In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, what is Huckleberry Finn's view of slavery?

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e-martin eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Huckleberry Finn has a complex view of slavery as presented in this novel. While he tacitly accepts society's right to set its own rules of behavior (which, for Huck, are both legal and moral rules), Huck ultimately does not feel that he is beholden to all of these rules.

This is Huck's central conflict - to balance his natural moral sense with his moral instruction. The things he has been taught as right and wrong do not always seem right or wrong in the moment. 

We can see this in Huck's misguided loyalty to the King and the Duke. Huck does not actively look for opportunities to escape these characters because he does not want to betray them until they have already betrayed him. 

Regarding slavery, Huck is equally subdued by his perceptions of society's codes of conduct. However, even early on he is prepared to be condemned by society if it means doing what seems right to him. 

We see this when Huck finds Jim on the island in Missouri and Jim tells Huck of his escape. Jim asks Huck to promise not to tell on him or turn him in. Huck responds:

“Well, I did. I said I wouldn't, and I'll stick to it. Honest injun, I will. People would call me a low-down Abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum—but that don't make no difference. I ain't a-going to tell, and I ain't a-going back there, anyways. So, now, le's know all about it.”

This attitude can be seen in light of Huck's view of slavery and of his position regarding socially defined morality more generally. Huck understands the rules, but does not agree with them. He knows what he should feel is right or wrong, but he cannot see the reason for feeling that way. 

The ultimate commentary on slavery offered by Huck's character comes in his decision to free Jim rather than helping to return him to Miss Watson. Huck places Jim's friendship and humanity above his legal status. 

Rather than betray Jim, though, Huck decides, "All right, then, I'll go to hell." Huck learns to decide for himself in various situations the right thing to do.

Though Huck remains conflicted as to whether or not he will be condemned for his behavior, he feels that helping him is preferable to abandoning him. He never changes his mind about society's right to set its own rules, but he comes to a firm decision to follow his own mind and his own natural moral sense.

prtlndntv82 | Student

Huckleberry Finn's view of slavery needs to be understood in context; the novel was set in the 1830s; slavery was a reality in the United States until 1865. I don't believe Huck has a mature view of the broad economic system of slavery or takes an overall stand for or against it as a whole, but he does not want his friend to be harmed and takes personal risks to prevent that.

Throughout the book, Huck does, however, struggle with his own morals and whether his friendship with Jim is important enough to break the law and go against the rest of society, even if he supported Jim's motivations for leaving. Continuing on his journey with Jim, a runaway slave, was a crime that could get him jailed or killed.

If he wanted to portray truly malicious intent towards Jim, he would have turned him over to the band of racist men he encountered who were looking for black people, and been happy to see Jim suffer the beating or lynching they wished upon him.

Many modern critics have called Huck a "racist" for using the "N-word" in the book, and while the term has always been a racial slur, it was the norm at the time and would have been perhaps more surprising if it did not appear in the text. There have been derogatory terms for nearly every “group” or classification of people over the course of history, so we should not condemn Huck now, using our 21st century opinions, when discussing the historical mistreatment of African Americans. Huck's use of this term should not be taken into account when assessing his views on slavery.

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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