Controversial themes in stories are what contribute to making them some of the best pieces of literature. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, several themes like this are present. Mark Twain states at the beginning of the book that “people attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot will be shot.
This is an example of Twain’s writing style called satire, the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues, which he uses all throughout the book to get the themes across to the reader. Some of the ideas evident in the story are racism, morality/ ethics, and ignorance. Racism is clearly a prominent theme in Huck Finn. This is seen in the way Jim is treated by the people around him.
In the book, the time is set where slavery is still legal and is the norm in society. “It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger; but I done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterwards, neither. I didn’t do him no more mean tricks, and I wouldn’t done that one if I’d a knowed it would make him feel that way” (Twain 78). The society that Huck has been raised in has taught him that someone who is black is lower than those who are white, and that’s exactly what he means when he says he had to “humble himself”.
Although he is friends with Jim, he constantly questions if it is correct, he even apologizes to God because he has been raised to believe that those who are black are not pure; a clear example of racism in the society around Huck Finn. In addition to believing helping a black man is wrong, Huck helped a runaway slave which is a death sentence for him if he were to get caught. Another example of racism in Huck Finn is the way Jim is written as a black man who talks differently than the white people, and who is superstitious and naive.
Jim was monstrous proud about it, and he got so he wouldn’t hardly notice the other niggers. Niggers would come miles to hear Jim tell about it, and he was more looked up to than any nigger in that country. Strange niggers would stand with their mouths open and look him all over, same as if he was a wonder. Niggers is always talking about witches in the dark by the kitchen fire; but whenever one was talking and letting on to know all about such things, Jim would happen in and say, ‘Hm! What you know ’bout witches? ‘ and that nigger was corked up and had to take a back seat.
Jim always kept that five-center piece round his neck with a string, and said it was a charm the devil give to him with his own hands, and told him he could cure anybody with it and fetch witches whenever he wanted to just by saying something to it; but he never told what it was he said to it. Niggers would come from all around there and give Jim anything they had, just for a sight of that five-center piece; but they wouldn’t touch it, because the devil had had his hands on it. Jim was most ruined for a servant, because he got stuck up on account of having seen the devil and been rode by witches” (Twain 5).
Twain writes Jim in a stereotypical way, the way that white people back in that time period viewed black people. White people perceived black people as uneducated, and that they were reliant on superstitious beliefs because they did not know any better. When the black people travel from all around just to look at the necklace, Twain is suggesting that they do so because they don’t know any better, and that they are unsophisticated. Twain does this not to be racist, but to get his point across using satire. An additional theme present in Huck Finn is morality and ethics.
Twain uses the novel to teach the audience about morality and ethics even though they don’t necessarily concur with one another. As mentioned earlier, Huck helped a runaway slave despite knowing it would be a death sentence for himself if they got caught. “”But mind, you said you wouldn’tell-you know you said you wouldn’tell, Huck. ‘ ‘Well, I did. I said I wouldn’t, and I’ll stick to it. Honest injun, I will. People would call me a low-down Abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum—but that don’t make no difference. I ain’t a-going to tell, and I ain’t a-going back there, anyways.
So, now, le’s know all about it” (Twain 38). In spite of the fact that all of the people around Huck look down on black people and Huck has been raised to not think otherwise, he goes against society and stands up for what he knows is right. Huck is aware that he would be looked at poorly for this too, in his words maybe a “low-down Abolitionist”, but he knows him and Jim are the same; human beings. Let alone the fact that society would shun Huck if they knew he helped a runaway slave, back in that time period he would have automatically been hung.
Yet Huck continued to stay by Jim’s side, because he knew his morals went against leaving another human to be trapped in slavery. Ignorance is closely tied in with racism, which is another obvious theme that Twain incorporates into Huck Finn. By the end of the novel it becomes clear to the reader that Jim is the one decent adult who is actually looking out for Huck, yet all the white people are ignorant to that fact and look at the color of his skin as a way to judge his worth as a human being. This is a clear indication of ignorance present in the society that surrounds Huck finn. “It’s a dead man.
Yes indeedy; naked, too. He’s ben shot in de back. I reck’n he’s ben dead two er three days. Come in, Huck, but doan’ look at his face—it’s too gashly”(Twain 45). Spoiler alert: the dead man ends up being Pap, Huck’s racist, ignorant, abusive, alcoholic father. Jim knew the dead man was Huck’s dad, and chose to act naive by using his normal superstitions to avoid Huck being scarred for life by seeing his own father’s dead body. Society looked at black people as evil and lower than them, but the odds of someone else protecting Huck from seeing his father’s corpse the way that Jim did would be highly unlikely.
Despite Jim being the only adult who actually cares about Huck, he would still not be looked at the same way a white man would just because of the racist ideas that have already been considered the norm, which is blatantly ignorant. Twain uses this theme to make readers in that time period understand that the stereotypes they’ve created for black people in their head may be the opposite of the morals a black person has in reality, and that making assumptions off of a person’s skin color without knowing the good they may have in their heart is nothing but ignorant.
Mark Twain conveys the themes of racism, ignorance, morals and ethics to the readers by using satire to get the ideas across. Even though the way Twain talks about these topics in the novel may not be politically correct, and even make some readers uncomfortable while reading the piece of literature, he leaves us understanding the different ways society is ignorant and racist, and how some of the people who don’t agree with those stereotypes are having a constant battle between what is the norm and what their ethics/ morals are.