As Huck and Jim begin their travels together, how do the descriptions of natural settings (the cave, the storm, the animals on the island) contrast with the descriptions of town life earlier in the...

As Huck and Jim begin their travels together, how do the descriptions of natural settings (the cave, the storm, the animals on the island) contrast with the descriptions of town life earlier in the novel, or the man-made features (i.e. the cabin) in Chapter 9 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Chapter 9 of Huckleberry Finn, Twain commences his main theme of Nature/"Natural Living" vs. Living within Society.

It is with pictorial description that Twain sets up the contrast between the natural life and that of society. After Huck escapes from his Pap and feigns his death, he rows away in the moonlit night, stopping at Jackson's Island. The next day as he explores the island, Huck happens upon Jim. Although happy to see him, Huck is rather disconcerted when he learns that Jim has escaped in order to avoid being sold "down the river" to New Orleans.

Since they are now both fugitives, Huck and Jim seek a hiding place and discover a large cavern inside a steep ridge. After they camouflage the canoe in the thick willows, they enter this cavern. Not long after they have spread their blankets and arranged other belongings, a summer storm of strong winds and lightning and thunder begins. However, Huck describes this wild storm as "lovely":

...the rain would thrash along by so thick that the trees...looked dim and spider-webby; and here would come a blast of wind that would bend the trees down and turn up the pale underside of the leaves; and then a perfect ripper of a gust would follow along and set the branches to tossing their arms as if they was just wild; and next when it was just about the bluest and blackest--fst! It was as bright as glory....

Clearly, Huck delights in the majesty, power and awe-inspiring beauty of nature. Further, he describes the "rabbits, and snakes, and such things" on the flooded island as tame because they are starved. Huck realizes they are approachable as they hope for food from him; thus, there is a harmony between human and nature.

This harmony is in sharp contrast to the conflicts which have occurred in previous chapters while Huck has lived in society; there he feels confined by its dictates that he not smoke or wear certain clothing, or that he must pray and bathe. While he may not know the term for Miss Watson's behavior, he wonders that she prays but acts in ways that are contradictory to what she says. Of course, that his drunken reprobate of a father should have control of him instead of Miss Watson raises questions, as well. 

When Jim and Huck begin construction of a raft, they spot a frame house floating down the river. Inside the second story, they discover furniture and clothes and other things strewn about, one of which is a dead body. This dead man has been shot in the back and has been stripped naked, so Jim throws some rags over him so that Huck will not see the grisly sight. Also on the floor are stacks of old greasy playing cards, old whisky bottles, and two black cloth masks. There is the "ignorantest kind of words and pictures" written and drawn on the wall with charcoal. In addition, Huck and Jim find women's clothing and evidence of a baby as there is a bottle still containing milk. The manner in which things lie indicates to Huck that people left in a rush. There are also tools and a hatchet, a leather dog collar, a wooden leg, fish-line, needles and pins, and other assorted items that Huck and Jim take. As they return to the safety of the island away from society, Huck makes Jim lie down in the canoe because the color of his skin can be spotted from a long way away. 

The description of the inside of the flooded house is certainly that of conflict and disharmony, a state that is in profound opposition to the descriptions that Huck provides of the peacefulness of nature on the island. Indeed, the main thematic concerns of Twain are well exemplified in Chapter 9. 

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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