Themes are overarching ideas and beliefs that the writers express in their texts, including poetry, fiction, and plays. Themes make the story appealing and persuasive and help readers to understand the hidden messages in a story or poem. Some of the major themes in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are discussed below.
Themes in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Conflict between Natural and Cultured Life
A conflictual relationship between natural and cultured lifestyle is the major theme of the novel. Huckleberry Finn and his life present a natural lifestyle through his independence, uncultured manners, and plain behavior. His desire to be free is a way of civilization because he has been raised without discipline at home. He has seen the natural behavior of his father under intoxication and tolerated violence. Huck knows that Widow Douglas wants to make him a civilized young man, but it is at the expense of the loss of his true nature. Hence, he does not want to be civilized. Moreover, it is his natural behavior that he becomes Jim’s friend. Huck also confronts his own community to abolish slavery because of its hypocrisy in the cultured life.
Winning an honor or feeling the loss of honor is another thematic strand of the novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Tom Sawyer associates this honor with thieving and making things complicated. That is why robbery appears recurrently in the novel when Jim and Huck face robbers on their raft. The King and the Dauphin both are engaged in an outright robbery with the public. Later they also become honorable thieves but try to uphold their honor in every way as they try to get Jim out of slavery. This is, therefore, a noble act.
Absurdity of Religion
The absurdity of religion and religious persecution is another important theme of the novel. Huck is seen scoffing the concept of hell in the very first chapter. He states that it seems quite fun even more interesting than heaven. Later, when a character the King appears on the scene, it seems that he convinces the community to convert his friends. This shows that the use of religion for ulterior motives has been the hallmark old days, and it is still used to exploit the public.
Slavery is another major theme of the novel. Considering the flight of Jim and covering provided by Huck during their journey shows Mark Twain’s antislavery stance. The entire story is based on this theme, as Jim shows humanity in slaves through his emotions. He runs away from Miss Watson and works for his and his family’s freedom. It is also interesting to note that despite the moral conflict, Huck never debates about slavery. He wants Jim to be free, which shows his mental growth. This conflict makes Huck aware of the hypocrisy of the civilization which he rejects at this point.
Empathy is another theme of the novel which runs parallel to other themes. When Huck meets characters others than his community and family, he comes to know how to feel empathy for others. This comes to light when both, Jim and Huck become worried about the thieves that they leave on the steamboat wreckage. Jim’s empathy is shown when he cares for him. Huck also understands Jim. He agrees that Jim, like any person, must be thinking about his wife and children. Huck learns to understand other’s pain.
The importance and impacts of money or wealth run throughout the novel as a separate thematic strand. The difference between the rich and the poor and the haves and the have nots is shown clearly. Huck appears to own more than six thousand bucks at the starting the novel. The readers may assume that the protagonist is a rich boy. However, Huck does not display greed. Money or wealth is critical for Jim, as he needs it badly to win freedom for his family. For Huck, it is just another luxury.
Guilt and Shame
Two other minor but very significant themes are guilt and shame. Huck experiences these feelings throughout the novel. Widow Douglas takes him to teach him morals and religious norms. He feels guilty that everything he has learned does not apply in real life. Even in the case of helping Jim, he sometimes thinks that he is disobeying the religious or moral code the society has set for slavery. He clearly states that his conscience is with Miss Watson, but his heart is with Jim. This conflict first makes him feel guilt and shame and later helps him resolve this hypocrisy or double standard when helping Jim to be free.
Although Huck and Jim rational, they behave in a silly manner when they become superstitious and see bad things happening to them. For example, when a candle burns the spider falling on it, they think that it is a bad omen for them. When Huck touches the skin of a rattlesnake, he believes that a real snake has bitten him. The famous hairball that Jim always keep with him has magical qualities to make future predictions. However, it is interesting that the religious Widow Douglas has spiritual gifts. Also, Huck comes to the final point of suspecting everything bad when they see something new.
Huck, as well as Jim, are running for freedom either from slavery or from hypocritical customs. Huck runs from his abusive and exploitative father, while Jim is working for his freedom from the cruel bondage of slavery. They also want to be free from false social rules in the natural world. They are both trying to get out of the dangers and limitations that nature has put on them. These limitations are loneliness, insecurity, and the fear of death.
Racism is another central theme in the novel. Racism was born because of slavery in the 19th century. Huck faces a conflict in his mind about freeing Jim. Huck feels that supporting a slave against his white community is a crime. Despite a few racist incidents between Jim and other characters, he achieves his freedom. Due to his skin color, people mistreat him and believe that all the African American people are meant to be slaves. Huck believes that he has done a great job by helping Jim to free from the shackles of slavery.