Mark Twain's classic novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, tells the story of a teenage d misfit who finds himself floating on a raft down the Mississippi River with an escaping slave, Jim. In the course of their perilous journey, Huck and Jim meet adventure, danger, and a cast of characters who are sometimes menacing and often hilarious. A hackneyed expression states that one should never discuss religion or politics in certain social settings. Religion has been, is, and always will be a topic of debate and disagreement. Literature is a major media in which religious sentiments are discussed. The description of one boy and his adventures allows Mark Twain the opportunity to impart his views on religion to his readers.
In his novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain uses such literary devices as satire, humor, and irony throughout his work to convey his aversion for religion and religious practices. In various scenes in the novel, Twain's distaste for religion is quite obvious, as traditionally serious practices are portrayed as comical. Huckleberry Finn, the main character, is either directly involved in these scenarios or otherwise a viewer and subsequent narrator of these humorous events. By writing his novel through the eyes of Huckleberry Finn, a young runaway who has had a very limited education, Mark Twain creates a character with quintessential juvenile innocence. This innocence allows Twain to satirize religious sentimentality and superficiality with abandon.
Miss Watson and Widow Douglas, Huck's unofficial guardians who try to '' him, teach Huck the concept of Christianity. The women emphasis prayer and Providence. Huck recalls, 'She told me to pray every day, and whatever I asked for I would get it' (10). The literal minded young boy believes that he would receive anything he desires if he prays for it. This is made apparent when Huck states, 'I tried for the hooks three or four times, but somehow I couldn't make it work' (11). Further attempts by the two women to explain prayer only leads to more confusion, making Twain's point that religious practices, in this case prayer, do not always make sense.
To further this point, Twain includes Huck's confusion over Providence. Each of the women explains the concept of Providence differently, actually contradicting one another. Huck explains what he is taught by saying, 'I judged I could see that there was two Providences.' Thus, Twain criticizes religious philosophy by creating a scenario whereby the two women, and subsequently Huck, have two juxtapose interpretations of a religious concept. Twain conveys his message of how ridiculous it is for two or more people to have different interpretations of the same religious concept and still claim to practice the same religion. While Mark Twain criticizes religious ideas when writing about Miss Watson and Widow Douglas, he illustrates the hypocrisy of the churchgoers when he places Huck Finn in the care of the Grangerfords, a well-to-do family embroiled in a thirty-year feud with the Shepherdsons. On Sunday Huck attends mass with the Grangerfords.
'The men took their guns along " And kept them handy between their knees"O The Shepherdsons did the same' (109). As the scene continues, Twain further develops the hypocrisy of the families, particularly the Grangerfords. 'It was pretty ornery preaching'o all about brotherly love, and such-like tiresomeness; but everybody said it was a good sermon"O' (109). Twain's use of irony displays the contrast of being a church member and being a church follower.
The Grangerfords and Shepherdsons, by attending church and complimenting the quality of the sermon, appear to be religious families. However, their respect for church and church practices remains solely in words and not actions. As in the rest of the novel, Mark Twain uses his humorous style to demonstrate his disgust for religion, in this case, the hypocrisy of the 'faithful.' When Huck and the king, a scoundrel who takes over Huck's raft for a while, encounter a 'camp-meeting' in Parkville, Mark Twain uses humor again to degrade religion and those who practice religion. They find a 'shed' where a preacher is preaching and leading a large group of worshipers in song and prayer. Huck describes the scene, ' And people would shout out, "e Glory!' oA-a-men!' ' (131). The people carried on this way: shouting and groaning and praising the lord.
'You couldn't make out what the preacher said any more, on account of the shouting and crying' (131). Twain illustrates the mob mentality of the followers at the 'camp-meeting' by showing the crowd's mindless ranting. The king, adept at the art of lying and cheat, uses the religious group's mindlessness to dupe them into giving him money. 'He told them he was a pirate"O' and that, 'he was a changed man now' (132). After hearing the king's story somebody yells, 'Take up a collection for him,' (132) and the group did. This con scene written by Twain harshly attacks the religious believer, painting a picture of a religious believer as gullible, emotional, and perhaps illogical.
Twain continues his attacks on religion through his description of the funeral of Peter Wilks. In this classic satire on the sentimentality of funeral customs Twain ridicules undertakers and all other aspects of burial customs. Twain has Huck describe the attendants' behavior and mood by saying, 'There warn't no other sound but the scraping of the feet on the floor and blowing noses"O' (180). The 'long-legged' undertaker was described as, 'the softest, gliding est, stealthiest man I ever see; and there warn't no more smile to him than there is to a ham' (181). Portrayed as an extremely morose and gang ly man, the undertaker is Twain's exaggerated stereotype that stands as a comical symbol of undertakers. The funeral was enlivened by a 'sick mel odeum' (181), and when the Reverend began to speak, 'the most outrageous row busted out in the cellar a body ever heard' (181).
The 'long-legged' undertaker 'glided' down the cellar and ended the dog's howling with a 'whack'. Upon returning, the undertaker announced in a manner of unintended comedy, 'He had a rat!' (182). After the rat episode Huck describes the sentiment of the others toward the undertaker by saying, 'There warn't no popular man in town than what that undertaker was.' (182). This comical account of a funeral is yet another of Twain's attacks on religious tradition. By grossly exaggerating the people and procession of the funeral, Twain satirizes one of the most somber of religious traditions. Mark Twain uses his novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, to express his views and sentiments on religion.
These views, while derogatory in nature, are far from outright vicious attacks against religion, but are merely comical jests at religious practices. He examines many aspects of religion, including traditions, practices, and characteristics of religious followers. He makes full use of the innocence of his main character, Huck Finn. Huck unwittingly questions numerous controversial aspects of religion throughout the book, which allow Twain to inject his personal views into the novel. Twain also uses his skill as a humorist to mock certain religious practices and traditions through his adept use of humor and satire. The evidence of Mark Twain's view of religion throughout his novel is unmistakably negative, displaying his aversion for religion and certain religious practices.
The conflict between society and the individual is a theme portrayed throughout Twain's Huckleberry Finn. Huck was not raised in accord with the accepted ways of civilization. He practically raises himself, relying on instinct to guide him through life. As portrayed several times in the novel, Huck chooses to follow his innate sense of right, yet he does not realize that his own instincts are more moral than those of society.
From the very beginning of Huck's story, Huck clearly states that he did not want to conform to society; 'The Widow Douglas she took me for her son, and allowed she would civilize me... I got into my old rags and my sugar hogshead again, and was free and satisfied.' When Pap returns for Huck, and the matter of custody is brought before the court, the reader is forced to see the corruption of society. The judge rules that Huck belongs to Pap, and forces him to obey an obviously evil and unfit man. One who drinks profusely and beats his son. Later, when Huck makes it look as though he has been killed, we see how civilization is more concerned over finding Huck's dead body than rescuing his live one from Pap. This is a society that is more concerned about a dead body than it is in the welfare of living people.
The theme becomes even more evident once Huck and Jim set out, down the Mississippi. Huck enjoys his adventures on the raft. He prefers the freedom of the wilderness to the restrictions of society. Also, Huck's acceptance of Jim is a total defiance of society. Ironically, Huck believes he is committing a sin by going against society and protecting Jim. He does not realize that his own instincts are more morally correct than those of society'.
In chapter sixteen, we see, perhaps, the most inhumane action of society. Huck meets some men looking for runaway slaves, and so he fabricates a story about his father on the raft with smallpox. The men fear catching this disease and instead of rescuing him, they give him money and advise him not to let it be known of his father's sickness when seeking help. These men are not hesitant to hunt slaves, yet they refuse to help a sick man. This is contrasted to Huck's guilt felt for protecting Jim when he actually did a morally just action.
Huck's acceptance of his love for Jim is shown in chapter thirty-one. Huck writes a letter to Miss Watson to return Jim, yet he ends up ripping the letter and wishes to free Jim. ' 'All right, then, I'll go to hell'- and he tore it up.' Here, we see that Huck concludes that he is evil, and that society has been right all along. The ending is perhaps most disappointing because it seems as though through all the situations that it seemed he was growing up and accepting his innate ideas of right, he hasn't grown at all. When he is reunited with Tom, he once again thinks of Jim as property. Huck functions as a much nobler person when he is not confined by the hypocrisies of civilization..