Shortly Tom came upon the juvenile pariah of the village, Huckleberry Finn, son of the town drunkard. Huckleberry was cordially hated and dreaded by all the mothers of the town, because he was idle and lawless and vulgar and bad—and because all their children admired him so, and delighted in his forbidden society, and wished they dared to be like him.
The narrator’s first description of Huckleberry Finn paints Huck as the epitome of individualism and therefore despised by traditional society. Going against all societal expectations, Huck represents the romantic character that other children want to emulate because he seems different and free and illicit. Tom also gives Huck that role as he seeks out the company of Huck every chance he gets despite being told not to play with him.
Huckleberry was always dressed in the castoff clothes of full-grown men, and they were in perennial bloom and fluttering with rags. His hat was a vast ruin with a wide crescent lopped out of its brim; his coat, when he wore one, hung nearly to his heels and had the rearward buttons far down the back; but one suspender supported his trousers; the seat of the trousers bagged low and contained nothing; the fringed legs dragged in the dirt when not rolled up.
The narrator’s physical description of Huckleberry Finn gives him the visual complement to his individualistic behavior. Huck’s attire—men’s clothing that appears worn out and ill fitting—doesn’t conform to society’s expected dress for children just as his lifestyle doesn’t suit the village adults.
Huckleberry came and went, at his own free will. He slept on doorsteps in fine weather and in empty hogsheads in wet; he did not have to go to school or to church, or call any being master or obey anybody; he could go fishing or swimming when and where he chose, and stay as long as it suited him . . . [H]e was always the first boy that went barefoot in the spring and the last to resume leather in the fall . . . In a word, everything that goes to make life precious, that boy had.
The narrator continues to describe Huckleberry Finn as a character that symbolizes individualism over society. From Huck’s independence to come and go as he pleases, to his image as a romantic hero to every boy in St. Petersburg, Huck has what many individuals crave: freedom. This quote even specifies how Huck does not participate in school or church, two institutions strongly representing society’s expectations.
Aunt Polly, Mary, and the Harpers threw themselves upon their restored ones, smothered them with kisses and poured out thanksgivings, while poor Huck stood abashed and uncomfortable, not knowing exactly what to do or where to hide from so many unwelcoming eyes. He wavered and started to slink away, but Tom seized him and said: “Aunt Polly, it ain’t fair. Somebody’s got to be glad to see Huck.” . . . [T]he loving attentions Aunt Polly lavished upon him were the one thing capable of making him more uncomfortable than he was before.
When the boys return to the village on the day of their own funerals, the narrator describes how uncomfortable the joyous reception makes Huck Finn. In this moment, the narrator portrays how Huck Finn is not used to being loved or cherished in the way that Tom and Joe have been raised. While at first the unwelcome stares feel difficult for Huck, it’s Aunt Polly’s loving attention that makes Huck most uncomfortable.
Poor Huck was in the same state of wretchedness and terror, for Tom had told the whole story to the lawyer the night before the great day of the trial, and Huck was sore afraid that his share in the business might leak out yet . . . Since Tom’s harassed conscience had managed to drive him to the lawyer’s house by night and wring a dread tale from lips that had been sealed with the dismalest and most formidable oaths, Huck’s confidence in the human race was well-nigh obliterated.
Here, the narrator describes how Tom’s truth-telling directly affects Huck Finn. To begin with, this truth puts both boys at risk when considering Injun Joe’s fury, even though Tom left Huck’s name out of the account. While Tom’s conscience forces him to tell the truth, in doing so he also breaks an oath that he made with Huck Finn, justifiably shaking Huck’s tenuous trust in others.
[“]We can’t ever tell the right time, and besides this kind of thing’s too awful, here this time of night with witches and ghosts a-fluttering around so. I feel as if something’s behind me all the time; and I’m afeard to turn around, becuz maybe there’s others in front a-waiting for a chance. I been creeping all over, ever since I got here.”
When Tom and Huck go out at night to look for buried treasure, Huck reveals his youthful superstitions, fears, and imagination. In this quote, Huck explains why this time of night and location give him the creeps, specifically speaking about ghosts and witches. Despite Huck’s self-sufficient ethic, he is still a child that lets his imagination get the better of him, creating fears and doubt.
A deadly chill went to Huck’s heart—this, then, was the “revenge” job! His thought was to fly. Then he remembered that the Widow Douglas had been kind to him more than once, and maybe these men were going to murder her.
Despite his negative view of society, Huckleberry Finn reveals his high moral character when he cannot just run away after hearing Injun Joe’s revenge plan against the Widow Douglas. Despite great fear, Huck thinks about Widow Douglas's kindness and finds a way to help. Huck as an individual might disregard society’s expectations, but as a human being he shows genuinely good character.
“Please let me in! It’s only Huck Finn!” . . . “It’s a name that can open this door night or day, lad!—and welcome!” . . . These were strange words to the vagabond boy’s ears, and the pleasantest he had ever heard. He could not recollect that the closing word had ever been applied in his case before.
When the old Welshman greets Huck Finn in such a welcoming and inviting way, the narrator describes how surprised Huck feels by this treatment. Huck realizes that these words of welcome have never been used in connection with his name before. However, Huck also describes how pleasant such kind treatment feels. Perhaps, Huck’s heroic actions in helping the Widow Douglas have altered his views of society.
Huck Finn’s wealth and the fact that he was now under the Widow Douglas’ protection introduced him to society—no, dragged him into it, hurled him into it—and his sufferings were almost more than he could bear . . . [T]he bars and shackles of civilization shut him in and bound him hand and foot.
After Huckleberry Finn becomes a wealthy hero, the Widow Douglas takes him under her wing. While she has good intentions, the narrator describes how she forces Huck into society’s mold. The Widow Douglas thinks that she improves Huck’s life by giving him a home and teaching him to stay clean, go to church and school, and behave properly. However, these things only represent imprisonment to an individual like Huck.
Tom, it don’t make no difference. I ain’t everybody, and I can’t stand it. It’s awful to be tied up so. And grub comes too easy . . . I got to ask to go a-fishing; I got to ask to go in a-swimming—dern’d if I hain’t got to ask to do everything . . . The wider wouldn’t let me smoke; she wouldn’t let me yell, she wouldn’t let me gape, nor stretch, nor scratch, before folks . . . I had to shove, Tom—I just had to.
As the novel concludes, Huckleberry Finn disappears after three weeks living with the Widow Douglas. When Tom finally finds him, Huck passionately describes to Tom why he had to run away. In this explanation of how the Widow Douglas’s expectations conflict with everything he feels in his soul, Huck demonstrates his deep-down individualism. Society’s conditions represent a prison to a character like Huck Finn.
Take a Study Break
Every Shakespeare Play Summed Up in a Quote from The Office
Every Book on Your English Syllabus, Summed Up in Marvel Quotes
A Roundup of the Funniest Great Gatsby Memes You'll Ever See
QUIZ: How Many of These Literary Jeopardy! Questions Can You Answer Correctly?
7 "Crazy" Women in Literature Who Were Actually Being Totally Reasonable
Honest Names for All the Books on Your English Syllabus
QUIZ: Are You a Hero, a Villain, or an Anti-Hero?