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Mark Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn after the Civil War. The legal issues of slavery had been settled but the moral and philosophical issues remained, and to some extent, they linger with us today. Twain was skeptical of organized religion and found it both ironic and hypocritical for any citizen to claim to be a Christian and to also find justification in the dehumanizing of Black Americans. Those who believed in slavery may have had economic reasons for their belief, but in essence, they began with the notion that black people were less than human. The brilliance of his character creation of Huck Finn was that Huck was a product of his own culture and society. Huck’s most personal and agonizing dilemma in the book is his belief that Jim was the property of someone else. If Huck was to help Jim, he would be committing a sin. He would be stealing someone else’s property. Huck believed this because that is what he was raised to believe. Huck has to decide whether Jim is property or his friend, his human friend. Everything Jim does leads Huck to believe that Jim is his friend, and in the end he accepts what he thinks is his fate. He will go to hell. Huck’s comprehension of Christian beliefs is not very deep, and that is another brilliant choice by Twain, in that Huck’s ignorance is far more harmful than his knowledge. Like the old cliché, “A little knowledge is a dangerous thing.” Twain made another brilliant choice by telling the entire story through the eyes of his hero, Huck. We are privy to Huck’s real thoughts in real time, and the beauty of Huck Finn, an ignorant southern adolescent living in the South during times of slavery is that Huck is open minded and an independent thinker. He is wise beyond his years. Twain was a very sharp critic of society and culture, but he was averse to moralizing and preferred to be thought of as a writer rather than a philosopher. By placing this abused boy, neglected and uneducated, even “uncivilized” as Huck calls himself, in that time right before the nation was torn apart and to pair him up with a black slave, the very object of the coming dispute, and to allow Huck to experience the time and observe the civilization of “adults,” allows the reader to come to their own moral conclusions and to either agree or disagree with Huck’s simple philosophy.
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