The humorist Mark Twain's "great American novel" stands as a prototype for many other American works in its use of dialect, powerful point of view, and exposure of American issues. And, in the use of these literary tools, Twain's satire is profuse. Here are examples of Twain's satire of the workings of government:
- Custody of children and the judicial system
When Pap hears of the six thousand dollars that Huck has from his and Tom Sawyer's discovery of money in a cave, he insists that Judge Tatcher relinquish it, even though Huck has "sold" it to the judge. And, while Judge Thatcher and the Widow Douglas try to have Huck remain in the widow's custody, another judge is over the hearing, a judge who does not know Pap, "said he'd druther not take a child away from its father." After this faulty and devastating decision, Huck suffers at the hands of his bacward and insolent and cruel father, who invokes the courts to extract the money from Judge Tatcher. Twain also satirizes the dilatory nature of the civil courts in the U.S.:
That law trial was a slow business; appeared like they warn't ever going to get started on it; so every now and then I'd borrow two orthree dollars off of the judge for him, to keep from getting a cowhiding.
- The Government's policies on Slavery
Twain satirizes a society which holds that God's law mandates slavery as the religious Widow Douglas and her sister Miss Watson profess Christian love and charity, yet Miss Watson has no qualms about selling her slave Jim down the river where slaves are treated very badly. Further, Twain satirizes laws such as the 1847 law which made it illegal to teach slaves to read in the hopes that their ignorance would prevent them from wishing to escape their slavery. For, even though Jim is ignorant, he is superior to all the other characters in moral uprightness and affection.
- He also satirizes the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law
The Fugitive Slave Law forced even those against slavery to report escaped slaves and assist in their recapture. It is this law which causes Huck much angst as he reaches his decision to "go to hell" for helping Jim escape from his captors and since he believes that his quandary must be God's punishment for the sin of helping Jim.