In Mark Twain”s Huckleberry Finn, the values of Huck and Jim traveling down the Mississippi River are contrasted against those of the people residing in the southern United States. Twain satirically portrays organized religion and society”s morals throughout the novel. The freedom and tranquillity of the river gives way to the deceit, greed and prejudice of the towns lying on the shore of the river, causing them to disguise themselves and keep their identities hidden.
These two runaways – one a slave, the other a beaten boy – attempt to build a sanctuary from civilization upon their raft, but the influence of the shore values continue to find their way into the thoughts, actions and feelings of both Huck and Jim, which becomes the major theme of this novel. While traveling down the Mississippi upon the raft, Huck and Jim”s sense of freedom subordinated all others. Jim was a “runaway nigger” Mark Twain, pg. 89 running from the law, yet he was free, while on the raft, to live and think as any white man. According to the rest of society, Huck was dead, murdered and thrown into the Mississippi; but on the raft he was alive. Both lived an idyllic life on the raft and as Huck put it, “…it”s lovely to live on a raft” Ibid., pg. 115. Later, when the Duke and Dauphin came aboard and they agreed to all be friends, Huck was relieved and felt that everybody should “…feel right and kind towards the others…” Ibid., pg. 121 while living on a raft.
Throughout their travels on the raft, honesty, kindness and equality prevailed, but whenever they touched shore, they encountered the deceit, greed, and cruelty of rural Southern United States. The idyllic life on the raft was contrasted with the hatred, cruelty, and distrust felt amongst the inhabitants of the shores of the Mississippi. Two feuding families, the Grangerfords and the Sheperdsons, are a satirized look at the lives of Southerners and of organized religion. The two families had been fighting for thirty years and no one knew the reason. When Huck asked if it was caused by land, Buck Grangerford responded “I reckon maybe – I don”t know” Ibid., pg. 105. Both families very hypocritically took guns to church and discussed with a fervor the sermon reported by Huck to be “all about brotherly love” Ibid., pg. 106.
Twain portrayed Mississippi River society to be a greedy, distrustful civilization in which the values were all twisted and where the church was more of a form of entertainment than a religion. Huck and Jim”s “Eden” upon the raft was breached when two frauds found their way onto it. The Duke and Dauphin were continuously lying, deceiving and taking advantage of others. The influence of these two was the cause of many unwanted encounters with the towns and people along the Mississippi. Huck immediately realized they were “…just low-down humbugs and frauds” Ibid., pg. 121. When Huck was able to slip away from the Duke and Dauphin and resume his journey with Jim, he revealed his relief when he said it”s “…so good to be free again” Ibid., pg. 197.
When the Duke and Dauphin returned, Huck “…wilted right down onto the planks … and up…” Ibid., pg. 198, exposing his dislike of the values which they brought onto the raft. The Duke and Dauphin provide an insight into the lives and values of the shore, and a deep contrast between Jim and Huck and the rest of society. Mark Twain contrasted the values of the shore and the river in a way which positively portrayed the river values and the lives of Huck and Jim, and negatively and often satirically, portrayed the values of rural Southern United States. Twain gave freedom to Huck and Jim and showed that all races of humans share like feelings and should all be treated as equals.
Throughout the book Huck contends with the influence of society”s values and in the end makes a decision to embrace that of equality.