Morality in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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  • 0:03 Developing a Moral Compass
  • 1:17 To Be or Not To Be 'Sivilized'
  • 2:16 Friend or Foe
  • 3:02 Life on the Raft
  • 4:19 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amanda Benson

Amanda has taught college literature and composition courses and has a master's degree in English.

Learn about the theme of morality within 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.' Explore the many influences that help Huck develop his own moral compass.

Developing a Moral Compass

Have you ever found a twenty-dollar bill on the ground and struggled to decide what you should do with it? On one hand, you could really use the few extra bucks and begin to think about what you could spend it on. Upon further thought, though, you begin to reason that this money belongs to someone else who probably worked hard for it. Perhaps this twenty-dollar bill was all the money this person had and he or she will be devastated to learn that it's gone. An innate feeling of guilt eventually leads you to begin seeking out the money's true owner rather than keeping it for yourself.

This reasoning between right and wrong is an example of morality, a theme we see again and again in Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The book, sometimes referred to simply as Huck Finn, is the tale of a young teenaged boy, Huck, and his companion, a black slave named Jim, on their quest for freedom. Along the way, Huck is faced with a number of tough decisions that force him to test his ability to decipher between right and wrong, despite the typical conventions of the society he lived in. As readers, we not only get to join Huck on his adventure down the Mississippi River, we also serve as witnesses to the development of his own moral compass.

To Be or Not To Be 'Sivilized'

From the very beginning of the story, Huck has choices to make regarding his moral character. First, he is faced with the influences of the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson, who try to teach him to mind his manners and be a good Christian, frowning on his smoking and cussing and encouraging him to pray often and 'set up straight.'

Compared to Huck's father, the town drunkard, who seems to care more about his son's money and his power of authority rather than Huck himself, these two ladies appear to be Huck's angelic defenders. However, while these women promote the outstanding qualities of the typical do-gooder of society, in many ways they (and all of the other characters in this story that take on this attitude) serve as our hero's enemy. Not only do they crush Huck's natural spirit with their harsh rules, they also demonstrate bad qualities, such as racial discrimination, through the slavery and mistreatment of blacks, and greed, like when Miss Watson plans to sell Jim to a slave trader which will separate him from his family.

Friend or Foe

Then there's Tom Sawyer, Huck's friend who persuades him to sneak out of his house at night, join a gang of 'robbers,' and play tricks on the superstitious slave, Jim. Like Huck, Tom is naturally innocent and mostly gets into trouble just for the adventure of it. However, Huck is gifted with a stronger conscience than Tom. When on the raft, for example, Huck plays a trick on Jim but quickly learns his lesson after he sees how it makes Jim feel.

Tom, on the other hand, is willing to make Jim's escape from the farmer's shed at the end of the story into a game, treating Jim as a plaything with no regard to the morality of the situation. Huck participates in the game, an action that has caught the attention of many readers and critics. This scene can serve as a warning to the reader of the dangers of blindly following outside influences.

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