Christian Morganstern once explained, “home is not where you live, but where you understand yourself” (Morgenstern 1). The transcendentalist finds his home, and therefore himself, not in civilization, but in nature. In Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck runs away from his “civilized” home to the Mississippi River to seek refuge. Much like Thoreau going to Walden’s pond to escape the corruption of society, Huck finds solace on the river. Only when he goes ashore does the peace and tranquility of the River get interrupted by people and society.
Ironically, they travel down the Mississippi toward the corrupt slave culture of the pre-Civil War South. The journey on the river symbolizes Huck’s escape from the immorality of society into an idealistic, or utopian home on the raft where he can develop his own moral beliefs while the southward direction represents the ultimate inescapability of society. Although the Mighty Mississippi represents Huck’s sanctuary, it ironically propels Jim and him southward toward the very slave culture they are trying to escape.
Resembling Marlow’s adventure on the Thames in Joseph’ Conrad’s The Heart of Darkness, the Mississippi transports Huck toward evil. While traveling into the Heart of Darkness, “the air was dark above Gravesend, and farther back still seemed condensed into mournful gloom, brooding motionless over… ” (Conrad 1). Although the circumstances differ, the idea that they are traveling down hints that they are bound for hell or in the direction of evil. In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn the evil they are headed towards is slavery.
As they travel down the river, the world around them becomes increasingly chaotic. In the antebellum South, Huck witnesses this disarray first hand when Colonel Sherburn shoots Boggs. Sherburn explains to Huck that people “in the South… think [they] are braver than any other people–whereas [they’re] just AS brave, and no braver. Why don’t juries hang murderers? Because they’re afraid the man’s friends will shoot them in the back, in the dark–and it’s just what they WOULD do” (Twain 149). This passage is Twain making a reference to the Ku Klux Klan.
He vicariously speaks through Sherburn, a Northerner, to convey with judgments of the corrupted South. As Huck travels further South, Twain… However, as long as Huck and Jim stayed away from civilization, they were untouched by the evils of society. This suggests that maybe it is not the direction they are headed, but rather the people who lived upon the shores that are evil. As long as they stay on the raft, their own little lifeboat, Huck and Jim were untouched by the wickedness that dwelled around them.
Thoreau, a Transcendental author, reinforces this reverence for nature when he explains that “Nature [is] not our foe, but an ally, not a dark force to be beaten back, but a marvelous force to be admired” (Garner 1). Nature acted as a sanctuary for Huck, and he felt more at home on the Mississippi than with the unethical people of society. Whenever Huck leaves his raft, his symbolic Walden sanctuary, and came to shore, he ran was faced with the corruption of society. The first time this occurred is when they met the King and the Duke.
Not long after, Huck realizes that “these liars warn’t no kings nor dukes, at all, but just low-down humbugs and frauds,” but puts up with them for Jim’s protection (Twain 128). These two men would put on shows and con people out of their money and then run away. As soon as Huck could, he planned on leaving them behind so Jim and he could go back to their peaceful times on the river. In addition, when floating down the river Huck is able to define his own morals away from the pressures of society.
The river is not just an unknowing, unfeeling body of water, but becomes the catalyst to assist Huck with his moral growth. He learns that “a sound heart is a surer guide than an ill-trained conscience” and that he should listen himself and not the ways of his more civilized elders (Hammond 3). Over the coarse of the novel, Huck finds a home and his morals while traveling down the Mississippi River. Although the people on the shores try to civilize and make him conform to their evil ways, he refuses because the river has become his asylum.
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