Huck’s changing view on independence

Man has always been a social being. Primitive man moved about in groups which helped to protect him from the dangers that lay around him. Shakespeare’s view on the subject was that  “No man is an island” and that we are all linked to each other, functioning better when we can help and be of service to each other, with one person’s actions affecting the other.

While experience of living alone was helpful to Swift’s Robinson Crusoe in becoming a stronger person, it was not an easy experience. What Crusoe missed most of all was the companionship and help of other men, so he was very happy to be found and rescued from his lonely island. Therefore, the question arises: Is independence really a good thing? Robinson Crusoe found that it was not such a pleasant experience. In the book “the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by Mark Twain, Huck is also restless in the beginning and eager to be independent and he believes that he will be able to have the best time if he is on his own. But as the story progresses, he discovers how he needs others and realizes the value of having other people to depend upon, especially in his relationship with Jim..

At the beginning of the story, Huck lives in Tom’s house, where old Widow Douglas cares for him. She gives Huck new clothes in which he “couldn’t do nothing but sweat and sweat, and feel all cramped up” (Twain 2). All the cleanliness and orderliness makes Huck so uncomfortable that  “when I couldn’t stand it no longer I lit out. I got into my old rags and my sugar-hogshead again, and was free and satisfied” (Twain 2). He wants to be independent and independence for him is symbolized in the freedom to go where he likes, when he likes: “All I wanted was to go somewheres; all I wanted was a change, I warn’t particular” (Twain 3). He sneaks out in the night and gets involved in pranks with Tom and the other boys but in the mornings he has to go back again to the washing and the studying. The widow tries to teach him to pray and tells him God will grant him anything he asks for – but he must pray for other people “do everything” he could “for other people” and never think about himself. Huck in typical independent spirit thinks:” I couldn’t see no advantage about it — except for the other people; so at last I reckoned I wouldn’t worry about it any more, but just let it go.” (Twain 14-15).

Then, when his father catches up with him and takes him away to live in a hut, Huck is locked up and beaten periodically by his Dad. Huck enjoys the freedom to be dirty but when his father doesn’t return once for three days, Huck is scared and thinks he “wasn’t ever going to get out any more.” That’s when he makes up his mind that he would “fix up some way to leave there” (Twain 33). His father curses him and makes him feel so desperate that Huck dreams of his independence;

“I reckoned I would walk off with the gun and some lines, and take to the woods when

I run away. I guessed I wouldn’t stay in one place, but just tramp right across the

country, mostly night times, and hunt and fish to keep alive, and so get so far away

that the old man nor the widow couldn’t ever find me any more.” (Twain 34-35).

Huck does manage to escape and although the others come searching for him, they’re unable to find him and Huck is happy to be living alone, doing exactly as he pleases. But he discovers soon enough that it’s lonely living alone.

“When it was dark I set by my camp fire smoking, and feeling pretty well satisfied;

but by and by it got sort of lonesome” so he counts the stars and consoles himself with

thought that “there ain’t no better way to put in time when you are lonesome; you

can’t stay so, you soon get over it.” (Twain 54).

When Huck and Jim get together, for Jim has also run away, things begin to change for Huck. In finding a companion, life becomes good for him again and he learns several things from Jim. Firstly, that it wasn’t all that easy to make money. Jim tells him about several of the experiences he had with speculation which were all failures. Jim doesn’t want to be rich in life, he tells Huck; “Yes; en I’s rich now, come to look at it. I owns mysef, en I’s wuth eight hund’d dollars” (Twain 63). This the beginning of the lessons that Huck learns from association with Jim, he learns that it takes little to make a person content, because for a slave to be free is itself reward enough. With Jim’s help, Huck  is able to weather the storm because Jim urges him to leave the place where he is which would be awash with water soon and takes him up to a dry and safe place, so that they are able to escape the storm. As Jim puts it,

“Well, you wouldn’t a ben here ‘f it hadn’t a ben for Jim. You’d a ben down dah in de

woods widout any dinner, en gittn’ mos’ drownded, too; dat you would, honey.”

(Twain 66)

When Huck leaves for mainland to find out what’s going on, it is Jim’s foresight that makes him dress like a girl, so that the old woman Huck meets is almost deceived and later falls for the story he tells her about being ill treated by a farmer. Then, after they leave the island because Jim is suspected of being the one to have killed Huck, Jim is very helpful to Huck in giving him tips on how to take care of himself, and in building a wigwan to keep them snug, both in blazing weather and in the rain. When he and Jim find the wreck, Jim’s instincts warn him not to go on board but Huck forces him to go along.

It is because of Jim’s company that Huck has the boldness to go ahead and have his adventures, but at the same time, Jim is also able to instill some good sense into Huck. For example, Huck expresses his opinion that he thinks the King Solomon story about giving the child to the right mother by threatening to cut it in two was actually stupid because Solomon should have just cut it anyway. But Jim is able to make him see the sense in the story that a child cut in two would be of no use to anyone. He says, “I reck’n I knows sense when I see it, en dey ain’ no sense in sich doin’s as dat” (Twain 104-105). Huck is forced to concede that the Negro talks sense and recognizes good sense when he comes across it.

Jim is able to make Huck feel ashamed of himself for telling lies, something which no one, including the widow had done before. When Huck takes off by himself without a care for others in his usual selfish way, it is Jim who makes him realize how worried he had been when Huck was away and how happy he was to see him again. Then he continues;

“En all you wuz thinkin’ ’bout wuz how you could make a fool uv ole Jim wid a lie.

Dat truck dah is trash; en trash is what people is dat puts dirt on de head er dey fren’sen makes ’em ashamed.” (Twain 115)

This makes Huck realize as nothing else could have that friends who have been through things together to depend on each other and inform each other of their whereabouts. For the first time, Huck is faced with the idea that mean tricks are not the right thing to do. As the story moves on, and he goes through more adventures with Jim, he is able to realize that friendship can cut across the bounds of race and color. Huck and Jim become so close that they depend upon each other in an emotional sense as well and Huck does not reveal that Jim is a runaway nigger and towards the end of the story when Tom is injured, it is Jim who saves him, and as the old doctor says: “never see a nigger that was a better nuss or faithfuller, and yet he was risking his freedom to do it, and was all tired out, too, and I see plain enough he’d been worked main hard lately. I liked the nigger for that.” (Twain 377).

  Work cited:

*     Twain, Mark, 1912. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”  New York: Harper and Brothers. First Published 1884, Harper Brothers.

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