Satire Huck Finn Essay

Mark Twain of Huck Finn - Satire

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Mark Twain, a famous American writer-satirist wrote many books highly acclaimed throughout the world. For his masterpiece, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the literary establishment recognized him as one of the greatest writers America would ever produce. This novel is about a teenage boy by the name of Huck Finn whose father is an alcoholic. Because of his violence, Huck runs away and finds a runaway slave Jim. Instead of turning Jim in, Huck goes against society and makes a decision to help Jim break free from slavery. As they travel together, Huck learns more and more about Jim and starts to understand that the common stereotype of black people is wrong. Huck sees there is no difference between Jim and any white man he knows except for skin color. Risking his life and overcoming many difficulties on the way, Huck succeeds in freeing Jim. Focusing on racism, alcoholism and mob mentality, Mark Twain uses his enthusiastic style of writing and satirizes the three traits throughout the novel.
Many words the book contains are full of vivid disgust towards black slaves. Every single line talks about how white people despise and refuse to accept the black race. Answering Aunt Sally's question about whether or not anyone is hurt Huck answers, "no mum, just killed a nigger."(Twain 213) This is the one and only acceptable way to talk about black people in the "white" society. In addition to this, not only is the black people treated differently from the white, they are also considered to be one's property. "He is the only property I have," (Twain 122) Huck is perforce to say in order to save Jim. This is the only way to get through without the essence of suspicions. Though Huck shows racism in public as society teaches him, deep inside he understands that Jim is a great person. Through the eyes of Huck Finn, Mark Twain shows that there is more to people then looks and race, showing the importance of beliefs and character.
Alcoholism is another human weakness. Twain satirizes in his novel, constantly accentuating the drunk and violent father of Huck in a very negative manner. "I was just about to go and vote myself if I warn't too drunk to get there,"(Twain 27) said Pap with a racist remark, implying the fact that he will never vote anyway just because the government let one very intelligent black professor vote.

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Even if Mark Twain is to compare Pap to black Jim who literally thinks about and mentions his family and children every single day. Pap doesn't even deserve to be compared to a kind and warm-hearted slave. The only time a Pap feel it is necessary to visit Huck is when he needs money, which leads to something else: "He chased me with a clasp knife and saying he would kill me."(Twain 29) In essence, money is the only thing Pap really needs from Huck. When he spends all of it on whiskey, what can happen to Huck is not an issue anymore.

     Mob mentality-another profoundly related issue in the novel. Failure to use one's instinct and following someone else's is one valid example in life, and fits in well with the story line. "Take up a collection for him, take up a collection," (Twain 128) somebody sang out and everyone fatuously accepted the statement as said, not taking the time to perceive the actual meaning. King took advantage of such gullibility, making people believe that he is a pirate, and getting the priest to help him find a path to God. Because nobody took the time to probe the absurdity in the speech given by King, he took advantage of the apathy of people and got away with a significant amount of stolen money. Somebody from the crowd yelled, "Sherburn ought to be lynched"(Twain 140). In no time, the people in the crowd were repeating this statement word for word en masse. The sheriff stood on the top of the roof and shot from his gun, the crowed etched asunder and ran off. The “Mob” mentality is an essential factor and plays a big role in trickery -also a big issue in the book. Huck gave it all his best, and was able to avoid mob mentality and go with his instincts, which were proved the most logical ones, and helped him make a friend out of it.
Mark Twain is an exceptional writer. Using Huck Finn and slave Jim as his prophets, he passes on some valuable messages, one of which being similar to a book being judged by its cover. Twain's ardent style of writing allows him to actually emulate conversations as they are, including various types of slang and dialect. This particular piece of writing left many readers grieving over the content and imitation of reality. Though racism is part of the story, the moral of the story is clear: there is more to people than color, just like there is more to a book than its cover. Keeping that in mind, Mark Twain chose to satirize racism, alcoholism and mob mentality, and made his message clear.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Satire as a Tool for Social Criticism

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Mark Twain in his novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn tells of a journey that is undertaken by Huck, a self-proclaimed uncivilized boy, and a runaway slave named Jim. Although Mark Twain is often described as a comic writer, throughout this novel his uses satire in a manner that clearly illustrates a variety of problems faced by American society at the time that the novel was written.

Some of the social problems raised through Twain’s use of satire include social issues related to slavery, religion, morality, and class prejudice. The superficial nature of the humor occasioned by the satire fades and eyes are opened as the reader is forced to confront the need for social changes. Twain’s satire is most intimately associated with the pointing out of flaws and hypocrisies as they apply to individuals, to social institutions, and to society.

Huck and Jim confront these types of flawed social institutions and corruptions of ideal notions of ethical norms as they struggle to come to terms with their own roles in society. Twain therefore uses satire to create a point of view in which an apparently humorous journey actually represents a type of social criticism. The satire thus provides serious insights into human nature and society in addition to being entertaining and humorous at a superficial level.

One of the ways that Twain accomplishes this is by creating a low class boy in the form of Huck who seemingly represents an unethical lifestyle while simultaneously using Huck to point out what is morally wrong and hypocritical about the higher and respected classes who regularly attend church and present themselves as models of human respectability. This paper will discuss how Twain uses satire to accomplish these goals and what precise purposes that this use of satire served.

As a preliminary matter, before examining specific instances of Twain’s use of satire, it is necessary to note that Mark Twain knew exactly what he was doing when he wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. It has been noted, for example, that “Despite what is often the darkness of Mark Twain’s message, he is also America’s great comic writer.” (Johnson, 1996, p. 223)

This is important because it demonstrates that Twain was known for using humor and satire in order to make political messages or to offer his own social criticisms. The following social criticisms made through the use of satire, as a result, are not simply opinions but well-established features of Twain’s writing style. It is also necessary to define what is meant with reference to the use of satire in literature. One Mark Twain expert has stated that “Satire is defined as literature in which vice and folly or certain human weaknesses are held up to ridicule, often with the purpose of instigating reform.” (Johnson, 1996, p. 223)

Two conclusions can therefore be drawn. First, Mark Twain was well-known for inserting dark messages into his writing while simultaneously making the stories humorous. Second, these dark messages are conveyed through the satirical portrayal of human weaknesses.

In his Explanatory note, Twain even uses satire to hint that he will be engaging in social criticism when he writes that “IN this book a number of dialects are used, to wit: the Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods Southwestern dialect; the ordinary “Pike County” dialect; and four modified varieties of this last. The shadings have not been done in a haphazard fashion, or by guesswork; but painstakingly, and with the trustworthy guidance and support of personal familiarity with these several forms of speech. (Twain, 1912, p. ix)

Twain is telling the reader in advance that there is nothing haphazard about his satire of individual speech and individual behavior; quite the contrary, he is telling the reader that his satirical techniques have been painstakingly considered and employed. Having established that Twain’s satirical intentions were deliberately used to convey social observations and criticisms, it is therefore time to apply these concepts to a couple of examples from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

Satire and the Notion of Being Civilized

One of Twain’s main social criticisms is that American society is not really moral or ethical. He makes this criticism by using Huck to portray other individuals as proper and civilized while having Huck refer to himself as lacking these character traits. This happens from the very beginning of the novel until the end of the novel. In the beginning, for example, Huck states that “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.” (Twain, 1912, pp. 1-2)

Twain uses satire to portray the Widow Douglas as a respectable member of society who can teach Huck how to behave properly. But what Twain is really doing is ridiculing her because he also provides that Huck cannot stand her house and that he has no interest whatsoever in her notions of civilization. Despite the humor, Huck is leaving for a reason. The society and the civilized behavior represented by the Widow Douglas must not be all that it appears to be.

During Huck’s adventures his fears and distrust of people and society are consistently confirmed. Even when things seem to be working out at the end of the novel, Huck again rejects any attempt to be adopted. This time it is by Sally and Huck states that “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.” (Twain, 1912, p. 405)

By ridiculing the civilizing desire of respectable members of society once again, Twain is criticizing conformity and the real social values. In much the same way that Huck is critical of civilizing influences and society, it is highly likely that Twain was also critical of the civilizing dogmas and social norms of his era, too.

Satire and Racism

In addition to using satire to criticize the true worth of civilized values and society, Twain also uses satire to point out the ugliness of racism. When Jim has finally been captured and is being held to be returned to his owner, Huck writes the following letter, “Miss Watson, your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. HUCK FINN.” (Twain, 1912, p. 296)

Miss Watson is a respectable member of society, but she owns another human being and she can get him back if she pays a reward. Twain is ridiculing the so-called respectable person wanting the reward and Miss Watson. Huck is at this point being used by Twain to show that all human beings can choose whether to be hypocrites or to follow their own moral values.

Twain has Huck make his own choice when he refuses to send the letter to Miss Watson; specifically, Twain had Huck state that “It was a close place. 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.” (Twain, 1912, p. 297)

The good people owned and sold other human beings, but Huck was going to hell because he refused to engage in the racist thoughts and practices. This is an excellent example of how Twain used satire to convey a social criticism of racist ideas and practices. Huck was a moral human being despite descriptions the contrary.


In conclusion, satire was consistently used by Mark Twain throughout The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in ways that highlighted flawed individuals, flawed ideas about civilized behavior, and flawed notions of moral societies. His most critical attacks seemed to be against social hypocrisy and racism. But everyone has a choice and Twain allowed Huck to make his choice. Huck chose to flee and remain free in his own mind rather than being forced to become a flawed member of respectable American society.


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Johnson, C. D. (1996). Understanding Adventures of Huckleberry Finn A Student Casebook to Issues, Sources, and Historical Documents.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Satire as a Tool for Social Criticism

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