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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

by Mark Twain

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What differentiates the lies Huck tells in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and why is lying prevalent in the novel?

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Huckleberry Finn lies to survive and to help Jim survive. If lying is not ideal, Twain is sympathetic to lies that help a person protect himself or which are told to protect another. He makes it clear that in an immoral society good people often have no choice but to lie if they are to survive.

Some examples of sympathetic lies are as follows: Huck lies by making it look as if he has been murdered so that he can escape a horribly abusive father and start a new life. Huck is deceiving his community, but it is hard to condemn him for this because of what he has suffered and the lack of protection his community offers him. Huck also lies when he dresses up as a girl to go ashore in search of information, but we sympathize with his need to find out what is going on. Huck also constantly lies to protect Jim because he does not want his friend to fall into the hands of evil people only interested in getting the reward money for returning an escaped slave.

Unsympathetic lies are those that are deliberately meant to hurt other people. The Duke and the King are examples of people who tell harmful lies to defraud communities that can little afford to give money to these criminals. The Duke and the King lie to benefit themselves, not to protect anyone else.

For all the lies Huck tells, his heart is in the right place, and that is what matters in Twain's universe.

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The morality of the act of lying is debatable, depending on the context of the lie and the mindset of the person involved in the debate. Also debatable is morality of the consequences of lying; sometimes, lying can lead to positive ends, which complicates the notion that all lying is bad. It may be useful to keep this complexity in mind while analyzing the lying that takes place in Huckleberry Finn.

The character most closely associated with lying is Huck Finn himself, and sometimes, Huck's lies are for a good cause, like when he tries to protect Jim. Other times, he lies to spice up a story or to bring drama to a situation, like when he lies to get away from Pap, but even then, some might argue, Huck is lying to save himself, which is also a good cause.

The point of all this lying is sometimes self-centered, sometimes for the protection of others, and sometimes unnecessary. The absence of clear patterns around Huck's lies is worth a closer look; sometimes, perhaps the author is saying, lying is simply a way of a life if living honestly is dangerous, risky, or unhelpful to the invidividuals involved in the telling of the lie.

Perhaps some insight into all of the lying can be found when looking closely at the author of Huckleberry Finn, a humorist and satirist named Samuel Clemens, also known as Mark Twain. This writer wrote an essay titled "On the Decay of the Art of Lying" in 1882, two years before the publication of Huckleberry Finn, in 1884.

In this essay, Twain claims that "lying is universal" and that the act of lying is one that deserves "wise examination." Though his essay is humorous at many points, he concludes on a serious and valid point about lying. People tell lots of lies for lots of different reasons, as Huck Finn demonstrates, and the reason behind the human impulse to tell untruths warrants discussion. Clearly, Twain himself had a keen interest in the phenomenon of lying, and he may have written the lies into the novel Huckleberry Finn simply to indulge his own enthusiasm for the topic.

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Some of the lying happens because Huck is the average American boy. Kids like to create adventures, and lying is certainly an excellent way to do that.

As far as Huck's useful lies - most of them depend on which side of the moral fence you sit on. If you believe that Huck is doing the right thing in running away from his father and/or in helping Jim become free, then most of the lies he tells are necessary. Those lies can be traced all the way back to Huck pretending to be a little girl in order to find out if they've been discovered on Jackson's Island.

However, if you believe that Huck should have been obeying the law of the time and should have stayed with Pap and returned Jim, then his lies were just for fun.

As far as the enormity of the lies Huck creates, I believe that is all part of the characterization of Huck. Twain creates a character so over the top that a reader can't help but admire his imagination. This novel certainly wouldn't be as entertaining after 150 years if Huck told sensible, credible stories. Some scenes, like his lies about life in England (which he swears to on the dictionary), simply portray Huck as an extremely creative kid - one of the great things about reading this novel!

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