The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is one of the most popular literary works the world has seen. Huck, the main character, is on an adventure in search of freedom and the truth behind societal morality. The author’s biography is a big part of how this novel was written. I will discuss the author’s life, historical context, and the themes depicted throughout the novel. Mark Twain unravels the morals of society, racism and slavery, and Twain perverts the reality behind slavery.
Mark Twain, the author of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and many famous works, was born in Florida, Missouri (Beaver 1068). He was one of the seven children John Marshall Clemens and Jane Lampton Clemens had (Beaver 1068).
Sam was born two months prematurely and suffered bad health for the first ten years of his life. If one knows Mark Twain, they know he is funny. This humor he has was probably inherited from his mother, a warm, funny, and kind-hearted woman. After a series of unfortunate business disasters for the Clemens family, they decided to settle in the Mississippi River port town of Hannibal, Missouri (Quirk).
In 1847, when Sam was 12, his father died and Sam began working for his brother at Orion’s newspaper. In 1856, he became a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi, which was his childhood dream. Due to the civil war, river traffic was closed, and Twain’s boat pilot career was put at a halt. The civil war was a catastrophe for Sam because he lived in Missouri and it was the northernmost habitation of slavery (Beaver 1068).
Therefore, it was hard for him to choose sides. The civil war is the main factor that is why Mark Twain wrote some of his books. He served as a Confederate volunteer for 3 weeks (Beaver 1068). However, his brother turned republican and convinced sam to go West to escape this rebel cause. Sam listened to his brother and went. He was also a miner in the Nevada territory because he had the hope of finding gold and silver (Fulton 260).
Before Sam became popular, he adopted the pseudonym “Mark Twain.” He chose this name because it means “two fathoms deep” which is a term Mississippi Riverboat captains called out to say how deep the river was (Beaver 1068). Twain’s folktale The Jumping Frog of Calaveras County carries one of the greatest authors in history, Mark Twain, to fame.
Twain married Olivia Langdon and conceived a boy and a girl with her. Two tragedies stunned Twain’s life: the death of his son and the death of his daughter. In 1872, Langdon, Twain’s son, died from diphtheria at only 19 months old. In 1896, Twain and his wife left for Europe leaving their daughter in America. They had caught telegraph that Susy, Twain’s 24-year-old daughter, had been stricken ill.
Olivia left Europe early and Twain a short time later. Before Twain could see Susy, she perished (Fulton 258). “Suzy’s death had often been identified as a cause of bitterness visible in Twain’s later writings, and if Twain never recovered from the blow, neither did his wife, whose health declined over the next years. Olivia died in 1904.” (Fulton 258)
Twain will always be remembered mainly as a humorist. He was so much more than that. He was a novelist, journalist, lecturer and travel writer also. His works or so popular, he has several works translated into French, Spanish, Italian, German, Russian, Japanese, Chinese and Hindi (Beaver 1068). “With his dialect writing, sense of humor, and humanity, Mark Twain turned regional writing into a viable universal aesthetic” (Fulton 255).
Mark Twain’s two most famous books, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, are very good examples of Twain’s writing, sense of humor, and humanity. He invented the point of view of American fiction. He had many defining qualities like the genuineness of his language, the originality of his humor, his rational views, and his wide range of interests.
Twain coined many sayings and proverbs, too, placing him in a pantheon of most-quoted Americans along with Benjamin Franklin, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, and Ralph Waldo Emerson” (Fulton 255). He was different from other authors because authors of his time would try to imitate respectable literary customs. He had a unique way of reproducing the natural rhythms of human speech (Quirk).
An example would be the first sentence in Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: “You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but that ain’t no matter” (Twain 1). All in all, these important qualities made Mark Twain the literary icon he is today.
The time period that defined Twain’s idea and background of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was the time period of the American Civil War. The American Civil War affected Twain deeply because he was in the crossfire by living in Missouri. The Civil War started because of uncompromising differences between the free and slave states over the power of the national government to prohibit slavery in the territories that had not yet become states.
When Abraham Lincoln became President in 1860, he vowed to rid the United States of America of slavery, seven southern states seceded and created their own nation known as The Confederate States of America. The real fighting began in 1862. There were major battles such as Shiloh in Tennessee, Gaines’ Mill, Second Manassas, Fredericksburg in Virginia, and Antietam in Maryland defines the most expensive and one of the bloodiest civil wars ever.
The major causes of the war were a slave and nonslave states, industry versus farming, states and federal rights, and the election of Abraham Lincoln. The union and the confederacy had different views of morality which led to the war. Huck Finn has trouble choosing sides in this morality war in issues like slavery and racism, which are huge themes in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The civil war helps Mark Twain to shape the personality of Huck Finn.
Mark Twain unravels the morals of society, racism and slavery, and Twain perverts the reality behind slavery. Even though Twain wrote this book years after the Emancipation Proclamation, race relations during the time he was writing the book was still confusing and strained against the blacks. Southerners had enforced laws to assist the everyday life of a Southerner and hinder the lives of blacks. One of the laws was under the motive of self- defense against a black man. Northern and southern people did not see this as immoral and let it go.
In the beginning of the novel, Huck questions the morals and principles of society. The Jim Crow laws were made to limit the basic American freedoms for a black person. Huck’s relationship with Jim leads him to distrust what society says about race and slavery (SparkNotes Editors). “More than once we see Huck choose to ‘go to hell’ rather than go along with rules and what he has been taught” (SparkNotes Editors).
Also, Huck doesn’t know the true nature of right and wrong. He can’t fathom the ideas of society. Huck says, “What’s the use you learning to do right when it’s troublesome to do right and ain’t no trouble to do wrong, and the wages is just the same?” (Twain 16). Huck is very right. An example is cheating on schoolwork.
A kid that does his or her own work honestly will get the same grade or “wage” as someone who got the work from a fellow classmate and copied it. After soul searching, Huck has learned valuable aspects of life such as distinguishing good from bad, right from wrong, peril or friend, and more.
Society is hypocritical in the nature of welfare. Early in the novel, when the judge allows pap to keep custody of Huck, the judge honors paps right as owner of Huck over his own welfare. This court decision corresponds to a white mans rights to property, such as slaves, over the equal welfare of a colored man. Huck meets many people that seem good such as Sally Phelps.
Sally is Huck’s aunt who he runs into while searching for Jim, Huck’s slave friend. Sally seems like a good person but in reality, she is keeping custody of Jim while she tries to return him to his rightful owner. Sally and her families are the only intact and functional family in the story, which is why Huck escapes them. They are too “civilized” for Huck (Twain).
Huck doesn’t believe in that lifestyle. He just wants to be free from the morality of society. In society, people are blind to the true nature of one’s decisions and morals. Many people are hypocrites and selfish individuals. They would rather satisfy themselves than the welfare of others.
In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain exposes the hypocrisy of slavery by revealing how racism perverts the oppressors along with those who are oppressed. One can argue that slavery had to do with morality, but it really does not. Southerners only had slaves because it was the way of life. They didn’t know any other way. It was a successful way of life as well. People didn’t have slaves because they were racist.
They had slaves because it was the way of life. Often it is misinterpreted that slave owners were racist and the slaves hated their owners. But in reality, most of the time, slaves didn’t mind being slaves because their owners were not abusive and their owners provided for them. In some cases, however, like in Jim’s story, he hates being a slave. Some slave owners were like the ones society thinks slaveowners are. Therefore, Twain perverts the reality of slavery.
All in all, Mark Twain unravels the controversial themes that had a big role in society of that time. The novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is still one of the most popular literary works in history. It would almost be impossible to cover every idea Mark Twain raises. Mark Twain still remains very popular and he is considered the Abraham Lincoln of literature.