The character Huckleberry Finn personifies a strong emphasis on individuality in Mark Twain’s novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Quite a number of themes are explored in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, though one stands above the rest, the struggle between individualism and society. What makes this theme so important, is that this is an idea heavily influenced by Transcendentalism. Transcendentalism provides a large link between Emerson, Thoreau and Huck.Even very early into the story, Twain has introduced one of the major themes of the novel, which is the battle of the individual and society.
Huckleberry Finn, the young individual who represents pure individuality and the elderly widow, who bears the role of representing the overbearing pressures of society.In Self-Reliance Emerson states the following about children- “Their mind being whole, their eye is as yet unconquered.” (Emerson, Self- Reliance). In many ways this relates to Huckleberry Finn, because even though he has already been influenced by the world around him to some extent, in comparison with adults, his mind is still fairly open and impressionable. Huck isn’t completely convinced that many of ideas of society are true. Huck hasn’t been overly influenced or conditioned to think in a certain way of conformity yet.
He is quite morally underdeveloped, and with this in mind, Huck provides the perfect eyes for which to observe society through in the novel.The novel starts as Huck is in the midst of being converted into what they believe is a “proper” society member by the Widow Douglas and her sister Ms. Watson.
He is forced to abandon his ways that are deemed uncivilized and to instead conform to the ways dictated by upper class society. He’s on his way to conforming, as shown when he mentions how “At first I hated the school, but by and by I got so I could stand it. So the longer I went to school the easier it got to be. I was getting sort of used to the widow’s ways, too, and they warn’t so raspy on me. I liked the old ways best, but I was getting so I liked the new ones, too, a little bit (Twain 16).
Huck’s on his way to being a member of society, which would dissolve his individualistic personality, and more or less, crush the biggest link he shares with Emerson and Thoreau. As we delve further into the novel, Huck, still quite hateful of these rules imposed on him, is beginning to settle into his home with The Widow Douglas. Things are quite fine, until eventually Huck’s drunken father comes back and kidnaps Huck, forcing him against his will to reside in his cabin. Even now, after Huck isn’t under the eye of the widow anymore, his individuality is still being suppressed. Though now, he’s controlled by the polar opposite of his former predicament of the high end of society.
Even though Huck was rather more comfortable in this environment than he was at the widow’s, it still isn’t true nature. He still has someone who controls him in some way or form. He does say that “It was kind of lazy and jolly, laying off comfortable all day, smoking and fishing, and no books nor study. It was pretty good times up in the woods there, take it all around (Twain 26). Though, it is just likely because he prefered it to the widow’s lifestyle.
In the way which the widow and Ms. Watson attempted to control Huck and soon after Huck’s disturbed father trying to manipulate him in the same way. Mark Twain has exposed flaws of both ways of living. Not to say that Watson and the widow don’t hold strong conviction that their way of life is the correct one, but it’s that they try to force Huck to conform to their ways, that only proves the similarities between themselves and Huck’s father, though Huck’s father attempts to pull him in an rather opposite direction.Huck himself knows that neither of these is in his best interest as a person.
Then, he goes and fakes his own death, which gives him an escape from his father. With Huck finally free, the true journey for his individualism begins.Huckleberry Finn is quite a transcendentalist, though he may not know it himself, he prefers nature and doing his own thing than being the norm in society. Huck stated, “Living in a house, and sleeping in a bed, pulled on me pretty tight, mostly, but before the cold weather I used to slide out and sleep in the woods, sometimes so that was resting to me” (Twain 16).
Emerson and Thoreau both quite frequently discussed the overlining importance of the individual, freedoms, and self reliance. These two were both important people and members of the Transcendentalist Club which was founded by Emerson himself. To these individuals, the Transcendentalists, the fundamental truths of existence lay outside the reaches of the senses and could only be grasped by intuition. They believe in individuality, self-reliance, confidence, idealism, intuition, simplicity, spirituality, living in the moment, civil disobedience, and the importance of nature. As well as hold the belief that nature is what allows us to escape from reality. Transcendentalists believe in its power to free our minds so that we can connect with our inner spirit.Emerson called upon people to be individuals and resist conforming to society.
In Emerson’s essay Self Reliance, he stated that “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist. He who would rather gather immortal palms must not be hindered by the name of goodness, but must explore if it be for goodness.”(Emerson, Self Reliance). Huck is a clear non-conformist in everything he does.
No one else would even consider to run away with and help a black man. Unlike others, Huck does, He says to Jim “Well I did. MI said I wouldn’t, and I’ll stick to it. Honest Injun, I will. People would call me a low-down Abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum-but that don’t make no difference. I ain’t gonna tell (Twain 45).”To transcendentalists in general, social conformity was something that at all cost must be avoided.
Conforming marked the death of the soul and the loss of your freedoms. Huckleberry Finn is exposed to this social conformity early on in the novel . On page one, Huck mentions that The Widow Douglas has taken him in “for her son” and is attempting to “sivilize” him (Twain 2).
He also says that one “I got into my old rags and my sugar-hogshead again, and was free and satisfied. (Twain 1) Huck’s individuality link him more and more to transcendentalism in turn linking him with Emerson and Thoreau. Most importantly, is when Huck declares, “All right, then, I’ll go to hell,” by doing this, he refuses his place in society and heaven, and the magnitude of his decision is what solidifies his role as a heroic figure, as well an individual.Emerson and Thoreau both realized that nature was elusive and continued infinitely, but was something that mankind would never truly take ahold of. Though, that isn’t to say that they didn’t love the chase of it, delving into its mystery and attempting to experience it.
Huck is more connected to nature than he likely realizes, even further piecing him together with a sense of transcendentalism, and he provides a beautiful window into nature when he states that, “The stars were shining, and the leaves rustled in the woods ever so mournful; and I heard an owl, away off, who-whooing about somebody that was dead, and a whippowill and a dog crying about somebody that was going to die; and the wind was trying to whisper something to me, and I couldn’t make out what it was, and so it made the cold shivers run over me” (Twain 3). Huck hears voices in nature, but not at all in the creepy kind of way one would think. Nature isn’t this huge mystery to him, Huck seems to think of these animals in nature as his friends, or better said, his acquaintances.Even more interesting, Huck completely gets the natural world.
He understands its rhythms, even more amazing is how he can tell the time by how it simply smells. The text Huck uses says, “The river looked miles and miles across. The moon was so bright I could a counted the drift logs that went a-slipping along, black and still, hundreds of yards out from shore. Everything was dead quiet, and it looked late, and SMELT late. You know what I mean—I don’t know the words to put it in (Twain 36)”.
The simple fact that he is this connected with nature is unbelievably incredible.