Illustration of a man on a dock facing the water

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

by Mark Twain

Start Free Trial

Discussion Topic

Mark Twain's intended message and persuasive effect in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Summary:

Mark Twain's intended message in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a critique of societal norms and racism. Through Huck's journey and moral dilemmas, Twain persuades readers to question the morality of slavery and the values of society. The novel's satire and depiction of friendship between Huck and Jim are key tools in delivering this message.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What does Mark Twain persuade the reader to think or feel in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

Mark Twain persuades his readers to listen to their individual consciences and abide by their own moral codes instead of following a hypocritical society. He also encourages his audience to be tolerant of others and judge people based on their personality and merit, rather than their skin color or class. He portrays Southern society as being intolerant, hypocritical, and callous. Throughout the novel, townspeople act irrationally and are generally afraid to stand up for what is right. Huck Finn chooses to neglect society in favor of following his heart. He was raised to treat and view Jim as an inferior being, but after traveling down the Mississippi with him, Huck gains perspective and realizes Jim is a morally upright individual, not just a piece of property. Huck's conscience is his guide to living freely and acting independently. Twain also persuades his audience to challenge prejudice and unjust laws, particularly slavery and treating African Americans as inferior beings. Although Huck Finn commits a crime by helping a runaway slave, Huck does not turn Jim in because deep down he knows slavery is wrong. Twain believes we should all listen to our inner voices and do the right thing, even when it's unpopular or illegal.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What is Mark Twain's message in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a complex work, regarded by many as the greatest American novel. Twain employs the protagonist as an innocent but thoughtful and often incredulous commentator on a wide range of human folly, and there are many messages in the book. The subjects of these messages include prejudice, tolerance, deceit, and loyalty.

However, if Twain has a single central message, it is one about the importance of freedom and independence. Huck and Jim have little money and few possessions. They are often in danger, which, in the case of Jim, a runaway slave, could scarcely be more threatening. Yet despite this, the book has an atmosphere like no other, with a sense that Jim and Huck's life as they float along the river is genuinely appealing in its simplicity and self-sufficiency.

It is in this atmosphere of freedom, rather than any overt didacticism, that the book's message lies. At the beginning of the novel, Huck is fortunate by conventional worldly standards. He is wealthy and respectable, the social superior of many who recently looked down on him. However, he is not happy with his fine clothes and fine house. Even being kidnapped by his abusive, alcoholic father is a step up from respectability. When he escapes from Pap, it does not occur to Huck to return to the Widow Douglas. All he wants is freedom.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What lesson does Huck learn in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain?

Huck learns many lessons throughout his journey on the Mississippi with Jim. The most important of these involve caring and moral responsibility. 

Huck is a child who has never had a chance to develop a real bond with another human being. His Pap is a drunk who doesn't care if Huck lives or dies. Huck only knows how to use and manipulate another—the lesson he learned from Pap—or how to evade responsibility, the lesson he taught himself when trying to get away from the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson. Once Huck begins to spend every night with Jim, he falls back on his own habits at first and plays merciless tricks on Jim. When Jim scolds Huck for playing a trick on him, Huck begins to feel bad, realizing he has hurt another human being, even if Huck still sees the human being as "only" a slave. 

Jim gives Huck the nurturing and care he has never had, and the two become inseparable companions. Through the time they spend together, Huck learns what it's like to have companionship and even love. 

His twisted understanding of society's mores still tell him, however, that he is doing "wrong" to keep a slave from capture. It is only when Huck tears up the letter he has written to Miss Watson and emphatically says, "All right, I'll go to hell" that we see he has learned to defy the mores of a corrupt society, even if he naively believes this rebellion will send him to hell. He learns to listen to his true conscience, not the perverted mores of an unjust society. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, what life lessons does Huck learn from his journey?

One of the most important lessons that Huck learns is that adults are not always right in their thinking and decisions. He has always been submissive towards adult authority, although he is contemptuous of it, and he assumes that even obvious con-men and dullards like the Duke and Dauphin have some knowledge of the world that he lacks. However, events show him over and over that everyone is fallible, especially when it comes to the treatment of slaves. While Huck never fully embraces abolitionism and racial equality, he comes to realize that his friendship with Jim is deeper and more honest than most of his other relationships, simply because neither Jim nor Huck are trying to take advantage of the other.

After all this long journey, and after all we'd done for them scoundrels, here it was all come to nothing, everything all busted up and ruined, because they could have the heart to serve Jim such a trick as that, and make him a slave again all his life, and amongst strangers, too, for forty dirty dollars.
(Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, gutenberg.org)

The incident where the Dauphin gives Jim up shows Huck that he can't really trust most people; everyone is out for themselves, and he must be more clever than most to escape trickery. He also realizes, after some mental struggling, that he would rather be a criminal and steal Jim back than allow his friend to be returned to a life of slavery. Jim -- and by extension other slaves -- are people just like anyone else.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on