The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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Themes and Colors
Slavery and Racism Theme Icon
Society and Hypocrisy Theme Icon
Religion and Superstition Theme Icon
Growing Up Theme Icon
Freedom Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Freedom Theme Icon

Huck and Jim both yearn for freedom. Huck wants to be free of petty manners and societal values. He wants to be free of his abusive father, who goes so far as to literally imprison Huck in a cabin. Maybe more than anything, Huck wants to be free such that he can think independently and do what his heart tells him to do. Similarly, Jim wants to be free of bondage so that he can return to his wife and children, which he knows to be his natural right.

The place where Huck and Jim go to seek freedom is the natural world. Though nature imposes new constraints and dangers on the two, including what Huck calls “lonesomeness,” a feeling of being unprotected from the meaninglessness of death, nature also provides havens from society and even its own dangers, like the cave where Huck and Jim take refuge from a storm. In such havens, Huck and Jim are free to be themselves, and they can also appreciate from a safe distance the beauty that is inherent in the terror of freedom.

That being said, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn implies that people can be so free as to be, ironically enough, imprisoned in themselves. The duke and the king, for example, foils (or contrasts) to Huck and Jim, are so free that they can become almost anybody through playacting and impersonation. However, this is only because they have no moral compass and are imprisoned in their own selfishness. Freedom is good, but only insofar as the free person binds himself to the moral intuitions of his heart.

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Freedom Quotes in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Below you will find the important quotes in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn related to the theme of Freedom.
Chapter 1 Quotes

You don’t know about me, without you have read a book by the name of “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer,” but that ain’t no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth.

Related Characters: Huckleberry Finn (speaker), Tom Sawyer
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

In this quote, Huckleberry Finn introduces himself to us at the beginning of the novel that bears his name. Huck really does appear as a character in a book called The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and his mentioning the fact makes Huck all the more real to us as readers. He's more than just a character on the page – he's someone who exists outside of the books he's in. Huck's reality is also brought home to us by his speech, which is not in "literary language but firmly cast in the American vernacular, the way people really speak. It is at once conversational, gritty, and lilting. 

This quote also introduces the ideas of truth in the novel. What does it mean to tell the truth? Is there such a thing as a noble lie? Huck himself lies all the time, sometimes just to keep in practice! In the Southern pre-Civil War society in which Huck lives, dangerous opinions and beliefs are often presented dogmatically as truths, most centrally that blacks like Jim are inferior to whites. In such a society, stretching the truth and telling lies are tools Huck uses to be free – just as Twain writes books about things that aren't factually true, but which nonetheless promote human freedom. Huck's probably pretty tolerant of the stretchers Mark Twain told when writing his book. 

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The Widow Douglas, she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldn’t stand it no longer, I lit out.

Related Characters: Huckleberry Finn (speaker), The Widow Douglas and Miss Watson
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:

At the end of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huck became rich, but his riches hardly made him free. The Widow Douglas adopted him to "sivilize" him – in other words, to raise him so that he conforms to social rules and traditions.

However, as Huck's misspelling of "sivilzie" would suggest, he wants nothing to do with what he experiences as the dismal regularity and suffocating decency that society has to offer. He is too lively and freedom-loving for that, and already he intuits that what society holds up as good and moral can actually be offensive and oppressive to the human spirit. Huck will soon return to Widow Douglas's care, however, when prompted by Tom Sawyer. At this early point in the novel, Huck is still too immersed in the rigid logic of society to truly break free.

So here Huck's lighting out, or leaving, is something of a false start. It won't be until the end of the novel that Huck knows himself well enough to know what freedom really is. In this sense, the novel is a Bildungsroman, or a novel about growing up and spiritual education. 

Chapter 5 Quotes

The judge he felt kind of sore. He said he reckoned a body could reform the ole man [Pap] with a shot-gun maybe, but he didn’t know no other way.

Related Characters: Huckleberry Finn (speaker), Pap, The new judge
Page Number: 17
Explanation and Analysis:

After Pap gets outrageously drunk and is jailed, the new judge vows to reform him – but Pap is debauched beyond reform. He takes advantage of the judge's hospitality, gets drunk, consequently falls, breaks his arm, and almost freezes to death. This quote gives the new judge's response.

On the one hand, the new judge represents the decent regularity that society stands for, and of which Huck Finn is rightly wary. It is the failure of this society, and the social pressure it creates, that lead to people like Pap sinking into wretchedness in the first place. A society that produces people like Pap, and which can't help such people, is a society in need of reform.

On the other hand, the judge, despite making a mistake in granting Pap custody of Huck, has gone above and beyond in giving Pap a room in his house. His quip about the shotgun is kind of funny and endearing. The novel may disagree with his rigid upholding of custom and tradition, but it nonetheless reveals the new judge's humanity. It is this kind of careful, tender artistry that constitutes the novel's freedom.

Chapter 6 Quotes

“When they told me there was a State in this country where they’d let that nigger vote, I drawed out. I says I’ll never vote again…I says to the people, why ain’t this nigger put up at auction and sold?”

Related Characters: Pap (speaker)
Page Number: 20
Explanation and Analysis:

One night, while he and Huck have dinner in an isolated cabin, Pap gets drunk and begins to rant nastily against the government. He is especially infuriated that a man of mixed race can become an educated college professor with the right to vote. The quote given here makes up a part of his rant.

Earlier, Pap berates Huck for getting an education, and he similarly resents the professor, whom he considers to be his racial and social inferior. Some historians suggest that, because the class structure was more mobile in post-Revolutionary America than in Europe, people could no longer derive a sense of identity from their position in a traditional social hierarchy. As such, poor whites in particular defined their social identity in contradistinction to that of black or mixed-race Americans, who in a slave-holding society were overwhelmingly forced into a place at the bottom. Pap certainly seems to do so, which is why the idea of a man of mixed race being more successful than him is so disturbing to him: it destabilizes his sense of social identity, his sense of superiority to others in society.

Of course, the novel as a whole completely rejects Pap's toxic racism and his perverse reliance on rigid social structures, embracing instead freedom for all and adaptability of spirit.

Chapter 8 Quotes

“People will call me a low down Abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum—but that don’t make no difference. I ain’t agoing to tell, and I ain’t agoing back there anyways.”

Related Characters: Huckleberry Finn (speaker), Jim
Page Number: 32
Explanation and Analysis:

Huck and Jim stumble into one another on Jackson's Island after Huck escapes from Pap and after Jim escapes from his owner Miss Watson. However, Jim is at first reticent about his escape, because he's afraid that Huck will turn him in. Huck responds with this quote.

In the pre-Civil War America of Huck and Jim's time, Abolitionism was a movement that agitated for the immediate end of slavery in the country. The movement was largely based in the North, and most white Southerners like those featured in Twain's novel denounced Abolitionism as fostering disorder and slave rebellions. Huck, however, doesn't care if he's associated with Abolitionism and despised for it; he does what he thinks is right, even if it flies in the face of social interests. When he says, "I ain't agoing back there anyways," he is at once being literal and metaphorical – he is not going to return to "civilization," nor is he going to return to the frame of mind it sponsors. 

Note, however, that Huck wrestles with racism throughout the novel, not just in his society but in himself. He knows and loves Jim for who Jim is, and therefore don't turn him in; but it will take more spiritual education before he more firmly resists and more squarely turns his back on racist patterns of thinking.

“Yes—en I’s rich now come to look at it. I owns myself, en I’s wuth eight hund’d dollars. I wisht I had de money, I wouldn’ want no mo’.”

Related Characters: Jim (speaker)
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

During their rendezvous on Jackson's Island, Jim tells Huck about many superstitions, including one which holds that people with hairy arms and a hairy chest are destined for riches. Jim, who fits this description, says he feels rich even now, however, because he has escaped from slavery and owns himself now. 

Jim says he is worth eight hundred dollars because that is how much Miss Watson was planning to sell him for before his escape. At the time, this was a great deal of money, enough for Jim to live on for the rest of his life. Jim's speech is funny in the sense that he of course can never get that money for himself. At the same time, the humor of the speech allows it to suggest, without feeling like a sermon, how totally morally reprehensible it is to set a cash value on a human body, as though it were just another product to be bought and sold, given how infinitely valuable our lives are to us. In other words: it is a devastating critique of slavery.

Notice that Jim, like Huck, speaks in a carefully constructed dialect. This contributes to the novel's realism, and it is arguably a democratic gesture on Twain's part. He represents as accurately and as richly as he can the many voices of the America that he lived in, rather than writing exclusively in the literary language of the white educated class.

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.

Chapter 16 Quotes

Jim said it made him all over trembly and feverish to be so close to freedom. Well, I can tell you it made me all over trembly and feverish, too, to hear him, because I begun to get it through my head that he was most free—and who was to blame for it? Why, me.

Related Characters: Huckleberry Finn (speaker), Jim
Page Number: 66
Explanation and Analysis:

As Huck and Jim drift on their raft toward Cairo, Ohio, and the free states up North, Jim becomes very excited, and so does Huck, although for very different reasons. Jim is joyous to be almost free, while Huck dreads the idea of having helped a black man escape from bondage.

Huck's spiritual education is not without regressions back into the toxic attitudes and beliefs of the racist society around him. This is one such regression. Even though Huck has recognized that Jim is wholly human, and though he is Jim's friend (whether he would admit it or not at this point), he nonetheless can't help but see himself through society's eyes. What he sees is a person who helped a slave illegally escape from his owner, someone who is blameworthy in the eyes of other whites. This makes Huck anxious, but only because he does not yet have the courage of his convictions. 

Another characteristic of the racist worldview is that whites are the actors in the world, the people who make things happen, while blacks are passive, objects to be acted on and incapable of self-determination. Huck displays that trait here when he asks "who was to blame" for Jim's freedom. He acts as though he singlehandedly freed Jim, as though Jim has no responsibility for his freedom because, being black, he couldn't actively achieve it for himself. This, of course, is a fallacy: Jim is capable of self-determination, and was the actor who effected his own escape. 

So I reckoned I wouldn’t bother no more about [right and wrong], but after this always do whichever comes handiest at the time.

Related Characters: Huckleberry Finn (speaker)
Page Number: 69
Explanation and Analysis:

Huck feels guilty about being an accessory in Jim's escape to the free states, but reasons that he would feel just as guilty had he not helped Jim escape. This leads him to conclude that conscience is not really a firm means of determining what is right, and that one therefore would do better to "do whichever comes handiest at the time."

This is an important realization for Huck, and a new height in his spiritual education. His new ethic of handiness can be summarized like this: whatever his heart tells him to do instinctually, Huck resolves to do. He is free, in this way, to be himself. Conscience reflects the society around it, which is for the worse, in Huck's case, because his society fabricates its moral rules to justify the unjustifiable evils of slavery. The heart, on the other hand, is more primordial and innate than the conscience: it is not a social construct, but the oldest and best part of ourselves. Conveniently, it is also the handiest for someone like Huck. 

Note that doing what is handiest, for Huck, does not license him to do wrong on a whim. This is because Huck has a fundamentally good heart, such that needlessly inflicting harm on others is alien to it, something that would never present itself as handy. 

Chapter 19 Quotes

For what you want, above all things, on a raft, is for everybody to be satisfied, and feel right and kind towards others.

Related Characters: Huckleberry Finn (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Raft
Page Number: 94
Explanation and Analysis:

When the duke and king join Huck and Jim on the raft, they are at first sour with one another, but soon make up. This prompts Huck to reflect on what society on the raft should look like.

Huck's experiences have inevitably led him to reflect on what a good society looks like. After all, by this point in the novel, he's met with slaveowners, murderers, and mindlessly feuding families. For there to be a hope for a good life, he thinks, people need to be satisfied and kind towards one another. In other words, people need to have their basic needs for food and the like met, and they need to treat one another kindly as individuals, rather than as abstract elements in social categories. This may seem obvious to us – but if it's so obvious, why don't more people abide by it? 

The raft becomes the novel's symbol for a good society. It is in touch with nature, open to experience, and freely mobile. Jim and Huck, in turn, are the novel's vision of ideal citizens: people who are not only equals but also friends.

Chapter 31 Quotes

“All right, then, I’ll go to hell”—and [I] tore [my note to Miss Watson] up.

Related Characters: Huckleberry Finn (speaker)
Page Number: 162
Explanation and Analysis:

When Jim is turned in by the king for being a runaway slave, Huck thinks for a moment that the only moral thing to do would be to write a letter to Miss Watson so that she can reclaim her human property. However, Huck reflects on how good Jim is, and resolves at last to help him reach freedom no matter what; he tears up his note.

The decision represented in this quote is the major turning point in Huck's spiritual education. At the beginning of the novel, he thinks that hell would be more interesting than heaven, anyway – but here he goes a giant step further and realizes that what society thinks of as heaven is just rigid rule-following without much of a basis in what's right, and that choosing hell is not about indulging oneself. It is about living a good and loving life, regardless of what society dictates. Huck and Jim's friendship is the most sacred thing in the novel, and embracing it over all ingrained prejudice and cowardly conformity is Huck's crowning moment.

Chapter 43 Quotes

But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can’t stand it. I been there before.

Related Characters: Huckleberry Finn (speaker), Sally and Silas Phelps
Page Number: 220
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote comes at the very end of the novel. Jim is free; Tom has healed from his wounds after taking part in Jim's rescue; it has been revealed that Jim had been freed by Miss Watson two months earlier; and Huck is once again in danger of being "sivilized," as he was by the Widow Douglas at the beginning of the novel.

Huck couldn't stand being civilized then, but he soon got used to it. After all, for Huck civilization meant merely dressing nicely and praying. However, he's changed a great deal over the course of his adventures. He's seen how hypocritical society is, and how social customs, traditions, norms, and beliefs – those things we absorb by being "sivilized" – often mask injustice and promote violence. When he says he can't stand being civilized this time, he really means it, because he fully understands what exactly it is he is rejecting when he says no to "sivilizing." He is rejecting the Southern society that relies on racism, slavery, and mob violence – all hypocritically in the name of order and tradition. 

Huck literally plans to be a pioneer and "light out for the Territory," that is, the parts of the western United States that haven't been settled yet, where society hasn't spread. But he will also metaphorically light out for the Territory in this sense: he will strive to be intellectually and imaginatively free, never settling a matter in his mind for good, always retaining an openness to new experiences. This is the great freedom that Huck at last comes to embody.