Slavery As An Institution And How It Is Perceived In Huckleberry Finn Book Review Examples

Published: 2021-07-11 21:55:04
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Huckleberry Finn is the archetypical American novel written by the enigmatic Mark Twain and which sheds considerable light on American society as a whole. It tells the story of the son of a town’s vagrant who leaves his son in rags and tatters and who is very much at the mercy of the elements throughout. The boy is a lovable young kid who does not have much going for him but who is essentially good and although he is shunned by society, he still is quite positive and outgoing in his life. Eventually he meets a runaway slave called Tom who becomes his best friend and their friendship helps them move on to greater things and achievements accordingly. Twain’s sarcasm on the ignorance of American society is very much reflected in the attitudes which were pervasive at the time especially with regard to slavery and other similar issues where blacks were seen as being something evil and without much hope for betterment.
American society is built fundamentally on the power to better oneself rather in the Calvinist mode and the character of Huckleberry Finn certainly bears testament to this. Although he is shunned and reviled by society, he still is someone who from the dregs of life manages to make something out of himself. His attachment to Tom is instructive as here is a person who is suffering similarly without much hope of bettering himself or escaping certain death since that was essentially the fate of all runaway slaves if these were captured.
Huck’s upbringing is also an issue as it is clear that his father abuses him and treats him very badly, another penchant of American society where the father figure is treated as some sort of domineering force. The rules of the South where vagrants and the homeless are treated as vermin who should be eliminated is reflected in the considerable prejudice against Huck which permeates proceedings from first page to last. Twain is in effect quite a subtle commentator who demonstrates a wily knack at touching the raw nerves which are so prevalent in the close minded Southern mentality. This is demonstrated time and time again as things turn out differently for Huck when he meets the runaway slave Tom and the South’s prejudice is further exacerbated.
Twain’s description of Huckleberry Finn makes for intriguing reading indeed and has to tug at any of our heart strings with is painful sense of reality: "idle, and lawless, and vulgar, and bad,", all are adjectives which convey a certain sense of evil and doom.
Additionally Huck is described as such: "he was fluttering with rags." He has a torn broken hat and his trousers are supported with only one suspender”1.
The prejudices of the South were so great that Huck actually believed that he would be going to hell if he helped his friend Tom free himself from the shackles of slavery as this was an institution which was blessed by God according to Southern mentality. This type of approach was readily and regularly mocked by Twain in his narrative which obviously finds a lot to be desired in the American perception of such things.
Twain was a known anti-slavery crusader and in Huckleberry Finn he focuses essentially on several points which make sense although in those times, slavery being the controversial subject atht it was remained pretty much taboo.
Reconstruction after the Civil War was an important aspect of the American nation coming to terms with the end of slavery. Twain is again very detailed about this period and provides some insightful analysis into all of the proceedings. However there are some aspects with which I do not agree especially as he seems to be arguing that reconstruction was a bit hard on whites in the Deep South due to the fact that they were deprived of their principal form of labour. This was actually not the case as the black people could now offer their services but had to be paid according to what they did which was probably only fair but which was something which the white people seemed unable to understand.
Reconstruction was also important for former slaves as it also gave them the first taste of politics where they even held office in the US Senate for a time. Twain subtly argues that this was made possible by the understanding that slaves were no longer sub human individuals but were also individual beings possessed of a mind of their own and who could contribute to life in general even on a social basis. This obviously brought about considerable opposition from the white minority in the South who could not bring themselves to be ruled by blacks. This is an aspect which may be afforded much discussion but which at the end of the day is also an important moot point for those who wish to understand the deep rooted effects of slavery on American society in general and how this is continually relevant today even in the context of a liberalized society. The character of Tom is also imbued with a certain sense of nobility and although this poor chap is suffering greatly, he has an incredibly positive attitude to life which makes everything worthwhile and shows up slavery for what it is, a horrible and cruel institution.
Slavery remains a topic which arouses much controversy both amongst Americans and also throughout the world when discussing the past and its effects on society in general. One has to take into account the fact that slavery remains ingrained in certain societies although the American institution also persisted for several decades after it supposedly ended through the system of sharecropping and other forms of indentured labour. To sum up, Twain provides an interestingly different analysis of proceedings regarding slavery which are not always given their due or their importance.
Works Cited
Mark Twain, New York: Charles L. Webster, 1885, HathiTrust Digital Library, HathiTrust, accessed April 12, 2012,
Jacob O'Leary, "Critical Annotation of "Minstrel Shackles and Nineteenth Century 'Liberality' in Huckleberry Finn" (Fredrick Woodard and Donnarae MacCann)," Wiki Service, University of Iowa, last modified February 11, 2012, accessed April 12, 2012,
Hill, Richard (2002) (in English). Mark Twain Among The Scholars: Reconsidering Contemporary Twain Criticism. SJK Publishing Industries, Inc.. pp. 67-90.ISBN 9780878755271.

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