Theme of Freedom as Inherent Motivation: Huck and Jim are separated by age, race, and social position in this racist society, but each is driven by an intense longing for freedom, suggesting that the desire to be free is inherent in human nature. Both run away from a society that denies them personal freedom; Jim struggles to escape slavery, and Huck does not want to be “sivilized,” forced to conform to the conventions of society. The Mississippi River represents freedom for Huck and Jim and serves as the primary symbol in the novel.
- For discussion: How are Jim and Huck both outcasts from society? How is each able to find peace and a sense of liberty on the river?
Theme of Society’s Corruption as Inescapable: The towns and settlements along the Mississippi are occupied by those who demonstrate the worst in humanity: greed, hypocrisy, arrogance, duplicity, selfishness, stupidity, and violence. The violence Huck witnesses on several occasions sickens him—and he is no stranger to violence himself at the hands of his abusive, drunken father. The greatest corruption in society is slavery, a political and social institution that expresses all the worst traits found in humans.
- For discussion: The novel’s themes are often developed through contrast. Twain contrasts the beauty, peace, and freedom of rafting down the Mississippi with the violence, greed, and duplicity Huck encounters in settlements along the river; nature as a source of goodness contrasts with society as a corrupting influence on human behavior. Where can these contrasts be found, and how does Twain’s word choice for his descriptions of various settlements reflect this theme?
Theme of Friendship Formed Through Adversity and Shared Experience: Huck has two friends in the world, Tom Sawyer and Jim, but his relationship with each of them is different. Tom is Huck’s mischievous pal, whereas Jim becomes Huck’s protector and often serves as a father figure. Huck is bound to Tom by their boyhood adventures; he is bound to Jim by the dangerous encounters and life-and-death struggles they survive together.
- For discussion: At what points do Huck and Jim share a genuine connection? How does Jim act as a surrogate father to Huck?
Theme of the Natural World as Source of Internal Peace: Nature plays a continuing role in the novel, and Huck’s descriptions of the natural world occur throughout the text. Huck feels at home in nature, especially while rafting down the Mississippi, and finds in natural settings the beauty, peace, and freedom not present in society. Nature nourishes his spirit; it is a source of goodness in the novel that contrasts with the evils of society.
- For discussion: What does the Mississippi River symbolize throughout the novel? How does Huck find peace and freedom in nature?
Huck as Follower of Internal Morals: The internal conflict Huck experiences about freeing Jim at the Phelps plantation is pivotal to his moral development. Huck’s deciding to go literally to hell rather than leave Jim a slave is the dramatic climax of the novel and Twain’s harshest criticism of slavery. Huck’s decision indicates that being damned for eternity is preferable to allowing someone to be enslaved. By the end of the novel, Huck has encountered society at its most corrupt, but he has not been corrupted. He has struggled with questions of morality versus immorality and followed the goodness in his own heart.
- For discussion: Make a list of Huck’s predominant character traits as they are revealed through his words and actions. How is his character developed through the conflicts he faces, and how does he decide how to resolve these conflicts?
Huck and Jim as Respected Equals: Highlight Huck and Jim’s relationship. It is through his evolving relationship with Jim that Huck matures as he recognizes Jim’s fine qualities of character despite his enslavement and lesser status. Throughout the novel, Jim acts with courage, integrity, compassion, unselfishness,...
(The entire section is 1,765 words.)