Title: The Role Of Religion In The Adventures Of Huck Finn by Samuel Clemens
Author: Rich Christie <RichChristie@ChristieComputer.com>
The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn, written by Samuel Clemens, is a novel that challenges the views of society and questions life through the eyes of an adolescent boy. By sprinkling traces of spirituality and religious views throughout the story, Clemens creates a "martyr-like" profile for his lead character Huckleberry Finn. Huck uses his religious views as his own conscience and challenges the status quo rules of his pious society to make his own decisions which leads him on a path to personal growth.
Though Huck was not blessed with a loving family to teach him the ways of the world, and instead grows up more independently, he was taught by many others that in Heaven "...all a body would have to do there was to go around all day long with a harp and sing, forever and ever" (30). Of course, this is not an appealing image for an adolescent boy who fantasized about being in a gang of robbers with his friends. Perhaps even if it is appealing, it may seem out of possible reach to a boy who lives the life that Huck does- with a drunkard father, reading stories of murder and robbery, and witnessing the cruelty and injustice to slaves. Without a firm foundation and someone to teach him, Huck must continually rely on the pieces of information that he hears from others and his own observations which often leaves him confused and misinformed.
One of the most noticeable traits of Huck's personality that reflect his opinion on religion and spirituality is that he often dismisses such popularly accepted beliefs as Moses (because he is dead), but will put his faith into a hairball that he believes is magic because it was taken from an oxen's stomach and therefore he believes that "it had a spirit inside of it, and it knowed everything" (38). In fact, he even asks it about his father and supplies it with a fake coin for it's services. Perhaps Huck truly believes in it, or he is searching for something to believe in that he could depend on. In either case, he is wise enough not to give it his real dollar.
Clemens gives the entire story a religious vibe through the continual use of phrases that relate to or have a biblical sense to them. Just one example of this is when Huck is describing his father after coming home from laying drunk in a gutter the entire night before, and as Huck narrates "A body would have thought he was Adam, he was all mud" (44). This, among many of the other biblically inspired statements made throughout, shows that Huck was in a society that revolved heavily around religion, whether he accepted it himself or not. With Huck using such statements, it shows that Huck has either adapted them for himself because it is the vernacular to speak like that or it could show that he finds truth in religion but not the myths and society who follows them. This is one of the main inner conflicts that Huck must tackle alone.
Due to Huck's lifestyle and the society that raises him, he often feels guilty about helping a runaway slave escape, as he has been taught to believe that slaves are not people as much as they are property. Revolting against this causes him much doubt and the serious questioning of himself which causes him to write a letter to Miss Watson about Jim. After writing the letter, Huck expresses relief by saying "I felt good and all washed clean of my sin for the first time I had ever felt in my life, and I knowed that I could pray now" (168). This quote is extremely significant because it shows that Huck is feeling the burden of following his conscience that is telling him to help Jim, and wishes to rid himself of it by washing his hands of the situation. However, the martyr in him that Clemens has been slowly establishing throughout the story begins to emerge and takes full effect after a brief introspection which causes him to tear the letter and say to himself "All right, then, I'll go to hell" (168). By choosing hell rather than betraying Jim, he uses his conscience and heart rather than the pious and unjust values that society has instilled upon him. On his path to personal growth, he learns what it means to sacrifice oneself and suffer any consequences in order to do what he believes is right in true martyr fashion.
Barnet. Sylvan. Introduction To Literature. The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn. Longman. New York. 1997.
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