Why does Twain include so many deaths/near deaths/fake deaths in Huckleberry Finn?
Death is an important motif in the story because Huck is undergoing a transformation and rebirth.
Death plays an important role in the book. The motif of death includes rebirth, which is the process Huck goes through
In some ways, deaths are used as a plot device. They move the plot along. Deaths make things happen.
At the beginning of the story, Huck relates how he was very interested in the story of Moses until he found out that Moses had been dead for quite some time.
He was disappointed and no longer interested because, he said, “I don't take no stock in dead people” (Ch. 1)
In order to escape his father, Huck fakes his death. It is not the first time he has done it. In the earlier book, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, everyone thought they were dead and Tom remarked that it was sad that Huck had no one to be glad he wasn’t. When Huck’s father returns from the dead to kidnap him, Huck realizes that if he doesn’t escape his father will kill him. He decides to fake his dead with a pig.
They won't ever hunt the river for anything but my dead carcass. They'll soon get tired of that, and won't bother no more about me. (Ch. 8)
It is no coincidence that Huck makes the journey along the river. In literature, water is often symbolic of rebirth. A river in particular has a rejuvenating effect because it is constantly moving. Likewise, Huck is constantly evolving through the story. He goes from a simple country orphan to a sophisticated young man with his own moral code.
Most of the significant events in the river involve death in some way. A perfect example of the motif of death as transformation is when Huck tricks Jim. Huck and Jim get separated in the fog, and Huck pretends he was there all along. He asks Jim if he has been drinking. Jim is flustered, and when he realizes that Huck tricked him he is angry and hurt.
It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger; but I done it, and I warn't ever sorry for it afterward, 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. (Ch. 15)
Huck has had a difficult time accepting treating Jim as an equal since they first set out together. Jim is a slave, and Huck has been taught that slaves are inferior. Yet he begins to consider Jim a friend. The cruel trick he plays on Jim by pretending to be dead is significant because of Huck’s reaction when Jim finds out he isn’t. Huck realizes he hurt Jim, and he feels bad. His guilt demonstrates his personal growth.
This and other deaths in the story involve Huck’s personal growth and transformation. Each death affects him a little differently, making him more and more his own person. By the end of the book, he has realized that he must go his own way. His experiences have led him to feel that society does not know what is best for him. He cuts his ties with civillization, and is reborn.