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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

by Mark Twain

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What does "sivilising" mean in the context of Huck Finn in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

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The phrase that Huck uses at various points in the narrative, "sivilising," is always something that he finds himself violently opposed to. To be "sivilised" is to be brought into mainstream society and educated and brought up to be a good Christian boy, and every time that this happens to Huck, or even threatens to happen, he responds by running away as far as he can to try and avoid such a fate. Note how this concept is mentioned firstly in Chapter One:

The Widow Douglas she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldn't stand it no longer I lit out.

For Huck, being "sivilised" is something that he associates with boredom and restrictions. What he values above all is being able to go out and about and live his life as he wants to, and to have a deep connection with nature. This is why, at the end of the novel, when Aunt Sally threatens to adopt Huck and "civilise" him he plans immediately to take off and run away to avoid the restraining influences of society.

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What is the "sivilising" of Huck Finn in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

Clearly, Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the humorist's comment upon various conventions of American society. Indeed, he satirizes the hypocritical mores of the Widow Douglas, who insists that Huck wears shoes, stay clean, sit up straight, study his spelling, attend school, not smoke, and read the Bible and pray and be charitable so that he can eventually go to heaven, all the while she believes that owning a slave is compatible with her religion and morals.

Likewise, Huck finds himself in conflicting situations, as at first he enjoys being able to smoke his pipe and get dirty while living with his Pap, but he eventually feels the paternal beatings oppressive. So, he flees this form of external compulsion as he has fled those of the Widow Douglas.  Eventually, he finds himself paired with the escape slave Jim going down river on a raft, distanced from any society of men.

Ironically, the veritable "sivilising" of Huck occurs during the development of his relationship with Jim outside the confines of civilized society where Huck's identity is formed by social realities he encounters with such characters as the charlatans, the King and the Duke, as well as the feuding Grangerfords and Shepherdsons. For, he recognizes in these men certain aspects of himself, such as his lying and obstinacy.  Most importantly, Huck learns to recognize the individuality of people and the humanity of the slave Jim, whom he grows to love and consider both friend and father.

Eventually, then, Huck must again reject yet another convention of society, slavery.  In Chapter XXXI, for instance, after Jim is sold, Huck at first recriminates himself for not informing the Widow Douglas that Jim has been taken by others. With dramatic irony, he states,

...my heart warn't right; it was because I warn't square; it was because I was playing double.  I was letting on to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all.

So, he writes to Miss Watson, but he tears up the letter after recalling the love of Jim shown him.  In his change of mind, Huck plans to steal Jim out of slavery again.  This act, of course, causes the greatest moral conflict with the "civilized" ways of his society. Finally, then, Huck resolves that he will "just go to hell" and goes "the whole hog" of freeing Jim and acting counter to his society.

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