The Widow Douglas she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldn’t stand it no longer I lit out. I got into my old rags and my sugar-hogshead again, and was free and satisfied. But Tom Sawyer he hunted me up and said he was going to start a band of robbers, and I might join if I would go back to the widow and be respectable. So I went back.
In these lines, which appear on the first page of the novel, Huck discusses events that have occurred since the end of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the novel in which he made his first appearance. Here, Huck establishes his opposition to “sivilizing,” which seems natural for a thirteen-year-old boy rebelling against his parents and other authorities. Our initial inclination may be to laugh and dismiss Huck’s urges for freedom. At the same time, however, we see that Huck’s problems with civilized society are based on some rather mature observations about the worth of that society. Huck goes on to associate civilization and respectability with a childish game—Tom’s band of robbers, in which the participants are to pretend to be criminals. Under the influence of his friend, Huck gives in and returns to the Widow’s, but as the novel progresses, his dislike for society reappears and influences the important decisions he makes.
I hadn’t had a bite to eat since yesterday, so Jim he got out some corn-dodgers and buttermilk, and pork and cabbage and greens—there ain’t nothing in the world so good when it’s cooked right—and whilst I eat my supper we talked and had a good time. . . .We said there warn’t no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don’t. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.
At this point in Chapter 18, Huck has just escaped from the Grangerford-Shepherdson feud and is thoroughly sickened by society. Compared to the outrageous incidents onshore, the raft represents a retreat from the outside world, the site of simple pleasures and good companionship. Even the simple food Jim offers Huck is delicious in this atmosphere of freedom and comfort. Huck and Jim do not have to answer to anyone on the raft, and it represents a kind of utopian life for them. They try to maintain this idyllic separation from society and its problems, but as the raft makes its way southward, unsavory influences from onshore repeatedly invade the world of the raft. In a sense, Twain’s portrayal of life on the raft and the river is a romantic one, but tempered by the realistic knowledge that the evils and problems of the world are inescapable.
It was a close place. I took . . . up [the letter I’d written to Miss Watson], and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: “All right then, I’ll go to hell”—and tore it up. It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming.
These lines from Chapter 31 describe the moral climax of the novel. The duke and the dauphin have sold Jim, who is being held in the Phelpses’ shed pending his return to his rightful owner. Thinking that life at home in St. Petersburg—even if it means Jim will still be a slave and Huck will be a captive of the Widow— would be better than his current state of peril far from home, Huck composes a letter to Miss Watson, telling her where Jim is. When Huck thinks of his friendship with Jim, however, and realizes that Jim will be sold down the river anyway, he decides to tear up the letter. The logical consequences of Huck’s action, rather than the lessons society has taught him, drive Huck. He decides that going to “hell,” if it means following his gut and not society’s hypocritical and cruel principles, is a better option than going to everyone else’s heaven. This moment of decision represents Huck’s true break with the world around him. At this point, Huck decides to help Jim escape slavery once and for all. Huck also realizes that he does not want to reenter the “sivilized” world: after all his experiences and moral development on the river, he wants to move on to the freedom of the West instead.
Tom told me what his plan was, and I see in a minute it was worth fifteen of mine for style, and would make Jim just as free a man as mine would, and maybe get us all killed besides. So I was satisfied, and said we would waltz in on it.
In this quotation from Chapter 34, we see Huck once again swayed by his friend Tom. Although in practical terms it would be quite simple to break Jim out of the shed, Tom insists on a more complicated plan with “style.” Dependent on Tom not to blow his cover—at this point, Huck is pretending, for the benefit of the Phelpses, to be Tom, while Tom is pretending to be his brother Sid—Huck has to go along. Indeed, as we see, Tom’s return in the final chapters of the novel temporarily stops or reverses Huck’s development: Huck, in many ways, reverts to the status of Tom’s follower that he occupied at the beginning of the novel. Nonetheless, Huck maintains his characteristic realistic outlook on the world, and his prediction that Tom’s plan could get them killed is more accurate than he knows.
But I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before.
These lines are the last in the novel. By the final chapter, most everything has been resolved: Jim is free, Tom is on his way to recovering from a bullet wound, and Aunt Sally has offered to adopt Huck. Although Huck has come to like Sally and Silas, he knows they are still a part of the society he has come to distrust and fear. Aunt Sally’s intentions for Huck center around the upbringing that society thinks every boy should have: religion, clean clothes, education, and an indoctrination in right and wrong. Huck, however, has come to realize that the first two are useless and that, in reference to the third, he can provide a much better version for himself than can society. The “territories,” the relatively unsettled western United States, will offer Huck an opportunity to be himself, in a world not yet “sivilized” and thus brimming with promise. Weary of his old life, Huck contemplates ways to continue living with the same freedom he felt on the raft. Huck’s break from society is complete, and before the dust from his adventures is fully settled, he is already scheming to detach himself again.