Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)

Last time in class, we discussed the different identities Huck Finn takes on in the first half of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Huck takes on many identities throughout the course of the novel, but rarely his own; he is only the real Huckleberry Finn in situations with people he can trust like Jim and Tom Sawyer. The reason that Huck is on the run from his own identity is in part because he does not know who he is as an individual, but also because so many people are trying to influence him. People like Ms. Watson and Widow Douglas are trying their hardest to save him, but Pap is trying equally as hard to undo their attempts and corrupt him. This struggle between good and evil is ultimately why Huck feels that his only way to individual freedom is faking his own death.

After faking his murder, Huck must find a new identity to replace his old one. He tries on variety of successful and unsuccessful identities and even twice attempts to take on the identity of an adolescent girl but learns the obvious lesson that he is a not a female, cannot pass as a female, and should stick to characters that he knows more intimately and naturally. More often than not, Huck Finn plays the part of an adolescent male who is lost (like when he meets the Grangerfords), misguided (sometimes literally by a drunk), or caring for ill family members. One element that all of these personas rely on is pity from his audience for his situation in life. Huck plays down his intelligence and common sense in order to secure this pity, but also because he knows that he can trust no one. After his adventures with the Duke and the King, two men who also enjoy taking on new fake identities as well, Huck quickly learns that it is not good to take advantage of people’s pity or trust in the ways that the Royal Nonesuch con-men do because ultimately it will catch up and tar and feather you.

When Huck luckily lands in the lap of Tom Sawyer’s extended family, the Phelps’, Huck is overjoyed to take over Tom Saywer’s identity. He thinks to himself after finding out his new identity, “but if [the Phelps’] was joyful, it warn’t nothing to what I was; for it was like being born again, I was so glad to find out who I was….. Being Tom Sawyer was easy and comfortable…” (215). The reason Tom Saywer’s identity is so “easy and comfortable” to take on is because Tom’s life is not too different from Huck’s. There are two major benefits, the first being that he does not have to make up an elaborate biography and the second being that being Tom Sawyer is closest he will get to being himself at this time. Both boys are the same age and come from the same town and both are basically parentless- except that Tom has the good fortune of having extended family that is willing to take care of him.

Huck is “born again” into Tom’s family and, despite his tone at the end of the novel towards being “sivilized,” Huck can be satisfied with that life. At the end of the novel he finally feels self-assured and safe enough to become Huckleberry Finn again, especially after Jim reveals that Pap is dead and, coincidentally, Ms. Watson, his Christian savior, has also died. Huck has been trying to escape his own identity as the mischievous adolescent son of a drunkard throughout the entire course of the novel and now hopefully the fight over who will receive his soul in the afterworld is over.

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