In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, what are some traits Mark Twain seems to admire in humans, and what are some traits he seems to hold in contempt?

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vangoghfan | College Teacher | (Level 2) Educator Emeritus

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One trait that Twain obviously admires in Huckleberry Finn is the trait of true friendship. By the same token, one trait he obviously disdains is any betrayal of friends. A particularly memorable episode concerning friendship occurs in Chapter XV, in which Huck and Jim become separated by thick fog on the river. Huck is in a canoe, while Jim is on the raft. Jim calls out desperately to Huck, hoping that Huck will be able to find the raft despite the fog. Eventually Huck does, but by this time Jim has fallen asleep. When Jim awakes and sees Huck on the raft, Jim is overcome with joy and relief at the sight of his friend:

"Goodness gracious, is dat you, Huck?  En you ain' dead—you ain' drownded—you's back agin?  It's too good for true, honey, it's too good for true. Lemme look at you chile, lemme feel o' you.  No, you ain' dead! you's back agin, 'live en soun', jis de same ole Huck—de same ole Huck, thanks to goodness!"

Clearly Twain admires Jim’s devotion to his young friend, not only in this chapter but throughout the novel. Huck, however, tries to trick Jim by pretending that he has been on the raft all along and that Jim has only imagined their separation in a dream.  Huck asks Jim if the latter has been drinking, and when Jim protests that he is not drunk, Huck calls him “a tangle-headed old fool.” Huck denies everything, including the fog and their separation, eventually managing to convince Jim that the whole episode has been a mere dream. Finally, however, Huck points to some trash on the raft – trash that makes Jim realize that the fog really had existed and that the separation really had happened and that Huck has just been deceiving Jim by pretending otherwise. Jim’s response, when Huck asks him what the trash represents or stands for, constitutes one of the most powerful scenes in all of Huckleberry Finn:

Jim looked at the trash, and then looked at me, and back at the trash again.  He had got the dream fixed so strong in his head that he couldn't seem to shake it loose and get the facts back into its place again right away.  But when he did get the thing straightened around he looked at me steady without ever smiling, and says:

"What do dey stan' for?  I'se gwyne to tell you.  When I got all wore out wid work, en wid de callin' for you, en went to sleep, my heart wuz mos' broke bekase you wuz los', en I didn' k'yer no' mo' what become er me en de raf'.  En when I wake up en fine you back agin, all safe en soun', de tears come, en I could a got down on my knees en kiss yo' foot, I's so thankful. En all you wuz thinkin' 'bout wuz how you could make a fool uv ole Jim wid a lie.  Dat truck dah is trash; en trash is what people is dat puts dirt on de head er dey fren's en makes 'em ashamed."

Then he got up slow and walked to the wigwam, and went in there without saying anything but that.  But that was enough.  It made me feel so mean I could almost kissed his foot to get him to take it back.

Here Huck learns one of the deepest lessons this novel teaches: that true friendship is a key human value – a value that transcends almost all other distinctions, especially distinctions of race. Of all the characters in the book, Jim is consistently the truest friend, and thus he is consistently the greatest object of Twain's sincerest admiration.