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Huckleberry Finn Study Guide: Symbolism

written by: Keren Perles • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 1/17/2012

Some of the symbolism in Huckleberry Finn is obvious; some is less so. This article explains each of the major symbols in the novel, as well as how they relate to the rest of the novel as a whole.

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    The Mississippi River

    The Mississippi River is perhaps the most well-known examples of symbolism in Huckleberry Finn. It symbolizes freedom - freedom for society and “civilization” for Huck, and freedom from slavery for Jim. When the two of them are floating on their raft down the river, they feel truly happy and free. Of course, at times civilization (symbolized by the shore) do encroach on their idyllic life, both when they land the raft and view the hypocrisy of society, and when society climbs aboard the raft in the forms of the duke and the dauphin.

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    The Widow Douglass

    The epitome of society is symbolized by the Widow Douglass’s home. After all, it is there that Huck is forced to wear civilized clothing, eat and speak in a civilized manner, and act civilized in all possible ways. He runs away from this symbol of civilization to the freedom of the river.

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    Jim

    Then, of course, there is Jim, the symbol of all enslaved people in the South. He is downtrodden, looked down upon by all of the other characters in the book, and desperately seeking his freedom. In contrast to the rest of society, however, he is loyal and honest.

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    Huck Finn

    Huck Finn, the protagonist of the book, contains an element of symbolism as well. He symbolizes the struggle between a person and his conscience, as well as between society and free-thinking. Throughout the book, he struggles with the decision of whether to help Jim escape, and it is this struggle that he wins when he decides to ignore society’s beliefs and stand loyally by Jim.

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    Grangerford House

    Although there are many small incidents within this picaresque novel that have elements of symbolism, none of them are as blatant as the Grangerford House, symbolism of materialistic aristocracy. The description of both the house and the people who live in it make it obvious that it symbolizes the peak of the upper class, who seem to live in a different world than Huck and Jim.

    These examples of symbolism in Huckleberry Finn are not exclusive, but they are the most obvious ones that Twain has inserted into his novel. Take a look at some of the more minor characters and events, such as the duke and the dauphin, Tom Sawyer, and the loss of the raft, and try to discern the symbolism that Twain plants into each one.

Notes on Huckleberry Finn

"The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," by Mark Twain, is a classic but controversial book. These notes on Huckleberry Finn will examine various aspects of the novel, including its themes, its symbolism, and the controversy surrounding it.
  1. Should Huckleberry Finn Be Banned? Exploring the Issues
  2. Huckleberry Finn Study Guide: Symbolism
  3. Huckleberry Finn Study Guide: Theme