Huck Finn Moral Dilemma Essay

However, it is important to note the distinct lack of authority figures in Huck’s life that would have provided him with moral guidance and ensured his beliefs did not become confused during his early childhood.

Bloom (2005, n.p.) supports this by stating that “Huck is an impoverished and uneducated orphan who [has to] raise himself in a corrupt and bigoted world”.

At the opening of the novel, the reader finds Huck feeling restricted after being placed in the guardianship of Widow Douglas and her sister, Miss Watson.

This occurs after he has come into possession of a large sum of money as a result of his earlier adventures with friend, Tom Sawyer – who, of course, features alongside Huck in Twain’s earlier text, (2006b, pp.1-375) – and is placed under the widow’s guardianship by a judge who hopes she can “sivilize” him (Twain, 2006a, p.7) by teaching him the Christian faith.

After being placed in the custody of his father and moved to an isolated cabin, Huck fakes his own death in elaborate fashion (Twain, 2006a, pp.35-36) before escaping down-river to Jackson’s Island. It is here that Huck re-encounters Jim, the black slave of Miss Watson, who Huck discovers has also run away (Twain, 2006a, p.43).

It is at this point that the protagonist is faced with the first of the series of moral questions which serve to define his character as the novel progresses.As can be seen in the passage outlined below, Huck’s conscience is very much orientated towards a white, middle-classed conception of morality wherein the concepts of ownership, law and order are valued much more highly than a slave’s right to freedom: ‘Conscience says to me: ‘What had poor Miss Watson done to you, that you could see her nigger go off right under your eyes and never say one single word?What did that poor old woman do to you, that you could treat her so mean? Huck is even more horrified to learn that Jim intends to free his family one way or the other, and is prepared to ‘steal’ them away in order to ensure their safety.His response is dictated by the possibility of punishment or gain, rather than by a moral sense of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ (Kohlberg, 1981, cited in Gibbs, 2003, pp.57-76).This is also demonstrated by Huck’s adherence to superstitious behaviour and beliefs, such as his worry that burning a spider will bring him bad luck, his use of horseshoes to frighten bad spirits, and the binding of his hair to ward off witches (Twain, 2006a, p.10).He is similarly pleased to hear that the widow believes Tom Sawyer will go to Hell (Twain, 2006a, p.10), as that means they will be together, showing his flippant approach to serious issues (Blair, 1973, p.138).He also demonstrates his tendency to lie (Twain, 2006a, p.53), steal (Twain, 2006a, p.32), and exhibit his prejudices, such as can be seen in his initial stereotyping of the black slave, Jim, who Huck repeatedly disregards as a simple “nigger” (Twain, 2006a, p.22).by trying to determine what is the ‘right’ thing to do), he judges his actions only in relation to society’s views and expectations, rather than relying on his own personal judgment.In rural Missouri during the period leading up to the American Civil War, slave ownership was widely accepted as a legitimate form of possession and was not subjected to critical pressure – subsequently, Huck views turning Jim in to the authorities as being the ‘right’ thing to do, despite the fact that Jim has shown him only friendship, and Miss Watson (and the ‘civilised’ society she represents) has mainly offered him criticism, chastisement and cruelty.(2006a, pp.1-504), first published in 1884, starts out in a small fictional town of St.Petersburg in Missouri situated close to the Mississippi River, and is set a few decades before the outbreak of the American Civil War.


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