In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain uses the concept of travel to demonstrate to his readers the level of personal development Jim and Huck experience in their travels from location to location during their escape from what they view as confinement.
As the novel unfolds, Huck lives with the Widow Douglas who is constantly trying to “sivilize” him. She has a sister who nags him constantly in an attempt to alter his personality:
WELL, I got a good going-over in the morning from old Miss Watson on account of my clothes; but the widow she didn’t scold, but only cleaned off the grease and clay, and looked so sorry that I thought I would behave awhile if I could. Then Miss Watson she took me in the closet and prayed, but nothing come of it.
Huck’s father, Pap, is a drunkard who takes his son from the Widow’s custody, beats him, and steals the money Huck has found. Huck escapes from being locked up in Pap’s cabin and heads to Jackson’s Island. Huck sees his existence as a prison where society has confined him to a life of being a victim. He learns this is wrong and knows there is a better life somewhere for him to enjoy.
On one occasion, from his hiding place, Huck observes how the townspeople actually grieve for him, believing he has drowned. He is deeply moved by the thought that people actually care. This revelation stays with him and adds to the development of his character.
In another instance, on Jackson’s Island, Huck is traveling with Jim, an escaped slave. Jim is a practical man, but very superstitious. He has a one-track mind and focuses on running away to the North to raise enough money to buy his family’s freedom. Jim’s character does not develop during the novel, but remains stagnant. He goes from adventure to adventure relying on superstition and his ability to read nature in order to survive his ordeals, but learns little from the places he visits and the people he encounters.
Huck, on the other hand, learns from his experiences. For example, while on Jackson’s Island, he discovers that superstitious Jim is afraid of snakeskins and considers them bad luck. Huck decides to play a joke on Jim:
Well, after dinner Friday we was laying around in the grass at the upper end of the ridge, and got out of tobacco. I went to the cavern to get some, and found a rattlesnake in there. I killed him, and curled him up on the foot of Jim’s blanket, ever so natural, thinking there’d be some fun when Jim found him there. Well, by night I forgot all about the snake, and when Jim flung himself down on the blanket while I struck a light the snake’s mate was there, and bit him.
He jumped up yelling, and the first thing the light showed was the varmint curled up and ready for another spring. I laid him out in a second with a stick, and Jim grabbed pap’s whisky-jug and begun to pour it down.
From that incident, Huck grows a bit more mature. He feels like a fool and vows to never again play practical Jokes.
During his journey, Huck learns from the places he visits. He becomes an individual, recognizes the societal problem of conformity, and accepts Jim as a human being, not just a slave. He learns that love and family are stronger than prejudice. When he encounters the Grangerfords, the Wilkses, and the Phelpses, Huck discovers the value of a close-knit family and grows as a result. Jim loves his family, but sees only the goal of freedom, without the deeper examinations Huck makes during his travels.
Mark Twain uses the concept of travel to present a forum for education leading to personal development. Huck grows considerably. At the end of the novel, he reclaims a family life with new lessons learned from his exposure to travel. Jim remains superstitious. He gains his freedom, but relates it to good luck.