Illustration of a man on a dock facing the water

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

by Mark Twain

Start Free Trial

Student Question

Which two social issues does Twain address in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and how does he convey his views?

Quick answer:

Two of the social issues examined in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are slavery and the blood feud. These issues are particularly prominent in the scene in which Huck tears up his letter to Miss Watson and the chapters detailing his experience with the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons.

Expert Answers

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

There are many social issues from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn on which you might focus, but the examination will seem incomplete if you do not include the greatest of Twain's targets: slavery. The peculiar institution of the South is attacked in several ways, partly by making Jim such a thoroughly decent and responsible character and partly by allowing Huck to forfeit the reader's sympathy for once and accept slavery as reasonable and inevitable, even as he helps Jim to escape.

In chapter 31, Huck decides to betray Jim. He writes a note to Miss Watson telling her where to find her runaway slave, and, having done this mean and despicable thing, he sanctimoniously says that he feels "washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life." The reader only detests Huck for the length of a paragraph, however, since he remembers what a good friend Jim has always been to him and picks up the note he has just written:

It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:

"All right, then, I'll go to hell"—and tore it up.

This moral rebellion, which puts Huck on the right side of history, is far more effective than it would have been to give him moral qualms about slavery all along. Twain shows how many religious people who saw themselves as highly moral came to talk themselves into supporting a practice that could not be justified.

Slavery aside, there are many lesser social issues to examine. One that is particularly well observed (and self-contained, in chapters 17 and 18) is that of blood feuds in the Old South. The Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons could be living idyllic lives if they were not determined to destroy each other (despite a fair amount of mutual admiration and the fact that their values are identical). Here, Huck's instincts are sound, and he sees (and conveys to the reader) the absurdity in the behavior of these Southern aristocrats. Some readers also see in these two families the antagonism between the North and the South that led to the Civil War.

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
Approved by eNotes Editorial