Morality in “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”

Moral values govern an individual’s ability to establish a clear connection between right and wrong. Though these values can derive from various sources, including community, family, or religious affiliations; the source most privileged are an individual’s experiences. In the novel, Huck is constantly forced to choose between what is consciously right and morally wrong. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, proves to be a bildungsroman novel, through Hucks encounters facing racism, religion, and societal pressures and expectations, Huck demonstrates overall growth in morality.

During the Civil War slavery was a generally accepted idea, as a result, few questioned the injustices of slavery. Many people held the common belief that slaves should be regarded as nothing more than property; including Huck. However, through Huck’s relationship with Jim, this belief begins to fade. After the their escape, Huck is conflicted between returning Jim and freeing him from slavery, overwhelmed, he decides he’s going to pray. But, as he began to pray nothing came out. Believing he is doing the right thing, Huck decides to write a letter to Miss Watson, and attempts to pray afterwards. “I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now….” (ch 31). After writing the letter he feels a sense of relief, but is soon again troubled by his thoughts and begins to think of all the good times he’s had with Jim. “All right, then, I’ll go to hell” (ch 31). He later decides that his developing friendship with Jim is more important, and worth whatever consequence he must face. Instead of sending the letter and doing what would be considered morally correct by society, he follows his own moral compass.

As within any religious community, there are certain beliefs and practices expected to be upheld by its members of society. “The Widow Douglas she took me as for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me….” (Twain Ch 1). When Huck first goes to live with The Widow Douglas, she makes an attempt to civilize Huck and teach him about religious concepts and beliefs. Huck doesn’t concern himself with the widows teachings, simply because it disinterested him and he doesn’t believe it to serve a purpose. A recurring teaching she discussed with Huck was the concept of heaven and hell. “Then she told me about the bad place, and I said I wish I was there” (Ch 1). More than once we see Huck make the decision to go to hell, but for different reasons; the first being that Tom Sawyer is going to hell. His decision to go to go to hell because that’s where Tom was going reveals his lack of morality and ignorance. Throughout his journey, he encounters various individuals who seem to be good Christian people, but are prejudiced slave owners. It is through his relationship with Jim, that he comes to understand and question the hypocrisy in the society surrounding him. As a result, Huck decides to make his decision based off of his own experiences and logic; choosing to go to hell rather than follow what he has been taught.

In the beginning of the novel Huck is perceived as a naive and inexperienced young boy. As any adolescent, he is heavily influenced by his peers and societal pressures. For this reason, his relationship with Tom Sawyer has a strong impact on his sense of morality. “But Tom Sawyer he hunted me up and said he was going to start a band of robbers, and I might join if….” (ch 1). The main reason Huck moves back in with the Widow Douglas is because Tom Sawyer tells him to. Huck blindly follows Tom Sawyer and his ideas despite knowing they’re illogical and unrealistic. “Well, if that’s the way I’m agreed, but I don’t take no stock in it” (ch 1). Huck as well as other members begin to question the reasoning and logic behind the gang and their doings, however despite knowing Tom’s plan was illogical, he decided since Tom Sawyer is doing it, he might as well do it too. It is only when Huck runs away, he is finally able to free himself of Tom’s influences and develop his own morals and values.

Moral values derive from various sources, including community, family, and religious affiliation. However, the source privileged in the novel, are Huck’s experiences. Despite Huck’s initial immaturity, it is through his journey and encounters dealing with racism, religion and societal pressures, that Huck learns the value of independence, establishing his own sense of morality.