Race Relations and American Cultural Hypocrisies In Mark Twain’s Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn
Huckleberry Finn is an interesting novel by Mark Twain that details the life of a poor white boy who ended up helping his guardian’s slave to escape. In this novel, the author is willing to portray the evils of a severely hypocritical society, in which morals and religion had double standards depending on the color of one’s skin. The novel has numerous satirical depictions and moral critiques that make the book be more a protest against social evil rather than just an entertaining read. In the book, it is evident that Mark Twain was challenging the American culture. The book critique of the American culture is exhibited when the author, Mark Twain refuses to pursue Tom Sawyer as the main character. By following Huck and Jim, the author is able to highlight the irregularities in the American culture that are qualified as cultural hypocrisies directed mostly towards the blacks who at the time were mainly slaves. Huck is a great character, but his ‘goodness’ is subjective depending on which side of the racial divide one stands. In addition, the differences mentioned above set the tone for Mark Twain’s critique of the American system. This paper relies on Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to define and discuss the satirical depiction and moral critique of race relations and American cultural hypocrisies.
Satirical Depiction of Race Relations
Satire can be defined as a concept or style of writing that uses irony or ridicule to portray a vice or some level of decadence and is thus associated with humor although the humor has to contain some elements of truth and be rather serious to a larger extent. Throughout the story, Huck is seen to have an incredible sense of humor. As the main character, it can be noted that Mark Twain uses Huck’s intelligence and inventiveness to express the decadence of the American society in a manner that is truthful, serious and funny in a dark way thus constituting a satirical depiction. Numerous examples in the book can be used to corroborate Twain’s view on the American society. For instance, in Chapter16, Huck is forced to lie that Jim is a white man with chicken pox (Twain 119). Here, Huck was trying to convince the slave catchers that they did not need to bother about the man who was on the raft with him. Later on, in Chapter 20, the swindlers also asked Huck if Jim was a runaway slave and his response was also a rather weird question. Huck’s question was: ‘Goodness sake, would a runaway nigger run south?’(Twain 139). In this case, the runaway nigger was running south. It can be noted that in the book, Huck has to lie many times in order to save Jim from salve catchers, swindlers and many other people who are bent of destroying blacks or enslaving them forever. The quickness, with which Huck keeps lying to defend his comrade, is rather enlightening.
Despite being mostly honest in the story, Huck is forced to compromise his own values in order to save the life and freedom of a man that he has grown to like. Yet in the eyes of the society, Huck is a disobedient, lying and ungrateful boy. Therefore, it is interesting to understand what it means when a boy has to lie in order to protect an innocent man from persecution that is based on his race. The number of lies told by Huck in order to protect Jim simply proves the presence of an obvious problem about how the whites treat the blacks within the novel.
Another case of satirical depiction on race relations would concern the Huck’s fear of being referred to as an abolitionist. Huck had his own ways of expressing his spirituality, but he did not have much respect for authority. In contrast to many, Huck did not believe that the good God that people worship could allow some individuals to enslave others. Huck was worried about what the society would think of him if he was known to help a slave escape. At first, this fear seems simply humorous like Huck’s assertion that six times seven is thirty-five (Twain 69). However, with time, it becomes clear that Mark Twain was emphasizing on the reality of the bad race relations in the novel’s setting. Thus, the situation is depicted to have been so bad that even such a self proclaimed anarchist as Huck would fear being seen as supportive of the ‘inferior’ race.
Moral Critique of Race Relations
In this novel, Aunt Sally is the lead character in the author’s moral critique of race relations. Aunt Sally is a very kind and caring widow who takes Huck off the streets and tries to reform and educate him so that he can fit in within the mainstream society and make something of himself. However, Aunt Sally also happens to be Jim’s mistress, which means that she owns Jim. In fact, Aunt Sally is very religious and rather pious. She quotes the Bible and tries to do the right things at all times unless it involves a black person. To her, it is rather clear that the Bible’s teachings do not apply when it comes to people of color. In addition, this is disturbing on many levels. First, Aunt Sally’s attitude towards injustices concerning the slaves implies that a different moral compass is applied when dealing with Africans in the story (Twain 51). As opposed to the religious doctrines of kindness and compassion as well as goodwill towards one’s neighbors, the blacks in this story were treated with indifference, and this was the ‘right thing to do.’ In this case, it means that morality was defined and dictated by the color of one’s skin.
Another example of moral critique on race relations in this novel is related to Mark Twain’s persistence on the conscience verses instinct conflict, especially with respect to the novel’s main character, Huck. Huck’s conscience is rather weary of what he is doing, seeing as he is even afraid of being labeled as an abolitionist. Nevertheless, his instincts tell him that he is doing the right thing. The society generally shapes one’s inclinations concerning morality, and this is often depicted in the constructs of one’s conscience. Therefore, for Huck, his conscience was rather filled with anti-black sentiments and ideologies. He had grown to believe that a ‘slave is not a man’ and that it was even religiously right to own a slave and teach them respect. However, it is questionable how morally correct it is for one to own another human being and treat him or her like a savage with no rights of their own. In this story, it is clear that this was moral if the human being was black. In addition, if Huck had followed this moral compass, he would not have helped Jim at all. Neither would he have compromised his personal values to save Jim from being captured by Slave Catchers. Generally, by creating a character that was willing to defy the social norms and rely on his instincts rather than conscience, Mark Twain is demonstrating how much the American society was at the time twisted concerning its understanding and construction of race relations. In Chapter XVI, Huck was really close to denouncing Jim after being attacked by his conscience. However, his instincts won the day as he ends up sticking up for Jim and continues to protect him from the whites even against his own values.
American Cultural Hypocrisies
In order to understand cultural hypocrisies in this novel, it is important to consider the case of Pap Finn as well as Aunt Sally. Pap Finn is Huck’s drunk and violent father who shows up occasionally to terrorize his son before disappearing again into drunken oblivion. In the story, Pap Finn considers himself virtuous when it comes to finding Huck Finn in order to get him punished for helping Jim escape (Twain 109). However, Pap Finn himself is not in any way a good person. Pap Finn was violent towards his son, beat him up at every chance he got and even prevented the boy from going to school when he was young. All these acts are considerably unbecoming, especially for a parent. Nevertheless, the society did not find it appropriate to punish Pap Finn while when Huck Finn helps a slave to escape, there is a reward for his capture, and his father is willing to help catch him only to get the reward. The question here would be where this father gets the confidence to be ‘righteous’ after all he has done in the past. His sudden consideration for what is ‘right’ is probably the most hypocritical concept in this novel. Primarily, Pap Finn was not concerned about the law or the society. He was just a self-centered drunkard who wanted the reward money so that he could go on yet another drinking spree. In addition, to get this, he was even willing to sacrifice his own son. The interesting part is that no one really saw anything wrong in this. The society actually lauded his courage instead of condemning the cruelty of his ‘conscience.’
On the other hand, Aunt Sally is a kind person. She is compassionate and rather gentle. She also exhibits hypocrisy because of her indifference towards the slaves. She finds justifications for slavery within the Bible and even continues to teach Huck to have the same ideas and opinions about slaves seeing as a ‘slave is not a man.’ It is inconceivable how it is possible to read the Bible, treat others kindly and compassionately, and at the same time be cruel and even inhumane towards the slaves. Aunt Sally may not really have done anything that is particularly unbecoming, but her obvious indifference to the subject of slavery is astonishing throughout the novel. She could have interceded for her own slaves and protected them as their mistress, but instead, she chose to be blind and let them be treated poorly by her white neighbors and friends. This fact does not speak well for the American culture. When good people do nothing, evil thrives significantly within the given society. In this case, Aunt Sally was the hypocrite who could have saved Jim from the very beginning. Instead, she applied double standards in her interpretation of the Bible and thus justified the cruelty and barbarism, with which the slaves were treated.
Mark Twain is an interesting author, and his protest stories are always more empowering than not. In Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain was able to carefully and yet wholly illustrate race relations and cultural hypocrisies with impressive satire, humor and criticism. In the book, Huck was a young and poor boy, and yet he represents the voice of change in a society that is plagued by moral, cultural and religious hypocrisies. The young boy defies all odds including his own conscience and helps a slave escape and evade capture so many times. It can also be noted that while there are some good people in the story, the double standards, with which they see the world, ensure that they are unable to change their moral orientation. As such, the society remains largely dark and twisted in its own element where a father is willing to capture his own son and probably send him to his death just to get the reward money and go drinking.