Does Twain think our morals should come from the community, the family, the church or one's own experiences in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

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litteacher8 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Twain believes that our morals should come from our own conscience, based on our experiences.

Throughout the book, Twain depicts the battle between a person’s conscience and what society tells him to believe.  As an outsider, Huck is the perfect vehicle for exploring the difference.  Huck has not been socialized to society’s beliefs and expectations.  As a result, he develops his own moral code and comes to society’s with the mature mind of a boy who is almost an adult.  He does not like what he sees.

Hypocrisy is a big thing for Huck.  He does not like it when people tell him one thing and do another.  For example, he comments on Miss Watson’s attempts to teach him religion and break his bad habits, when in reality she has plenty of her own.  She won’t let him smoke, even though she takes snuff.

She said it was a mean practice and wasn't clean, and I must try to not do it any more. That is just the way with some people. They get down on a thing when they don't know nothing about it. … And she took snuff, too; of course that was all right, because she done it herself. (ch 1)

This example foreshadows Huck’s later struggles with his conscience over turning Jim in.  He knows that society considers helping free a slave wrong.  Yet he considers Jim a good friend and a good person.  He is constantly surprised at how human Jim is, when he has been told that slaves are less than people.  He comes to doubt everything he has been told about religion and right and wrong (if he ever accepted it).

Huck is surprised that Jim misses his family and cares about them.  He also notices that other slaves feel the same way.  When the king and the duke sell the Wilks family’s slaves Huck feels both surprised and sympathetic at the reaction of both the family and the slaves.

I thought them poor girls and them niggers would break their hearts for grief; they cried around each other, and took on so it most made me down sick to see it. (ch 27)

As he continues his travels, Huck runs into several examples of hypocrisy and surprising values.  He comes to see that the people who are supposed to be amoral are often the ones who are really the good people, and the supposedly moral ones are often corrupt.

Twain wants us to understand that just because people around us think that something is right and wrong does not make it so.  Society has us believe all kinds of things that are in some way politically expedient, like slavery and religion, when in reality if we listen to our own conscience and experiences we will see that society is wrong.



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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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