What are some examples of hypocrisy of the "civilized" society in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, "civilising" means external compulsion.

  • While living with Miss Watson, Huck is compelled to wear shoes, he cannot smoke, and must read the Bible. Huck notices some incongurity in the religious faiths of Miss Watson and the Widow Douglas:

I could see that there was two Providences, a a poor chap would stand considerable show with the widow's Providence, but if Miss Watson's got him there warn't no help for him any more.

  • In the latter part of the narrative, Huck finds himself again immersed in a conflict of thought as he has learned to love Jim and realize that he differs little from other people except in his loving warmth and his altruism. For, Jim is willing to sacrifice his freedom in order to find or help Huck. 
  • In Chapter XVIII, Huck encounters two aristocratic Southern families that have a feud:  the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons: "Col. Grangerford was a gentleman, you see," Huck narrates; yet, Buck Grangerford greets by trying to shoot him. These "civilized"people have a blood feud going that costs Buck and his cousin Joe their lives. Huck is so traumatized that he hides in a tree, uncomprehending of how such "civilized" people could be so murderous.
  • In Chapter XXXI, Huck writes Miss Watson about Jim, but he momentarily reflects,

I remembered how good he always was to me. And finally I remembered the time I saved him by telling the men people infected with smallpox were aboard our raft, and how he’d been so grateful and said I was the best friend he’d ever had and the only one he had now. And then I happened to look down and see my letter to Miss Watson.

  • So, Huck decides against a hypocritical society that keeps a good man like Jim a slave. Huck also wonders about what kind of religion can keep a man like Jim in slavery. So, he decides, "All right, I'll go to hell!"
  • In Chapter XXXIV, Tom Sawyer chastises Huck for stealing a watermelon and makes him give the blacks a dime for it; however, Tom thinks that it is perfectly all right that they force Jim to pretend that he is captured so they can fabricate his "escape."





davmor1973 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The various hardships Huck has endured have made him self-reliant, so much so that he cannot imagine living a regular "civilized" life back in town. He tries, reluctantly, after the Widow Douglas takes him under her wing, but he just can't. Though still outwardly a boy, Huck's experiences have already made him enough of a man for him to feel tied-down by the home comforts of a respectable upbringing.

Huck's lack of civilization helps him to gain a much broader perspective on things, to be able to see the petty foibles and faults of folks who've been raised in the conventional manner. Huck's natural existence, out there in the forests and floating down a raft on the Mississippi, has given him a valuable insight into how people behave, and how complicated, cruel, and foolish they can be.

It's Huck who brings his untutored folk wisdom to bear on the seemingly pointless, bloody feud between the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons. These are wealthy, God-fearing people—civilized people, so-called. Yet they've been at each other's throats for years and no one quite knows why. Huck's incredulity at the feud and the violence and death it entails provides much-needed wisdom and maturity when those around him appear to have none.

Huck's various hardships also provide him with a much more mature attitude towards money than most "civilized" adults. Despite sharing $6,000 in reward money with Tom Sawyer, he understands that sometimes money can be more trouble than it's worth. And his shrewdness is confirmed when Pap Finn crawls out of the woodwork to try and get his greedy hands on his son's reward money.

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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