The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn belongs to the genre of Bildungsroman; that is, the novel presents a coming-of-age story in which the protagonist, Huck, matures as he broadens his horizons with new experiences. Huck begins the novel as an immature boy who enjoys goofing around with his boyhood friend, Tom Sawyer, and playing tricks on others. He has a good heart but a conscience deformed by the society in which he was raised, such that he reprimands himself again and again for not turning Jim in for running away, as though turning Jim in and prolonging his separation from his family were the right thing to do.
As the novel develops, however, so do Huck’s notions of right and wrong. He learns that rigid codes of conduct, like Christianity, or like that which motivates the Grangerson and Shepherdson’s blood feud, don’t necessarily lead to good results. He also recognizes that absolute selfishness, like that exhibited by Tom Sawyer to a small extent, and that exhibited by Tom’s much worse prankster-counterparts, the duke and the king, is both juvenile and shameful. Huck learns that he must follow the moral intuitions of his heart, which requires that he be flexible in responding to moral dilemmas. And, indeed, it is by following his heart that Huck makes the right decision to help Jim escape from bondage.
This mature moral decision is contrasted with the immature way in which Tom goes about acting on that decision at the Phelps farm. Instead of simply helping Jim, Tom devises a childishly elaborate scheme to free Jim, which results in Tom getting shot in the leg and Jim being recaptured. By the end of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck is morally mature and realistic, whereas Tom still has a lot of growing up to do.
Growing Up ThemeTracker
Growing Up Quotes in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
I went and told the Widow about it, and she said the thing a body could get by praying for it was “spiritual gifts.” This was too much for me, but she told me what she means—I must help others, and do everything I could for other people, and look out for them all the time, and never think about myself…but I couldn’t see no advantage about it—except for the other people—so at last I reckoned I wouldn’t worry about it any more, but just let it go.
“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.”
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?
Well, he [Jim] was right; he was most always right; he had an uncommon level head, for a nigger.
“My heart wuz mos’ broke bekase you wuz los’, en I didn’t k’yer no mo’ what become er me en de raf’. En when I wake up en fine you back agin’, all safe en soun’, de tears come en I could a got down on my knees en kiss’ yo’ foot I’s so thankful. En all you wuz thinkin ‘bout wuz how you could make a fool uv ole Jim wid a lie.”
It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger—but I done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterwards, neither.
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.
So I reckoned I wouldn’t bother no more about [right and wrong], but after this always do whichever comes handiest at the time.
I do believe [Jim] cared just as much for his people as white folks does for their’n. It don’t seem natural, but I reckon it’s so.
“All right, then, I’ll go to hell”—and [I] tore [my note to Miss Watson] up.
I’m bound to say Tom Sawyer fell, considerable, in my estimation. Only I couldn’t believe it. Tom Sawyer a nigger stealer!
I was sorry for them poor pitiful rascals, it seems like I couldn’t ever feel any hardness against them any more in the world. It was a dreadful thing to see. Human beings can be awful cruel to one another.