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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

by Mark Twain

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Satire In Huckleberry Finn

Define the term satire and cite at least four examples from the The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Satire is the use of humor or irony to point out individual or societal weaknesses or flaws. Four examples of satire in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are the feud between the Grangerfords and Shepherdsons, King's swindling of the congregation, Tom Sawyer's "freeing" of Jim, and Huck's tricking of the slave-hunters.

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Twain satirizes the various ways morality in the pre–Civil War South was twisted to serve the needs of the powerful.

At the center of novel is Huck's moral struggle with his role in helping Jim to escape slavery. Rather than clearly discerning that slavery is a terrible evil, Huck has internalized the values of white Southern culture. According to these, abetting freeing a slave is a more terrible sin than slavery. In a pivotal scene in the novel, Huck's love of Jim, who has been much more of a caring father figure to him than his real father ever was, creates the struggle against his conviction that he must do the "right" thing and turn Jim in so as not to injure Miss Watson's economic interests. When he decides to continue to help Jim, Huck ironically believes he has made the immoral choice and will likely be condemned to hell.

In an attack on religious hypocrisy, Twain presents us with the feuding Grangerfords and Shepherdsons. Both families believe themselves to be good Christians and refined, cultured, and moral people with the gentlest of manners, but both own slaves. Both families attend church faithfully but do so with their guns in hand, oblivious to the central Christian message of loving one's enemies. Both families live with an outer veneer of culture and morality while ignoring all the significant ways their lives are immoral.

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Huck's education is satired, to some extent, in the novel.

Huck informs Jim of a number of ideas he has come across in school, most of which are erroneous. His sense of history is way, way off, yet he is identified early on in the novel as being "educated". 

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Satire can be very persuasive.  One of the things that makes Huck Finn so endearing is that it is funny while covering a very serious topic.  The funniest parts involve the feud, the king and the duke, and Tom Sawyer's escape plan that never was.  Yet all are also serious topics.

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Mark Twain clearly satirizes the hypocrisy of the "good adults" with whom Huck comes into contact.  For instance, Miss Watson preaches honesty to Huck,  but her promise to Jim to never sell him South is broken.  Apparently a good, kindly man, the Reverend Phelps purchases Jim in the hope of receiving a monetary reward.  Others in Twain's "Mississippi society" are hypocritical.  When two slave-hunters approach Huck's raft, he keeps them at bay by telling them that he and his family have smallpox.  Rather than being charitable and offer help to the family, the men try to buy them off and send them elsewhere. 

Twain continues his attack upon hypocrisy as he relates the encounter of Huck with the feuding family of Shepherdson, a murdering family who stop break from feuding and attend church on Sunday, but still carry their guns.  With the tale of this family, Twain also satirizes the foolishness of so-called educated people in the episode of the feud of the Grangerfords and Shepherdsons. A modern "Romeo and Juliet" family-feud, Twain puts his ironic...

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twist on this feud by having the lovers be the only ones who survive.  Thus, the families have destroyed themselves because of foolish pride and absolutely ridiculous behavior since no one in the Shepherdsons "can recall why the family is at war."

Another escapade occurs when the King cheats a congregation out of money, but when caught, his alibi about having been a pirate and wishing to convert his bretheren is ludicrous; however, at the revival meeting the people are so overcome by the emotionalism of the meeting.  They feel the "love of God" and become so guillible that they donate the money to the King.  Here Twain ridicules the religious zealots, a reiteration of his attack on religion is the first part of the novel when Huck says that praying is fun.

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Satire is defined as "the use of humor and wit with a critical attitude, irony, sarcasm, or ridicule for exposing or denouncing the frailties and faults of mankind’s activities and institutions, such as folly, stupidity, or vice." Twain's uses satire to ridicule many things in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn". One of his favorite targets is the idea of Romanticism, The character of Tom Sawyer is used to represent many of the weaknesses Twain saw in the Romantic view of life. For instance, at the beginning of the novel, Twain satirizes the hypocrisy of some romantic using Tom's gang, The boys will supposedly rob, steal, and murder each day but Sunday, because that's the day they go to church.

At the beginning of their journey down the Mississippi, Huck and Jim come across a wrecked steamboat named the 'Walter Scott". Scott was a very popular romantic author, notes especially for his novel "Ivanhoe". By describing the Walter Scott as "wrecked", Twain is implying that romantic ideals are also "wrecked" and dysfunctional. During the Grangerford episode, Twain sharply criticizes romantic ideals using the feud between the Grangerfords and Shepherdsons. He shows the danger inherent in Romantic chivalry when Huck's new friend, Buck, is savagely killed because of a feud whose cause no one can remember . Finally, the adventurous ideals of Romanticism are satirized at the end of the novel when Tom Sawyer returns and wants to make a adventurous game of setting Jim free. Tom is almost killed and Jim is almost lynched as a result of Tom's actions. In addition, we find that Tom has been extremely selfish because he has known all the time that Jim is already free. Tom just wants adventure and doesn't seem to care he is interfering with a man's life.

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