The Absurdity of a “Sivilized” Society Authors often express their views on any given subject through their works, and Mark Twain is no exception. One may read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and believe it is simply a novel about a young boys childhood; however, a deeper analysis of the text reveals many of Mark Twain’s expressions about important moral and social issues. Perhaps one of the most prominent being the frailty of human justice and the hypocrisy we as a people foster in our societies.
Throughout the novel, Huck meets people who appear to be good, civilized people, but always end up having a hypocritical fault about them. Though not every instance is a grave matter, Twain’s writing shows that societies in Huck’s world are based upon corrupted laws and principles that defy basic logic. Twain’s writing leaves the reader with an understanding that cowardice, illogical choices, and selfish as well as hypocritical people mark these societies.
Twain begins weaving hypocrisies and cants early into the story; one of the most appalling being the issue of Huck’s custody.
This flawed system of thought is first shown when the new judge in St. Petersburg rules that Pap has rightful custody of Huck. Although this would be bad for Huck if his father became his legal guardian, the judge asserts Pap’s rights to Huck as his biological son, despite the fact that this is placing Huck’s welfare below the so-called rights of his father. Ironically, this system would put Huck under his dad’s custody, leaving him worse off, whereas Jim is separated from his family despite being a far better father and person.
However, the welfare of the individual isn’t highly valued in society, and thus they are placed in uncomfortable, often dangerous situations. The judge tries to put Huck back in contact with his horrid father and therefore abuse, but Jim, a loving parent, never receives help to be with his children and help rescue them from slavery and separation. This decision defies all logic one would find in a normal society, and yet this kind of thinking was commonplace.
The values and welfare of a black person were nowhere near as important as those of a white man, and even though Jim is a grown man with the most in tune moral compass of any character in the book, Huck still has power over him simply because he is white. By comparing the situation of Pap and Huck with slaves and their masters, Twain hints that it is impossible for a society to be civilized so long as it practices slavery. Though not quite as harmful, another example of a hypocritical character can be found in the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson.
In an attempt to “sivilize” Huckleberry, Miss Watson reprimands him for smoking a cigarette and yet she snuffs tobacco. “Pretty soon I wanted to smoke, and asked the widow to let me. But she wouldn’t. She said it was a mean practice and wasn’t clean, and I must try to not do it any more… And she took snuff, too; of course that was all right, because she done it herself” (Twain 2). She prevents Huck from doing what she believes is uncivilized and detrimental to his health, yet doesn’t think twice about proceeding to do something very similar simply because she herself enjoys it.
This example of hypocrisy is not particularly malicious, but yet another example of how all the characters Huck is involved with has some form of a hypocritical flaw. Furthermore, Miss Watson is quite religious and, in efforts to teach Huck, tells him that all he must do is pray for something and he will have it. However, when Huck needs fishhooks and asks her to help pray for them, she calls him a fool. “Then Miss Watson she took me in the closet and prayed, but nothing come of it. She told me to pray every day, and whatever I asked for I would get it.
But it warn’t so. I tried it. Once I got a fish- line, but no hooks. It warn’t any good to me without hooks. I tried for the hooks three or four times, but somehow I couldn’t make it make it work. By-and-by, one day, I asked Miss Watson to try for me, but she said I was a fool. ” (Twain 8). Miss Watson tells Huck that if he does something, he can expect a certain result but when things don’t work, he asks for her help and she chides him for it! The widow Douglas and Miss Watson are religious, educated, and yet, they are slave owners.
They educate Huck, and teach him religion but find it perfectly acceptable to do things contrary to their teachings, such as snuff and practice slavery. The latter, being a more insidious humbug of St. Petersburg, is shown over and over again throughout Huck’s journey. As Huck begins to stray from his backwards, insincere town, he reaches different places with different people, all different in their own way and yet, very similar to those in St. Petersburg. The Duke and Dauphin are two despicable con men who join Huck and Jim as they continue to drift on the river.
The Duke and Dauphin cause trouble for Huck and Jim, as well as the towns they visit. The fault here is that, the Duke and Dauphin are able to scam entire communities by lying, pretending to be someone they’re not, and cheating their guests. Though they spend most of the novel doing awful things or planning awful things, they both are hardly punished. After the first showing of The Royal Nonesuch, the first group of attendees realizes they have been cheated. However, instead of chastising the Duke and Dauphin, the audience that night chooses to lie about the performance in order to cheat a second group of attendees. Hold on! Just a word, gentlemen. ” They stopped to listen. “We are sold—mighty badly sold. But we don’t want to be the laughing stock of this whole town, I reckon, and never hear the last of this thing as long as we live. NO. What we want is to go out of here quiet, and talk this show up, and sell the REST of the town! Then we’ll all be in the same boat. Ain’t that sensible? ” (“You bet it is! —the jedge is right! ” everybody sings out. ) “All right, then—not a word about any sell. Go along home, and advise everybody to come and see the tragedy. ” (Twain 114).
Most hypocritical, however, is the fact that the Judge of the town conceived this plan. He who stands as a pillar of justice and truth in the town decides to cheat the others in order to save face. By the third night, everyone in town has seen the play and the Duke and Dauphin make a large profit from their misconduct. Immoral acts committed by the Duke and Dauphin never yielded punishments, but brazen, drunk insults led to execution. Boggs, described as the “most easy going old fool in Arkansas”, began shouting insults and anathemas at Sherburn, the man who had cheated him. He [Sherburn] was standing perfectly still in the street, and had a pistol raised in his right hand—not aiming it, but holding it out with the barrel tilted up towards the sky… Boggs throws up both of his hands and says, “O Lord, don’t shoot! ” Bang! goes the first shot, and he staggers back, clawing at the air—bang! goes the second one, and he tumbles backwards on to the ground, heavy and solid, with his arms spread out. ” (Twain 108). The Duke and Dauphin cheat entire communities and remain unpunished by their terrible acts; however, peccadilloes like shouting drunken insults result in execution.
Twain’s writing exposes the issue of faulty justice and duplicitous nature of men. Furthermore, Sherburn’s speech to the angry mob around his house in relation to a lack of logic and cowardice capitulates Twain’s societal views. Twain’s use of hypocrisy helps express his views on societal issues. Though not every instance is harmful, such as Miss Watson’s snuff usage, other notable examples such as the execution of Boggs and the custody of Huck highlight his belief that cowardice, lack of logic, and selfishness are at the core of society, not the communal welfare that it should be.
The repeated instances of insecure, logic defying justice are the root of the problem, as thoughtless crimes are punished severely whereas serious crimes go scot-free. Throughout the novel, Huck meets characters that appear good, yet Twain makes a conscious effort to prove they are prejudiced slave owners. The illogical choices and hypocritical people presented throughout the novel show the hypocrisy and ludicrousness of the “sivilized” society.