Read a character sketch of Huckleberry Finn
Huckleberry Finn represents freedom, both inside American society and from American society. As the son of the town drunk, and with no supervision, he lives on the edge of society. His father neglects him and he is to all intents and purposes, an orphan. He doesn’t have to go home at night like other kids and provided no-one stops him, he sleeps where he likes. He forages for food, which means that no-one makes him go home and sit down at the table. He doesn’t have to go to school if he doesn’t want to and he doesn’t have to do chores or take care of himself by bathing or wearing clean clothes. His swearing and smoking make him a figure of envy among the other kids.
Having had to fend for himself for a long time, he has developed a common sense way of looking at the world and a practicality that contrasts with Tom’s dream-like attitude to reality. Unlike Tom he is not well read so he lives in the real world rather in the fantasy world Tom does. Mark Twain juxtaposes Tom’s romantic nature with Huck’s more literal and logical outlook: his practical approach to things is set against Tom’s emotional approach. At the same time he does not question Tom’s knowledge, regarding it as superior to his own, given that Tom is part of a respectable, conventional family that reads books and has conversations, displays table manners and goes to school. He looks up to Tom and, like the other children, follows his lead.
The town’s folk differ in their view of Huck. Most of St. Petersburg’s adults regard him as a social menace, a nuisance, and a possible danger, even. He’s “cordially hated and dreaded by all the mothers in town.” On the other hand, the children admire him, wishing that they dared be like him, enjoying a lack of attachment and a delicious freedom forbidden to them. Because the reader likes Huck we side with him against the town’s adults, who come across as somewhat narrow.
In spite of his cutting a dashing, romantic figure among the kids of St. Petersburg, Huck doesn’t push himself forward or insist on having a say in anything he is involved in with Tom. He is rather quiet and reserved. He is not a leader, he is more of an observer and a follower. He doesn’t initiate anything and is content to follow Tom’s wild romantic escapades. He agrees to go to Jackson’s Island and he joins in the search for the treasure and it isn’t until the end of the novel that his personality really comes out.
Whereas by the end of the novel Tom is quite clear that he is opting for a stable life in St. Petersburg in exchange for the loss of freedom, Huck is not sure about it. Although he goes to live with the Widow Douglas we can see that her attempts to civilise him are not likely to be successful.
We don’t get to know Huck all that well in this novel – the spotlight is on Tom Sawyer. Huck isn’t the “idle, and lawless, and vulgar and bad” kid the townspeople regard him as. Just after he and Tom have found Injun Joe lying drunk on the floor of the haunted room and they have fled the scene, Tom asks him where he’s going to sleep. He tells Tom that he will go to Uncle Jake. The old slave has been kind to him and in return he repays him by taking him water and food when he can. He doesn’t like to talk about it because there is a stigma to his association with a slave. But when we hear him talking about it we become aware that he is a thoughtful and caring boy.
But generally, Huck’s development is not an issue for Twain: he is about to become the hero of another novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, in which his development will be continued and brought to a conclusion.
That’s our Huckleberry Finn character analysis. Make sense? Any questions? Let us know in the comments section below!