One of Mark Twain's greatest abilities was the remarkable way he wrote about the ability of ordinary people to achieve extraordinary humanity. Every time Huck is on the river, he aspires to reach the good there is in the world. I believe that nature plays an underlying theme in the novel. After all, when Huck is "on land" he is always in harm's way. However on that river, he is as an angel.
I think that there are some very beautiful passages when Twain is describing Huck and Jim out on the raft. The focus is on nature, and the simple joy of friendship and freedom. However Twain really is in a category all to himself, and this is definitely satire.
Definitely there are elements of transcendentalism in the kinship Huck feels with nature. However, this to me, highlights a wider theme of the novel which is the conflict between man or civilisation and nature. Huck's trip down the river with Jim forces him to encounter varying aspects of civilisation which show the stupidity and foolhardiness of mankind every time. What Huck craves is the simplicity of life with Jim when they can live off the land and enjoy life - civilisation is something that is seen to interfere with this.
Part of the Transcendentalist philosophy was that moral concepts must be determined and accepted by the individual. This is in opposition to the concept of an authoritarian religious organization telling an individual what to believe. The main struggle for Huck in the novel was where he fits in the society; his (or actually, Twain's) commentary on religion shows how it did not function for Huck, and once on the River, he was free to conclude his own moral convictions, including his acceptance of Jim as a man in opposition to the prevailing social attitudes of the day. So yes, the story reflects Transcendentalist thought of self-determination.
There is a really good discussion on this topic of Huck as a transcendentalist at this Honors American Lit blog:
There is a comparison of Huck to Chris McCandless, the young man who escaped society to travel America in "Into the Wild" (both a book and a movie, starring Emile Hirsch). I think this is a fascinating comparison, and there are a great deal of parallels. Chris McCandless certainly "lit out for the territory" and escaped society, just as Huck yearns to do.
Thank you Amy, I agree that Huck is "at peace" on the river. I think my mind was concentrated on his "devil" reputation as felt by members of the town which led me to use the word "angel". With regard to the Transcendentalist movement, it was believed that nature would bring humanity "peace", in a heavenly way. Appreciate the post!!!!
I don't know if he's so much an "angel" on the river as he is more at peace. Nature does have a restorative quality for the two main characters...Jim as well, although maybe not as blatant as Huck since Jim had his safety to consider.