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Huckleberry Finn Study Guide: Theme

written by: Keren Perles • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 2/14/2012

“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,“ by Mark Twain, has become a (controversial) classic in American literature, partially because of its themes. But what are the themes in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”? Read on to find three of the main themes in the novel.

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    Civilization vs. Freedom

    Arguably the main theme in the novel “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is the struggle between civilization and freedom. After all, at the very beginning of the book, Huck despises life at the Widow Douglass’s home because she tries to force him to be too “civilized.” It is only when he escapes to the river, and especially to his raft, that Huck truly feels free.

    In addition, throughout the book, every time that Huck and Jim approach civilization, something terrible happens. Whether they become embroiled in a feud, joined by tricksters, or nearly caught, civilization never brings much happiness or freedom to either Huck or Jim. In fact, time after time Twain points out the hypocrisy of society, which professes to be more “civilized” than Huck or Jim, which forces Huck to reject it even more.

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    Inhumanity of Society

    Also from the beginning of the book, the theme of the inhumanity of people towards their fellow people becomes clear. After all, Huck’s father terrorizes Huck, trying desperately to rob him of his fortune and take him back. Throughout the book, the duke and the dauphin continue this theme, first by tricking the innocent Wilkes girls, and then by betraying Jim. Huck learns that people are not to be trusted, a theme which Twain obviously believes to be important.

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    Following Your Conscience

    In addition, the theme of the struggle to follow your conscience returns again and again throughout the novel. Besides making its appearance when Huck and Jim need to steal food, or when they decide to pretend that the two rascals are truly a duke and a king, the theme reappears over and over again in Huck’s decision to help Jim escape. At some points, Huck is sure that he will turn Jim in, while at others, he feels guilty that he harming Miss Watson by stealing “her” slave. In addition, he berates himself even more when he learns that Jim will try to steal his children back, because he feels that he is hurting “a man that hadn't ever done me no harm.” The reader, of course, knows that Huck’s conscience is the one prompting him to save Jim in the first place. This conflict, however, between right and wrong, exists within all of mankind, and Twain weaves it through his novel as one of the primary themes in “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.”

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