The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn book cover
Start Your Free Trial

What is Mark Twain's view of man as an Individual Vs. Man as a part of a group? If you can help me, it would be extremely appreciated. Thanks :)

Expert Answers info

Bruce Bergman eNotes educator | Certified Educator

briefcaseCollege Professor

calendarEducator since 2011

write3,640 answers

starTop subjects are Literature, Social Sciences, and Business

If we consider the various episodes of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that feature groups in action, we will see many examples of the folly of "collective thinking" or group action. 

It is a group that goes around looking for a dead Huckleberry Finn early in the novel, firing off a canon to bring his body up from the river. Collectively, the town seems to "know" that Huck is dead. Huck feels no danger of being discovered by "the town" but he is very afraid of being found out by individuals who may be lurking on the island. This episode suggests a commentary on the intelligence or the tendency to achieve insight of a group (as opposed to an individual).

In the case of the feuding families, we see a similar commentary but this time it is one skewed toward moral insights. There, individuals are capable of falling in love across family lines yet the groups (the families) are incapable of recognizing the arbitrary nature of their continued dispute. Once the dispute becomes historic, it is essentially only founded on a difference in last names. Individuals (Sophia and Harney) are able to get past this formal difference and see each other as capable of love and companionship. 

The cowardice of collective (or mob) action is explicitly dealt with in Chapters XXI and XXII, where Sherburn kills Bogs then diffuses a mob with a strongly worded speech. There a single man stands up to a crowd of townspeople and has a victory in the conflict because of his moral strength, which is greater than that of the gathered group of cowards who would not act individually. 

Many more examples crop up in the novel where individuals are able to swindle, manipulate or outsmart the group. 

Of course, the novel's most pointed commentary on individual man versus collective man comes in Huckleberry Finn's story. Huck battles against his conscience, which has been developed over his lifetime and imbued with notions of racism, dehumanizing ideas, false...

(The entire section contains 675 words.)

Unlock This Answer Now

Further Reading:

check Approved by eNotes Editorial