What are some quotes that show what the river represents to Huck and Jim in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain?

Expert Answers
mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

While Huck and Jim are on the raft they are simply a man and a boy. For, aboard the raft with only the open sky for a roof, Jim is a free man, and Huck is relieved of the laws and restraints of his society in which color distinguishes people; on the river that flows freely without the interference of men, Jim and Huck can cast off the restrictions of their lives on land and reveal their true natures.

When Huck and Jim spot a frame house floating downstream, they gather what they can, along with some floating lumber, and they construct a raft with a wigwam and an area for a fire. Later on, they spot a steamboat that ran onto a rock. But, because Huck discovers that there are men inside, he feels compelled to help them. So, he makes up a story about his family being hurt and gets a watchman to investigate. For a while he does not see the Jim's light on an island, but finally he does. They tie the raft and "slept like dead people." The next day Jim tells Huck that after he came out of the damaged ship and when he looked for the raft, he nearly died because he figured that "it was all up with him," 

...if he didn't get saved he would get drownded; and if he did get saved, whoever saved him would send him back home so as to get a reward, then Miss Watson would sell him sure. Well, he was right; he was most always right; he had an uncommon level head, for a n****'

Here in this passage, Huck begins to perceive Jim as, at the very least, a fellow human being. Shortly after this, in Chapter XV, Huck and Jim become separated when Huck takes the canoe in order to find somewhere to tie the raft until the fog dissipates. But, he can find no such place. By now, he hears Jim, but it sounds as though Jim is behind him; Huck realizes that Jim is on the other side of the island now. When Huck finally reaches Jim, the man has his head on his knees as he has fallen asleep. Awakened by Huck, Jim exclaims,

..."It's too good for true, honey it's too good for true. Lemme look at you, child, lemme feel o' you....de same ole Huck, thanks to goodness!"

Cruelly, then, Huck pretends that he has been on the raft all along. At first, Jim believes Huck; however, when he notices all the debris upon the raft, he realizes that he has been tricked by Huck. Angry and hurt, Jim scolds Huck and walks to the wigwam. Huck feels so ashamed to have hurt Jim,

It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a n****--but I done it, and I warn't ever sorry for it afterwards, neither. I didn't do him no more mean tricks, and I wouldn't done that one if I'd a knowed it would make him feel that way.

In Chapter XXIII, Huck hears Jim as he misses his wife and children; Huck observes,

I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks does for their'n. It don't seem natural, but I reckon it's so.

Finally, from his experiences with Jim, Huck has learned to value the man as a friend. He wrestles with his conscience, deciding to write to Miss Watson that Jim is on the Phelps Plantation, but he throws the letter away, deciding that he will "steal Jim out of slavery again and "just go to hell."

And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me, all the time, in the day, and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a floating along, talking, and singing, and laughing. But somehow I couldn't seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind.

Lori Steinbach eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The river is clearly a symbol of freedom in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. It is a literal symbol of freedom for both Huck and Jim, as they each have something to escape and it takes them away. Huck needs to get away from Pap's abuse and the unintentional abuse of a world that wants to constrict his free spirit. Jim, of course, is a black slave who just needs to be free.

While there are other options for each of them to achieve these goals, it is the Mississippi River which offers them both their best chance for freedom now as well as for their futures. Huck says it this way:

So in two seconds away we went a-sliding down the river, and it did seem so good to be free again and all by ourselves on the big river, and nobody to bother us.

Their nearly complete sense of freedom is depicted by the fact that Huck and Jim are almost always unclothed, one of the grandest expressions of freedom. They sit and talk as they dangle their legs in the river. It is the picture of an unrestricted, free life. At the end of chapter eighteen, when Huck and Jim get a bit tangled up in things on land, they finally manage to escape to the river, Huck says this:

We said there warn't no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don't. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.

The prose description at the beginning of chapter nineteen is a lovely depiction of the complete freedom both Huck and Jim experience during the best of their time on the river, including this passage:

Sometimes we'd have that whole river all to ourselves for the longest time. Yonder was the banks and the islands, across the water; and maybe a spark- which was a candle in a cabin window- and sometimes on the water you could see a spark or two--on a raft or a scow, you know; and maybe you could hear a fiddle or a song coming over from one of them crafts. It's lovely to live on a raft. We had the sky, up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made, or only just happened

Unfortunately, the river is not always friendly to the fugitives. It is also symbolic of the troubles which can beset them even in the best of times. The hapless Huck and Jim are faced with a flood and their raft is even commandeered by two rapscallions, the dauphin and the duke. The shore puts limits on their freedom, and almost every trouble they experience throughout the story comes to them from the shore. 

Another unfortunate fact is that the river only provides a kind of temporary freedom, for the Mississippi River, as we all know, runs north and south, and soon Huck and Jim will be in the heart of the South, a place which is certainly not going to be a place of freedom for Jim. 

Finally, the river is both the means to freedom and freedom itself, for while they are on their raft floating down the river, they have complete freedom to choose their actions and reactions, both good and bad--until the encroachments of civilization interfere with their freedoms, something that happens more frequently than either of them might wish.

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Throughout the novel, the symbol of the river is a very important one that can be taken to mean freedom from the restricting nature of civilisation and rules and regulations, but also the need to face the complexities of life without rules and regulations with responsibility. Note for example how Huck talks about the river in the following quote, where he speaks of his joy at escaping civilisation and organised life and returning to a lifestyle where he is alone with Jim and there is nobody there to tell him what to do:

So in two seconds away we went a-sliding down the river, and it did seem so good to be free again and all by ourselves on the big river, and nobody to bother us.

Being on the river is explicitly associated with being "free again" without anybody to "bother" them and force them into a way of life or behaviours that Huck associates with "civilised" life and other people. To Huck, the river is associated with freedom because he is away from those who would control him and make him engage in behaviours that he is unwilling to follow.

The river as a symbol of freedom is developed through the following quote:

Soon as it was night out we shoved; when we got her out to about the middle we let her alone, and let her float wherever the current wanted her to...

Here, the freedom that Huck and Jim feel is matched by the freedom of their vessel and the way that it is left to float "wherever the current wanted her to." The power of the current in controlling the course of Huck and Jim is attractive precisely because it is a natural process, rather than being something that is manmade and artificial. 

In Chapter 6, another quote that talks about the freedom that Huck has when he lives with his father by the river is as follows:

It was kind of lazy and jolly, laying off comfortable all day, smoking and fishing, and no books nor study. Two months or more run along, and my clothes got to be all rags and dirt, and I didn't see how I'd ever got to like it so well at the widow's, where you had to wash, and eat on a plate, and comb up, and go to bed and get up regular, and be forever bothering over a book, and have old Miss Watson pecking at you all the time.

It is clear that living by the river away from civilised life and the forces of civilisation such as Miss Watson has its distinct advantages. Whereas with Miss Watson Huck felt hassled, bothered and forced into conducting himself in certain ways such as having to wash, eat with a plate and also reading regularly, with his father he is "comfortable all day" just fishing and being "lazy and jolly." Life by the river is contrasted deliberately with life in the town, and to Huck, life on the river definitely is superior. 

iandavidclark3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the river is a symbol for many different things. One thing the river symbolizes is a sense of peace separate from the unnecessary complications of civilization. To get a better idea of how this symbolism works in the novel, take a look at this excerpt from Chapter 12: 

We catched fish and talked, and we took a swim now and then to keep off sleepiness. It was kind of solemn, drifting down the big, still river, laying on our backs looking up at the stars, and we didn't ever feel like talking loud... (70)

In this quote, we can see that life on the river is often characterized by peace and simplicity. Huck and Jim fish and generally laze about without many cares or worries. Indeed, they don't even feel the need to clutter up the stillness with unnecessary talk, choosing instead to simply enjoy the spectacle of nature. This idyllic scene provides a strong contrast to the often cluttered, loud, absurd, and complicated episodes that take place on shore. By contrasting the peace of the river with the cacophony of "civilized" life, Twain shows that the river symbolizes the peace and ideal simplicity of the natural world. 

garthman99 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The river is a symbol of the changing nature of Jim's and Huck's lives. It carries Jim toward the free states and it is the place where Huck escapes his abusive dad and the constraints of living in society as reflected by the word "sivilizing" of St. Petersburg.

One minute the river is calm and is where Jim and Huck relax: "We catched fish and talked, and we took a swim now and then to keep off sleepiness. It was kind of solemn, drifting down the big, still river."  At another time the river brings them into contact with criminals and contraband: "Quick, Jim, it ain't no time for fooling around and moaning; there's a gang of murderers in yonder." (Chapter 12) One moment the river symbolizes the freedom of Jim's and Huck's lives, and the next moment it is a symbol of the oppression in their lives when it fogs over and makes them miss the mouth of the Ohio River, which was supposed to be their way to freedom. In fact the river led them even further South where racism was rife and where Jim as a black slave could have gotten into more problems.

Read the study guide:
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Access hundreds of thousands of answers with a free trial.

Start Free Trial
Ask a Question