Huck lives in a society based on rules and traditions, many of which are both ridiculous and inhuman. At the beginning of the novel, Huck’s guardian, the Widow Douglas, and her sister, Miss Watson, try to “sivilize” Huck by teaching him manners and Christian values, but Huck recognizes that these lessons take more stock in the dead than in living people, and they do little more than make him uncomfortable, bored, and, ironically enough, lonely. After Huck leaves the Widow Douglas’s care, however, he is exposed to even darker parts of society, parts in which people do ridiculous, illogical things, often with violent consequences. Huck meets good families that bloodily, fatally feud for no reason. He witnesses a drunken man get shot down for making a petty insult.
Even at the beginning of the novel, a judge ridiculously grants custody of Huck to Huck’s abusive drunkard of a father, Pap. The judge claims that Pap has a legal right to custody of Huck, yet, regardless of his right, Pap proves himself to be a bad guardian, denying Huck an opportunity to educate himself, beating Huck, and imprisoning him in an isolated cabin. In such a case, fulfilling Pap’s legal right ridiculously compromises Huck’s welfare. Furthermore, Huck’s abuse and imprisonment at the hands of Pap is implicitly compared to a more widespread and deeply engrained societal problem, namely the institutionalized enslavement of black people. Huck comes to recognize slavery as an oppressively inhuman institution, one that no truly “sivilized” society can be founded on. People like Sally Phelps, who seem good yet are racist slaveholders, are maybe the biggest hypocrites Huck meets on his travels.
Society and Hypocrisy ThemeTracker
Society and Hypocrisy Quotes in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
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.
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.
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.
“And looky here—you drop that school, you hear? I’ll learn people to bring up a boy to put on airs over his own father and let on to be better’n what he is.”
“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?”
“I’m unfavorable to killin’ a man as long as you can git around it; it ain’t good sense, it ain’t good morals.”
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.
“Did you want to kill [the Shepherdson], Buck?”
“Well, I bet I did.”
“What did he do to you?”
“Him? He never done nothing to me.”
“Well, then, what did you want to kill him for?”
“Why nothing—only it’s on account of the feud.”
“The pitifulest thing out is a mob; that’s what an army is—a mob; they don’t fight with courage that’s born in them, but with courage that’s borrowed from their mass, and from their officers. But a mob without any man at the head of it, is beneath pitifulness.”
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.
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.