How does Huck's moral character change throughout The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and what are some examples of his moral dilemmas ?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

As a novel of maturation, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn depicts Huck's moral growth from that of a boy who is only concerned with his desires into a young man who feels a responsibility towards others.

Here are examples of moral dilemmas that help to bring about Huck's character development:

—Huck runs away from his father but pretends to be dead; otherwise, Pap will keep looking for him.

Moral dilemma: Huck knows that it is wrong to pretend to be dead because the news will hurt the people who care about him, but he feels he cannot do otherwise and be safe. After some time, Huck sees smoke and happens upon Jim, who has run away from Miss Watson. Huck decides not to turn him in when Jim tells him the reason for his escape. Having run away himself, Huck becomes sympathetic to Jim's problems.

—Later, Huck faces another difficult decision as he and Jim climb onto a steamboat that had "killed herself on a rock." Jim does not want to go aboard for fear there is a watchman, but Huck feels that there might be something they can use, so he climbs on board, and the conflicted Jim soon follows. Then, they overhear a man begging two other men to spare his life. The other two men confer and decide against shooting him; they choose to let the man go down with the sinking ship instead. Since Huck and Jim have lost their raft, they use the men's skiff to depart. After they leave, Huck feels some uncertainty about stranding the men on the ship, but he thinks "it warnt no time to be sentimentering."

Moral dilemma:  Later, however, he starts to consider some things as Jim rows while they search for the raft.

I begun to think how dreadful it was, even for murderers, to be in such a fix. I says to myself, there ain't no telling but I might come to be a murderer myself, yet, and then how would I like it? (Ch. 13)

Finally, Huck decides that he will send someone back to the wreck as soon as he finds another ship. However, a storm rolls in, and they have to wait until it abates. Having located the raft, they transfer the supplies from the skiff to the raft, and Huck goes to find someone. When Huck finds a ferryboat, he fabricates a tale about his aunt's having been stranded on the Walter Scott because the boat she was in "saddlebagged" in the storm, so the woman grabbed the side of the wreck and climbed aboard. Huck tells the man that no one answered his and the others' calls for help; consequently, he swam ashore to seek help.

Huck returns to the skiff, bails it out, and watches to be sure the man with the ferry-boat starts out. Huck feels good about having tried to save the men, and he wishes the widow could see him.

She would be proud of me for helping these rapscallions, because rapscallions and dead beats is the kind the widow and good people takes the most interest in. (Ch. 13)

—As Huck and Jim continue their journey on the Mississippi River, they start to approach the Ohio River, which will take them to a free state. One night the fog is so thick that the travelers decide to tie up the raft. However, when Huck paddles ahead in the canoe with the line to make fast the raft, he is unable to tie it to some saplings, because strong currents cause this raft to have so much force that it pulls up the sapling. Consequently, Huck and Jim get separated. When Huck finally makes it back to the raft, he finds Jim asleep. After Jim awakens, he is elated that the boy is safe; however, Huck cannot resist pretending to Jim that there was no fog and Jim has merely dreamed that Huck was lost. So, Jim feels he must interpret his "dream." He says that the towheads he saw were symbolic of troubles and other experiences they have had on their journey. But, it is not long before Jim notices the debris on the raft, along with the shattered oar, both of which indicate that the raft was lost on the river. Realizing that he has been tricked, Jim scolds Huck, telling him how his heart was broken when he thought that Huck was lost. When he awoke, he cried in happiness at the sight of the boy, but, he says, Huck was only thinking, "How you could make a fool uv old Jim wid a lie. Dat truck [trick] dah is trash; en trash is what people is dat puts dirt on de head er dey fren's en makes 'em ashamed."

Moral dilemma: After his scolding, Huck feels ashamed of himself for having frightened Jim so much and for tricking the man who loves him. "It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a [slave]—but I done it, and I warn't ever sorry for it afterward, neither." (Ch. 31) Huck resolves never to play any more tricks on Jim.

stolperia eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Having been raised in a state that accepted slavery as the proper relationship between whites and blacks, Huck's morals at the beginning of the book see no reason for concern about Miss Watson's ownership of Jim or the ways in which he and Tom treat Jim. He assumed it was perfectly normal to treat him as a piece of property, to play tricks on him for their own amusement, to expect him to do all the hard work.

As Huck and Jim travel down the river and share adventures, Huck comes to see things differently. He finds out that Jim has useful knowledge that makes their camping on the island more comfortable. He discovers that Jim has deep feelings for his family and grieves when he considers that he likely will never see them again. Huck finds himself recognizing all the kindnesses Jim does for him, the ways in which Jim takes care of him and considers him a friend.

Huck discovers he has come to think of Jim as a person, not a slave. He fights the realization, without success.

I was trying to make my mouth say I would do the right thing and the clean thing, and go and write to that nigger's owner and tell where he was; but deep down in me I knowed it was a lie-and He knowed it.

Huck finally concludes he can't betray Jim. "I would go to work and steal Jim out of slavery again." His morals can no longer accept the enslavement of his friend.

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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