Huck Finn, clad in his rags and sugar-hogshead, bare-foot, with his corn-pipe and dirty sack, is the leading character of Mark Twain’s controversial classic The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
. He constantly yearns to be free of civilization’s constricting norms: when the Widow Douglas adopts him, Huck despairs and flees with the black slave Jim, leaving the soft comforts of home for the carefree life in the wilderness. But his rugged, untamed character is also beset by certain weaknesses: he is lazy, easygoing, devoid of any ambition. Wary of being caught, he has the propensity to lie and conceal his identity among strangers. Huck Finn is the marked opposite of his friend Tom Sawyer, the town’s favorite boy-hero. While Huck Finn sulks and avoids the limelight, Tom Sawyer craves for attention and basks in it. Imprisoned in a log cabin by his alcoholic father, Huck frees himself by an elaborate escape plan designed to make others believe he was murdered. Unfortunately for him and his father, his “murder” results in the death of the latter and of Jim’s being tagged as suspect in the “crime”. Untainted with racial prejudice, Huck takes Jim under his protection while they float down the Mississippi on a raft. Discerning despite his age, he recognizes the “Duke” and the “Dauphin”, whom they take aboard their raft, for the rogues that they are. Huck foils their attempts to despoil a dead man, earning the gratitude and affection of the girl Mary Jane. Huck stays with Buck and his kin the Grangerfords, and watches helplessly as they go down in their fated battle with the Shepherdsons. He feels sympathy towards Sofia Grangerford and Harney Shepherdson whose forbidden love affair and elopement lead to the massacre of the Grangerfords. After Jim is caught and imprisoned, Huck reunites with Tom Sawyer who devises an elaborate plan to rescue him, knowing all along Jim was already free (the late Miss Watson has freed him in her will), and enlists Huck’s support for the dangerous undertaking just for the fun of it.
Huck and Tom had the restless spirit of young Americans while the nation was yet discovering new frontiers and the vast wilderness that was home to pioneers and explorers was slowly succumbing to the inroads of progress. Their boldness and playful adventures make us want to be young again, bringing back memories of a magical era when every boy could be whatever he wanted to be. Although purportedly a book on adventure, Huckleberry Finn presents a rather disturbing view of civilized society that, owing to the people’s ignorance and superstition, are prey to manipulation by others. For instance, the townspeople in a revival meeting are defrauded by the bogus Duke and Dauphin, posing as pirates turned preachers, into giving them offerings. It is a parody of those that have no qualms about committing or becoming party to violence: the lynching mob intent on hanging the Colonel until they turned tail in the face of his determined resistance; the bloody feud between the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons where neither side remembers how it all started; even Tom Sawyer’s insistence to go through all the troublesome motions to free Huck for the sake of adventure. Perhaps Mark Twain, not wishing to become another Jonathan Swift, preferred to obscure his satirical bent by disguising his novel, written in the words of Huck with all its vulgarisms, as that of an “adventure”. Whatever may be its darker side, Huckleberry Finn is definitely a timeless classic that never fails to entertain.