While Huck Finn is a fictional creation, Mark Twain did largely base him on a real person he knew during his childhood. This individual was Tom Blakenship, an alcoholic sawmill laborer's son and the object of envy for the boys in Twain's community. Living in a shack beside the Mississippi River, he appeared to have every freedom from the responsibilities and expectations of society—he never had to attend school like the other children, for instance. Discussing Blakenship in his autobiography, Twain explains that while Blakenship was uneducated and coarse, he had a heart of gold, just as Huck does in both The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Twain further elaborates that the adults warned the community children to have nothing to do with Blakenship, fearing he was a bad influence, but Twain argues that this just made his company all the more desirable. Just like Huck, Blakenship's freedom was double-edged: he might not have had to go to school, but he was neglected by his own father and lived in poverty. Still, Twain recalls him as "tranquilly and continuously happy" despite the hardships he faced because of his father and his social-outcast status, much as Huck Finn is content to live outside of proper civilization.