The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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The Mississippi River Symbol Analysis

The Mississippi River Symbol Icon
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.

The Mississippi River Quotes in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Mississippi River. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Dover Publications edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn published in 1994.
Chapter 13 Quotes

I begun to think how dreadful it was, even for murderers, to be in such a fix. I says to myself, there ain’t no telling but I might come to be a murderer myself, yet, and then how would I like it?

Related Characters: Huckleberry Finn (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Mississippi River
Page Number: 54
Explanation and Analysis:

One night during a storm, Huck and Jim encounter three robbers in a steamboat. Huck and Jim manage to survive the storm, but the robbers are trapped. Here, Huck sympathizes with the three doomed men, and tries to think up ways to save them, but to no avail.

Most characters in the novel are so judgmental and self-righteous that they'd probably be glad that the criminals meet an untimely death. Huck, however, has a much larger imagination and a much freer spirit than most other characters; he can see the murderers as real people with real fears, not just as abstract undesirable elements in society. It is this capacity of Huck's that gives him his charm as well as his spiritual backbone; it is this capacity, also, that enables Huck to see how inhuman an institution slavery is. 

Most people rely on scapegoats to feel good about themselves (think of the mob that assembles to lynch Colonel Sherburn in Chapter 22). They need people to judge and condemn and punish as a means of venting their own antisocial aggression. Huck does not need a scapegoat. He knows that a single human spirit is big enough to hold both the saint and the murderer at the same time, even if it's unpleasant to think about for most of us. But being able to acknowledge our own capacity for evil paradoxically makes us more merciful – or at least that's what Huck's experience suggests.

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The Mississippi River Symbol Timeline in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Mississippi River appears in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
Growing Up Theme Icon
...thought that he had drowned, because a body resembling his had been dredged from the river, but Huck doesn’t think it was Pap’s body after all, because the body was discovered... (full context)
Chapter 7
Freedom Theme Icon
...check the fishing line for breakfast. Huck does so, scanning as he does the rising river. Seeing a passing canoe, Huck jumps into it and paddles it ashore, thinking Pap will... (full context)
Freedom Theme Icon
...him for taking so long with the fish. Huck lies that he fell in the river. Huck and Pap get five catfish off the fishing lines and head hone. As the... (full context)
Freedom Theme Icon
Pap and Huck collect nine logs from the river to sell and then eat dinner. Pap is content to do so, even though any... (full context)
Growing Up Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
...takes a sack full of rocks and the pig carcass and dumps both in the river. Finally, Huck takes the bag of meal out of his canoe and back to the... (full context)
Growing Up Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
...him dead, will follow the trail left by the sack full of rocks to the river and afterwards dredge the river for his body, as well as the trail of meal... (full context)
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
...Pap paddling back to the cabin. Huck loses no time in slipping quietly down the river in his canoe, shaded by the bank. He paddles down the center of the river... (full context)
Chapter 8
Society and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
...canon, which, Huck figures, is being done to make his own carcass come to the river’s surface. Hungry, Huck remembers that people looking for carcasses in the river put quicksilver in... (full context)
Freedom Theme Icon
...in a tree. When it gets dark, Huck paddles to the Illinois bank of the river, prepares supper, and decides to stay put for the rest of the night. (full context)
Chapter 12
Society and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
...for them. At dawn, they tie up their raft on the Illinois side of the river and hide it, lying low there all day while Huck recounts what Mrs. Judith Loftus... (full context)
Chapter 13
Society and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
...watchman, telling him that “pap, and mam, and sis, and Miss Hooker” are up the river in a wrecked steamboat, in dire trouble. The watchmen refuses to help, at first, but... (full context)
Chapter 15
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Society and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
...and, at some point, takes a nap. When he wakes, Huck realizes how big the river is before spotting the raft in the distance. Huck and Jim reunite. (full context)
Religion and Superstition Theme Icon
...get into with mean people unless the two mind their own business, and that the river clear of fog is the free States. (full context)
Chapter 16
Growing Up Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
...to “always do whichever come handiest at the time.” Jim finds Huck hiding in the river, holding onto the raft. Jim praises Huck for his clever deception of the two men. (full context)
Chapter 18
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
Huck heads down to the river, only to notice that the slave tending to him, Jack, is close behind him. Jack... (full context)
Society and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Growing Up Theme Icon
...shoot at Buck and the other Grangerford boy. Wounded, the two boys jump into the river. Huck feels so sick he almost falls out of his tree. He regrets, he says,... (full context)
Society and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
...him. Huck tells Jim to lose no time in shoving the raft off into the river so that the pair can leave the violence and danger of the feud behind them.... (full context)
Chapter 29
Society and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
...the bag, and Huck immediately makes a run for it. He meets Jim by the river, and the two begin to drift away. Suddenly, though, Huck hears a familiar sound, the... (full context)
Chapter 32
Freedom Theme Icon
...answers their questions with ease. As they’re talking, Huck hears a steamboat coughing down the river. The real Tom could be aboard, Huck thinks, and he could accidentally blow Huck’s cover,... (full context)
Chapter 40
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Growing Up Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
Chased by both men and dogs, the three run toward the river and at last arrive at their raft. Everybody’s glad to be safe and free, especially... (full context)