it is wrong, we, as readers, understand that he is really doing the right thing by embracing anti-slavery sentiments with Jim. 

The main emotional conflicts Huck experiences throughout the novel involve the pressures society puts on him to conform to values, beliefs, and laws of a system in which Huck does not belong.  Huck is an individual who finds his own voice, and at the end of the novel Huck decides to “light out” to the western territories to escape society.

p.s.  "Sivilizing" is Huck's word, and it is ironic that Twain misspells it in the novel because as Huck looks at society, he doesn't see them as "civilized."

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