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Peter G. (Princeton) •
Alice B. (Chicago) •
Katie C. (Cornell) •
The Mississippi River
The Mississippi River, on and around which so much of the action of Huckleberry Finn takes place, is a muscular, sublime, and dangerous body of water and a symbol for absolute freedom. It is literally the place where Huck feels most comfortable and at ease, and also the means by which Huck and Jim hope to access the free states. The river is physically fluid, flexible, and progressive, just as Huck and Jim are in their imaginatively free acts of empathy with other characters and in their pragmatic adaptability to any circumstances that come their way. However, in being absolutely free, the river is also unpredictable and dangerous, best exemplified during the storms that again and again threaten the lives of Huck and Jim. When he is alone, free from any immediately external influence, Huck begins to feel very lonesome and as destructive as the river itself, or, rather, self-destructive. The river, then, embodies the blessing and dangers of freedom, which must be carefully navigated if one is to live a good, happy life.
If the river is a symbol for absolute freedom, then the raft, host primarily to Huck and Jim but also to the duke and king, is a symbol for a limitation one must necessarily impose on one’s freedom if one is not to be overwhelmed: peaceful coexistence. Unlike the sometimes ridiculous and hateful rules of society, the rules of the raft are simple: respect differences and support one another. The raft is a kind of model society in which one can enjoy freedom unlike in society on shore, but at the same time not drown in one’s freedom. Huck says that his happiest days are spent on the raft with Jim. It is significant that the literal destruction of the raft immediately precedes Huck’s fit of conscience as to whether or not he should turn Jim in. Such a consideration, a betrayal, even, threatens to break Huck’s friendship with Jim just as the raft is broken. Significant also is the fact that it is after Huck learns about the insane destructiveness of human conflict from the Grangerford-Shepherdson feud that Jim pops back into Huck’s life, the raft of their peaceful coexistence repaired. This is all of course symbolic for the making, breaking, and repairing of trust and good faith in people despite their differences, and speaks to the fact that it is never too late to try to mend severed relations.
•Look for the red text to track where The Raft appears in: Chapter 7, Chapter 11, Chapter 12, Chapter 13, Chapter 15, Chapter 16, Chapter 18, Chapter 19, Chapter 20, Chapter 23, Chapter 24, Chapter 29, Chapter 30, Chapter 31, Chapter 34, Chapter 40, Chapter 41