If you’ve ever read or been told a synopsis of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, chances are it began by stating that the text follows the life and times of a runaway young boy who goes through a number of circumstance that help develop him as a person.
SPOILER: this happens.
Unfortunately though, reading this book to hear just that story is like entering the Louvre to get out of the rain. While Twain’s masterpiece may seem droll to the reader who has never opened its pages, in truth, the novel of a young boy confides in the dutiful reader the relatable experiences that everyone, not just those running away from home by snatching an empty canoe and taking off down the Mississippi, has been through. When first introduced to young Huck, the reader is abruptly given the picture of an uneducated bumpkin whose foster mother is attempting to educate and bring into “civilization”. Even in the voice of his writing, Twain portrays Huck as one who employs slang all to regularly and whose maturity is nascent at best. Despite this, let it never be said that Huckleberry Finn fell short when it came to intellect. What he lacked in proper mannerisms he made up for and surpassed with a sharp mind, quick wit, and wild imagination.
Having grown tired of trying to live the civilized life, Huck abandons the prim and proper that the widow had forced him to adorn. One could even say the Huck Finn forsake the lie he’d been trying to live and reverted back to the only life he knew; on a boat, in the sun, and free from worldly cares. At one point or another, each has had the earnest longing to do just as Huck did and get away from it all. Realistically, everyone eventually gets fed up with dining halls and automobiles, desiring something so much simpler and yet so much more difficult to attain: honest living. In a sense – raw life. With Huck, his escape to this “raw life” drew from him raw emotions and honest interactions with those around him. Upon finding Jim, a runaway slave of a his foster mother, his innocence of character emerges and he decides to take him on as a companion.
And yet, this freedom from a forced reality presents Huck with some unique perspectives. Numerous times, Huck is forced to deal with death, if not in physical form then as an idea. In one instance, he fakes his own murder by slaughtering a pig and submerging its bloodied remains at the bottom of a river to cover his tracks.
“I fetched the pig in, and took him back nearly to the table and hacked into his throat with the ax, and laid him down on the ground to bleed… Well, next I took an old sack and put a lot of rocks in it – all I could drag – and I started it from the pig, and dragged it to the door and through the woods down to the river and dumped it in, and down it sunk, out of sight.” (Twain, 21-22)
It’s frightening to contemplate just how nonchalant Huck Finn in “blooding” an animal, using it as a stand in for his own corpse. In his youthful mindset, death has no real consequence or threat; there’s no danger for Huck in death. He has no comprehension on the toll this will take on those who know him, and hasn’t any idea as to the implications his “death” introduces. In short, we see the actions, reactions, and consequences that occur when one sloughs off normality and the dictates of society. Huck Finn represents the child-like characteristics in us all: wonder, innocence, creativity, adventure, etc… In so doing, Twain produces a character like no other that offers up the youthful perspective in reacting to the realities we are either faced with, or create for ourselves to face.