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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Huck and Jim : romantic fools Kean, Wayne

Abstract

The thesis of this paper is that Huck, in "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn", is not the romantic outcast that he was in "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer", and that both he and Jim would rather belong to shore society than flee from it. Thus, the disappointment that readers feel in the Phelps' farm ending stems from their own sentimental responses to Huck and Jim, rather than from any flaw in the structure of the novel itself. A close look at Jim and his relationships with other negroes and with Huck shows him to be "monstrous proud," insincere and duplicitous. He lies to Huck, for example, about Pap Finn's death—to protect himself more than Huck. He seldom knows what to do next to attain his freedom; he spends most of the river journey either bound, hand and foot or painted a dull blue, looking like a "sick Arab." When Huck joins Tom Sawyer's gang, he is symbolically coming to terms with society. He agrees to be respectable and is allowed to enjoy the fellowship of the gangs. He makes a similar transaction at the widow's and at the Grangerford's, where he wears good clothes and uses good manners and in return enjoys the comforts of having a home. One of the most crucial decisions he makes is to betray the two outcasts, the king and the duke, (whom he admires and calls "our gang"), and save the innocent Wilks girls. Partly because he is so attracted by society, Huck is reluctant to help Jim attain freedom. The first part of the river journey is just an adventure for Huck, as is made clear by his behaviour on the "Walter Scott". His decisions at Cairo and at the end of the river journey to help Jim are prompted primarily by selfish motives. Freeing Jim will cure his loneliness and assuage his guilt. Besides, sending that letter to Miss Watson would reveal that Huck was still alive—and he would wind up in pap's clutches again. At the Phelps' farm, Huck makes his final crucial decision: he decides to abandon Jim and Tom on the raft and stay home, so as not to grieve Aunt Sally any more. In the end he discovers that both Jim and Tom have been lying to him, and it is them he wishes to be free of, not Aunt Sally. We must beware being taken in by his last protest against civilization. Although there are parts of the river journey that are indeed "lovely," and that represent freedom for most readers, a realistic view of the whole novel indicates that it is a story of return to society rather than escape from it.

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