Satire in Huckleberry Finn

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In 1884, Mark Twain published The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. This novel is set in the antebellum South, and features a friendship between a white boy and a black man. It focuses on issues of race, particularly making the point that the institution of slavery is immoral. On the surface, this work appears to be a picaresque novel, innocently filled with wild adventures, but upon closer analysis, it is obvious that Twain decided to expose the problems that he saw in society using satire, one of the most powerful tools in literature.

Satire can be defined as, “A work of literature that mocks anything its author thinks is ridiculous. ” In this prime example of satire, Mark Twain uses his characters and the mini episodic fables in the novel to show how Americans thought in the past, as a way to prevent society from making the same mistakes again in the future. Pap is the alcoholic, racist, abusive father to Huckleberry Finn who embodies everything that could be horrible about a person.

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Pap is described as having “no color in his face, where his face showed; it was white; not like another man’s white, but a white to make a body sick, a white to make a body’s flesh crawl — a tree-toad white, a fish-belly white. As for his clothes — just rags, that was all. ” (p 29) The fact that this character is white and possesses these horrible qualities is satiric in itself, but the fact that he is also unbelievably racist adds to the satire of this character. When Pap finds out that a black man is going to vote, he says Oh yes this is a wonderful govment, wonderful.

Why looky here, there was a free nigger there from Ohio… ” (p 35) Pap represents the close-minded, southern whites and how they felt about free blacks. Twain put Pap his book not to condone the way Pap thinks, but to show Americans that this was the way that typical southerners thought, so that they could be horrified and not exhibit this behavior in the future. Jim is a character that can be described as the first fully developed African-American character in American history. He was more of a father figure to Huck than Pap ever was.

Jim added to Twain’s satire by being a character that had human feelings. Twain portrayed Jim as a man who loved his family, and loved Huck. He felt feelings just like any human. This attitude is portrayed quite well when Huck tries to play a little trick on Jim by making him believe that Huck had disappeared. When Jim figures out that Huck had tricked him, he says, “my heart wuz mos’ broke bekase you wuz los’, en I didn’ k’yer no’ mo’ what become er me en de raf’. . . all you wuz thinkin’ ‘bout wuz how you could make a fool uv ole Jim wid a lie. (p 121) When Jim didn’t care what happened to him once he thought Huck was gone, it exhibited the way he cares for a person; it’s as if he puts others before himself.

This is also shown within his own family, when he holds his little girl after yelling at her to shut the door, when in fact she couldn’t hear him after becoming deaf from scarlet fever. When he realizes his mistake he “ . . bust out a-cryin’ en grab her up in my arms, en say, ’Oh, de po’ little thing! De Lord God Amighty fogive po’ ole Jim, kaze he never gwyne to fogive hisself as long’s he live! (p 215) This emphasizes Jim’s character, as he isn’t going to forgive himself for being so horrible to his daughter. It does show a more violent side of Jim, but this also helps to show Jim’s satire because He’s both the stereotype of an African American prior to the Civil war as well as the character of a human being. He is portrayed as both the stereotypical slave, from his illiterate dialect to his stereotypical actions, but he also is portrayed as a human being with human feelings.

Huck helps not only portray his own satire, but he helps portray Jim’s as well, both of which adds to the satire that Twain executes in his novel. Huckleberry Finn is arguably the most changed character in this novel in the fact that he changes his view on Jim and slavery; this view adds to the satire of this novel. He almost turns Jim in as a runaway slave a couple of times during the novel. The first time happens in Chapter 16, and Jim senses this. Jim says to him, ““Dah you goes, de ole true Huck; de on’y white genlman dat ever kep’ his promise to ole Jim. (p 125) He does this to keep Huck from turning him in, and it works; coincidentaly, he runs into a man who asks who is on the raft and if the man that is on the raft is black or white. Huck answers with the following:

“I didn’t answer up prompt. I tried to, but the words wouldn’t come. I tried for a second or two to brace up and out with it, but I warn’t man enough — hadn’t the spunk of a rabbit. I see I was weakening; so I just give up trying, and up and says: ‘He’s white. ’ The ere fact that he lied told them that Jim was white, and then proceeded to make up this fabulous cover upthat involved pap and the smallpox to these men just to spare Jims life shows that he cannot bring himself to do something that isn’t morally right. The second time he second guesses himself is in chapter 31 where he writes a letter saying the following: Miss Watson, your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. HUCK FINN And after he wrote that, he thought,

I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, ‘stead of calling me, so I could go on sleep- ing; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and such-like times; and would always call me honey, and pet me and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had small-pox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the ONLY one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper (p. 91) Because of this deliberation, he, “ . . studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: “All right, then, I’ll GO to hell’ — and tore it up. ” (p. 291) In a way, this makes him the anachronism of the book; this adds to Twain’s satire because Huckleberry Finn represents America post-Civil war. He knows that turning Jim in is morally wrong and in the end helps set him free. He is torn between what the people think is right and what he in the end knows is right.

He ends up concluding that he’d rather go to hell than turn Jim in, because it’s not right to turn in a fellow human being, especially one that has been like a second father to him. Needless to say, The characters in this novel archetypes that support Twain’s satire. Another thing that supports twain’s satire are major episodes that, on the surface, seem simple, yet are anything but on a universal level. The Grangerford clan is Twain’s example of a traditional aristocratic family living in the antebellum era.

They’re extremely wealthy, as each family member has their own personal servant; their house is huge and beautifull, and they own a ton of land with over a hundred slaves. When Huck stumbles into their lives, the Grangerfords treat him with the utmost hospitality and care, but only after they make absolutely sure he has nothing to do with the Shepherdsons. The Grangerfords have had a hardcore feud going on with the nearby Shepherdson clan for about thirty years, and each family is intent on killing off the other, one by one, until no one’s left standing.

eud reaches its climax while Huck is staying with the grangerfords. This whole episode is Twain’s way of trying to show how so many great people met a needlessly tragic end by following traditional codes of honor. When applying this idea to his satire, one can see that Twain used this family feud to represent the south and slavery; they will continue to meet a tragic end if they keep sticking to this outdated tradition. Another episode that helped to support Twains “racist” idea of the antebellum era, which in turn helped develop his satire, happens when he portrays the south.

Two men are arguing over who owes whom a bit of chaw. It is an extremely stereotypical portrayal of the south, which got the southern readers of this novel angry. Twain wasn’t trying to make fun of his readers, but rather to have them realize that “They get all their tobacco by borrowing it from others. ” They borrow off each other without getting much done. Twain is trying to show them, by using extreme stereotypical means, that they are wasting their lives and should be productive.

This was the way the southerners were before the Civil war, and Twain is almost telling them that they need to change their ways, if a whole war wasn’t enough convincing. Overall, this novel was a piece of satirical genius, pointed directly at the south telling them to wake up and change their ways; from their treatment of slaves to their general being, before the Civil War the South was Racist and unproductive. They had an unhealthy attachment to tradition, all of which were starting to change after the war.

Twaine wrote this work not to resurface any of these new ideas as good ones, but to say in a comical way that, “the south had conservative ideas that inhibited the growth of America and society; let’s analyze at them, laugh at them, and never try to reinstate any of these ideas ever again. ” Without this work, who knows if society would have been able to move on from the pre antebellum conservative traditions, and start life as a modernized, more liberal country?

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Satire in Huckleberry Finn. (2016, Oct 15). Retrieved from

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