Through its contrasting river and shore scenes, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn suggests that to find the true expression of American democratic ideals, one must leave “civilized” society and go back to nature. Twain expresses his opinions to the public through the innocent and naive eyes of a fourteen year old boy. He not only uses Huckleberry to convey his thoughts but also uses the Mississippi River as the grand symbolic representation of nature and freedom. Twain criticized the contradiction that was present in Southern society.
The ongoing feud occurring between the two families, Grangerfords and the Shepherdson’s illustrates this successfully. The families attend church every Sunday and listen to the service which is all about brotherly love. After this they go and begin shooting in the woods and killing one another. Furthermore the feud observes human’s barbaric nature and accepts it as the correct way to live. The ignorance and hypocrisy of Southern folk and civilization is heavily criticized as the families are not able to remember the actual reason that they are fighting.
When Buck was questioned by Huck about the reason behind the feud, he replied “Oh, yes, pa knows, I reckon, and some of the other old folks; but they don’t know, now, what the row was about in the first place. ” (page 168). Buck is clearly clueless as to the reason, but nonetheless continues fighting. This highlights how people in society simply accept the ideas and way of life that the society imposes upon them without any questions or second thought. Such conformity flies against the grain of Twain’s beliefs as they do Huck’s. Different personas are another aspect about shore life that Twain has explored in the novel.
Huckleberry’s discovery of his true identity is contrary to the Southern society’s beliefs, practices and lifestyle. A significant moment in Huck’s adventures was when he made the judgment to assist Jim to freedom. Huck was educated his entire life that aiding a ‘nigger’ to freedom was wicked and immoral; and that he would be banished to hell if he ever did exactly that. The instant that Huck tore up the piece of paper and said “All right, then, I’ll go to hell”, he became of age and was no longer a boy; he turned away from society. Unequivocally, life on the river acts as a catalyst for transformation for character and conviction.
In contrast, life on the shore is portrayed by Twain as being “old shackly dried-up frame concerns that hadn’t ever been painted” (page 200). Residents of the town had gardens that were full of rubbish and did not have plants flowering in the garden. There were hogs that were constantly coming into their gardens and in order to respond to this the people had to keep chasing them out because the hogs ruined the garden. The hogs are a symbolic representation of the people in the town, especially the loafers, which are causing the town to become dilapidated. They also are not contributing to re-establishing the town, socially or economically.
Twain represents shore life as stagnant and that it is not evolving into a better society but it is indeed shifting backwards. Twain is more concerned about informing the readers about risking everything for the sake of freedom rather than to tell them a humble story about boyhood adventures. Huck’s replication of his death was the commencement of his adventures and pursuit of freedom. The persistent lying of Huck that assists in protecting Jim demonstrates how Huck has to constantly risk his life in order to honour his commitment to his slave friend escape the shackles of conformity and to Jim gain freedom.
Risking one’s life for the sake of freedom is an ideal that is strongly articulated in American tradition. Twain reveals how Huck has to escape ‘civilized’ society in order to achieve this particular ideal. Twain used Huck’s persona to emphasize the true American ideal. The boyhood adventures were merely a mask for political and social comment. Following the analysis of the aspect of the contrasting river and shore life it can be interpreted that true life is obtained in when in nature. Twain expresses his opinions, ideas and beliefs successfully and clearly through the voice of a youthful and adventurous boy.
Twain exposes and criticizes the contradiction and hypocrisy that is present in life on the shore. Being true to one’s self is a true American ideal that does not exist on shore life but is undeniably present throughout Huck’s and Jim’s journey down the Mississippi River. Shore life is expressed as stationary meanwhile life on the river ever-changing and a kaleidoscopic for moral change and development. Huckleberry Finn advocates the message that in order for a person to find the true expression of American democratic ideals, they essentially have to leave “civilized” society and return to nature.