The Adventures of Tom Sawyer

by: Mark Twain

Important Quotations Explained

5
Huck Finn’s wealth and the fact that he was now under the Widow Douglas’s protection introduced him into society—no, dragged him into it, hurled him into it—and his sufferings were almost more than he could bear. The widow’s servants kept him clean and neat, combed and brushed…. He had to eat with knife and fork; he had to use napkin, cup, and plate; he had to learn his book, he had to go to church; he had to talk so properly that speech was become insipid in his mouth; whithersoever he turned, the bars and shackles of civilization shut him in and bound him hand and foot.

This passage from Chapter 35 is perhaps the clearest description of the way Huck’s life changes after the Widow Douglas takes him in. Though told by the narrator rather than by Huck himself, the passage nevertheless renders the situation as it appears through Huck’s eyes. This technique—rendering a limited, childish point of view as though it were objective—is one Twain uses throughout the novel to help us identify with the boys more than with the adults of the town. Much of the force of Twain’s heavily nostalgic narrative comes from the way it tugs at the memories most adult readers have stored away, however deeply, of what it was like to be a child. We are thus able to view the events of the novel from a double perspective: from a child’s point of view and from a wider perspective that sees the limitations of that view and, most likely, its charm as well. The ordinary quality of the things the Widow Douglas compels Huck to do is meant to shock us out of our own assumptions. We realize afresh how unorthodox Huck’s life has actually been. This realization in turn forces us to contemplate more intently the way a life of normalcy could feel like a prison after a life of such radical freedom.