One name from American Literature that probably all school children know is Mark Twain. Along with that, one book from American Literature that probably all school children have heard about is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Truly, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was a marvel of its own time and is still a great classic today as it illustrates for its reader the pre-civil war South far beyond anything one could imagine. The book itself makes such great use of satire and humor and criticism to make Mark Twains opinions known and paint a surprisingly accurate picture of the South. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain satirizes and criticizes societies and customs of the southern pre-civil war towns lining the banks of the great Mississippi River.
Mark Twain uses his masterful ways of satire to voice his opinions upon the societies especially in satirizing the judicial system, which he does so passionately in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Twain humorously shows how lenient and sometimes ignorant the court systems can be and how the law enforcement cannot deal with actual crimes. Law enforcement does nothing about drunkards like Hucks father and the court system hardly punishes him for his crimes. Judge Thatcher himself even tries to turn Pap into a sivilized man and gives him no clothes and a hot meal and a place to stay as punishment (Hamilton, pg 198-204). Twains main focus through the book is the satirization and ciriticism of prejudice and intolerance. Whites and African Americans are the main two groups contrasted in the novel. Throughout the novel Twain portrays Caucasians as a more educated group that is higher in society compared to the African Americans portrayed in the novel. The cardinal way that Twain portrays African Americans as obsequious is through the colloquy that he assigns them. Their dialogue is composed of nothing but broken English. One example in the novel is this except from the conversation between Jim the fugitive slave, and Huckleberry about why Jim ran away, where Jim declares, Well you see, it uz dis way. Ole missus-dats Miss Watson-she pecks on me all de time, en treats me pooty rough, but she awluz said she woudn sell me down to Orleans. Although this is the phonetic spelling of how some African Americans from the boondocks used to talk, Twain only applied the argot to Blacks and not to Whites throughout the novel (Berkove, 687-689). There is not one sentence in the entire novel spoken by an African American that is not comprised of broken English. But in spite of that, the broken English does add an entraining piece of culture to the book.
Twain also does a fantastic job of satirizing religion. Not only does he make fun of African American religion, he also makes fun of white religion. He satirizes mainly the hypocrisy that is ever present in the Christian churches of the Mississippi towns. Twain often refers to how much slavery is against the Christian beliefs (Emerson, pg. 631-632).
Although The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not a story based on a folk tale in the way that, for example, Harris’ Uncle Remus stories are, folklore does play an important role in the narrative and in our understanding of Huck.
Huck’s folk beliefs act in several ways. From his point of view, they are the catalyst for his adventures. Huck killing the spider and later spilling the salt cellar bring about the event – Pap’s return – which leads to his running away and all that follows. In addition to the role they play in the plot, folk beliefs in Huck Finn provide us with essential information about Huck and his relationship with Jim. For Huck, who does not have the support of a family or home and the traditional values these can provide, his folk beliefs become the solid foundation he lacks. They also are a connection with the only true family Huck has: Jim. Like the raft, these folk beliefs are a common ground shared by the boy and the slave and become both an equalizing and a binding force.
Occasionally, Twain will switch into cold, hard criticism. He does this with a few things like the feud between the Grangerfords and the Shepardsons and the family structures present in the era. His harsh and cold critique on the feud is one of his harder and least amusing parts in the novel but is none-the-less important. Twain made a major point of this when the Shepardsons and the Grangerfords are listening to a sermon of brotherly love one moment and then killing each other off the next, the exact type of behavior Twain despised.
In summary, the whole of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a book of satire and criticism, some amusing some not so amusing. With the closing of each chapter, one can go back and find more and more amounts of criticism and satire. There are points where the humor is so thick, its almost absurd but there are also points in the novel where the criticism is so harsh, it almost makes one want to take a break from reading it and go find something cheerful to take their mind off of the book. However, with out these elements of satire and criticism, the whole of the book would be laid bear and be nothing more then words going together telling a story of a boy floating down a river.