On one level, the tone of Huckleberry Finn is friendly, colloquial, and upbeat. Huck’s narratorial voice is that of a child who doesn’t quite understand the world and therefore comes across as naïve and open-hearted, making for a humorous and fun read.
At the same time, Huck faces horrific abuse at the hands of his father, Pap, and after escaping, he confronts all sorts of dangers while floating down with Mississippi River on his raft with Jim (an escaped enslaved man). In this way, there is a sort of dissonance between the youthful tone of Huck’s narration and the dark, contemplative, and moralistic tone beneath it. This is common in satirical books that use humor and irony to highlight the hypocrisies of a given society. With Huckleberry Finn, readers may laugh while also deeply considering Twain’s searing critique of white Christian racism in the American South.
There are a few moments in which Twain allows Huck’s tone to become sincere, like when he decides to tear up the note he wrote to Miss Watson telling her where Jim was hiding:
I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:
‘‘All right, then, I’ll go to hell’’—and tore it up.
By switching into a moralistic tone here, Twain encourages readers to consider the importance of this moment: Huck is growing up, maturing into a white Southerner who refuses hypocritical religiosity in favor of developing a moral compass of his own.