On the Friday of this past week, I declared my Spanish and English double major at Hillsdale College. Hillsdale's English department is known to have some of the hardest professors. Yet, like the motto which Hillsdale's students proudly affirm during tough times in the school year, "Strength Rejoices in the Challenge," I am ready for this test, and most certainly ready to accept the positive changes which will result from my instruction from these famous professors.
The following essay is a Short Analysis essay of an excerpt from Huckleberry Finn from my past semester's English 300 level course, American Literature 1820-1890:
Huckleberry Finn Excerpt
“My plan is this,” I says. “We can easy find out if it’s Jim in there. Then get up my canoe tomorrow night, and fetch my raft over from the island. Then the first dark night that comes, steal the key out of the old man’s britches, after he goes to bed, and shove off down the river on the raft, with Jim, hiding daytimes and running nights, the way me and Jim used to do before. Wouldn’t that plan work?”
“Work? Why cert’nly, it would work, like rats a fighting. But it’s too blame’ simple; there ain’t nothing to it. What’s the good of a plan that ain’t no more trouble than that? It’s as mild as goose-milk. Why, Huck, it wouldn’t make no more talk than breaking into a soap factory.”
I never said nothing, because I warn’t expecting nothing different; but I knowed mighty well that whenever he got his plan ready it wouldn’t have none of them objections to it.
And it didn’t. He told me what it was, and I see in a minute it was worth fifteen of mine, for style, and would make Jim just as free a man as mine would, and maybe get us all killed besides. So I was satisfied, and said we would waltz in on it. I needn’t tell what it was, here, because I knowed it wouldn’t stay the way it was. I knowed he would be changing it around, every which way, as we went along, and heaving in new bullinesses whenever he got a chance. And that is what he done.”
In this selection from Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain uses the interaction between Huck and Tom to illustrate a common hardship in youth. Leading up to this point in the novel, Huck had established a system of moral standards. Huck had decided he would rather “Go to Hell” than live according to society’s standards with the treatment of black people (Twain, 341). However, through the boys’ discussion, Huck shows that he fails to live up to this ideal. Through Twain’s use of Tom as a symbol of society, Huck’s quick submission to Tom demonstrates both Huck’s denial of his ideals and his regression in character.
Twain uses Tom as a symbol of society through Tom’s exemplification of the common boy and the common attitude towards black people in order to juxtapose Huck’s newly established morals with the morals of society. Although Tom is a rather rambunctious boy, people in society view him as one who is civilized. Tom attends church, goes to school, and is a leader among the children in town. Most central to this passage, however, is the reflection of society through Tom in his perspective of Jim. Even though Tom knows that Jim is legally free, he still tries to rescue Jim with Huck so as to get a rush from the adventure and fame. Tom is in favor of a plan with “style” because, although it might “get them all killed,” rescuing Jim in an extravagant way would benefit him. Therefore, much like the way society values black people solely for their utility, Tom values Jim only insofar as he can aid Tom. In contrast, Twain juxtaposes Huck’s rescue plan with Tom’s to show that Huck initially had a different attitude towards Jim than society. After Huck tells Tom of his rescue plan, Tom says, “Work? Why cert’nly, it would work” (359). Here, Twain uses a question to illustrate Tom’s bewilderment with Huck’s purpose in his plan to show how radically different both purposes are. While Huck is initially concerned with rescuing Jim in the most humane way, Tom shows that merely rescuing Jim’s life for Jim’s own sake is pointless. Through initially juxtaposing both purposes for Jim’s rescue, Twain prepares his platform for illustrating Huck’s transition of his moral ideals.
Twain juxtaposes Huck’s quick consent to Tom in this excerpt with Huck’s earlier thoughtful and long processes of logic to demonstrate Huck’s failure to live up to his newly formed ideals. In chapter three, Huck doubts both the usefulness of prayer and Tom’s assertion that a Sunday school picnic is, in fact, a group of Arabians and Spaniards. When Miss Watson explains prayer to Huck, instead of just believing Miss Watson right away, Huck wanders off into the woods and thinks about the benefit of prayer. Similarly, instead of going along with Tom’s claim about the Arabians and Spaniards, Huck thinks about the logicality of tom’s story and concludes that it is a lie after the length of a couple of days. In both cases, Huck spends time in thought about these issues. In contrast, in this passage, Huck quickly gives his consent to Tom’s plan, saying, “I seen in a minute it was worth fifteen of mine.” Twain clearly demonstrates Huck’s failure to uphold his ideals because Huck only thinks about Tom’s plan for a minute, then fully consents. Because Tom is a symbol of society, Huck’s quick consent to Tom’s plan shows Huck’s transition from believing in his ideals independent from society to consenting to societal morals. Furthermore, Twain shows Huck’s quick change in ideals through a short sentence. When Huck describes how readily he thinks he will accept Tom’s plan, he says, “And it did.” This short sentence illustrates the short amount of time Huck places in evaluating Tom’s plan. Additionally, Twain demonstrates Huck’s enthusiasm with Tom’s new plan through the use of casual diction. When Huck states his agreement with Tom, he says, “We would waltz in on it.” By saying “waltz,” Twain suggests that Huck does not regard rescuing Jim as something serious. This word makes the reader think that Huck will carry out Tom’s plans with more of a causal attitude than a solemn one. Twain demonstrates Huck’s regression in thought by Huck’s quick consent to Tom.
In conclusion, Twain uses Tom as a symbol of society to show Huck’s failure in keeping his ideals against those of society. Through juxtaposing Huck’s newly formed ideals with Tom’s reflected morals of society, Twain initially establishes Huck’s ideals in contrast to the ideals of society. But, through depicting Huck’s quick consent to Tom in this passage, Twain shows Huck’s hardship in keeping with his new resolution.
Twain, Mark, and Tom Quirk. The Portable Mark Twain. New York: Penguin, 2004. Print.
Jessica De Gree
Jessica teaches 5th grade English and History as well as 11th grade Spanish III at a Great Hearts Academy in Glendale, AZ. In addition to teaching, she coaches JV girls basketball and is a writing tutor for The Classical Historian Online Academy. Jessica recently played basketball professionally in Tarragona, Spain, where she taught English ESL and tutored Classical Historian writing students. In 2018, she received her Bachelor's degree in English and Spanish from Hillsdale College, MI.