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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as a Symbol

Madelaine Smira
Accelerated English III
Findley
28 January 2011
Madelaine Smira

Findley

Accelerated English III

26 January 2011

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as a Symbol

Most everyone will read Huck Finn at one point or another during their lifetime. Some

enjoy the adventurous tale as an interesting tale, while others look to the novel as a symbol of

bigger themes and ideas. The majority of those who read the novel see it simply as the tale of an

adventurous boy and a runaway slave on the Mississippi River. However, the novel can be

viewed as a symbol of many common themes that are present in society today and that were

present in past generations. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn represents Jacksonian

characteristics and ideals and the escape from society.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn represents the Jacksonian Age in America

from 1826 to 1845. Although the exact date that the novel is set is unknown, Mark Twain gives

readers enough information to set the book during the time period in which Andrew Jackson was

president (Hoffman 87). The American people during that time period put a strong emphasis on

the concepts of nature, providence, and will (Hoffman 88-92). People during the Jacksonian Age

viewed nature as the middle ground between something wild and uncivilized and a place that is

overly civilized (Hoffman 88). The use of nature as an “in between” spot is seen in several

instances throughout the book. Huck uses nature as an escape from both the civilized world of

Widow Douglass and the savage environment that Pap creates. This escape mirrors the

Jacksonian concept of nature as a place between a savage environment and civilization.


Lastly, Huck is also caught in the “middle ground” of nature between the settled states and

unsettled territories (Hoffman 88).

The idea of Providence, or a diety, was also an important element to Jacksonian America.

Many believed that there was divine intervention on Jackson’s behalf with the American victory

over the British during the War of 1812 (Hoffman 89). There are also instances in The

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn of divine intervention. This fact is evident when Huck

speaks of God showing him his error when he begins to believe that helping Jim escape was

wrong (Hoffman 90).

The last ideal of the Jacksonian Age was iron will. The American people during this time

period saw President Jackson as a human representation of success. They also saw Jackson as an

example of how being strong willed helps to make one notable (Hoffman 91). Huck’s self-

sufficiency and his concern with morality show that, like Jackson, Huck represents how strong

determination and will make one successful (Hoffman 92).

There were certain ideals of the Jacksonian Age that the people of that time period saw as

necessary characteristics for leaders and people of nobility . Huck represents the majority, if not

all, of these characteristics in the novel (Hoffman 93). Three of these ideals were liberty,

equality, and democracy (Hoffman 93-94).

Huck Finn represents a quest for freedom from both society and slavery, which goes

along with the representation of Jacksonian ideals in the novel (Burg 299). Huck’s creation of an

imaginary world also exhibits the ideal of liberty in the novel (Sloan 52). The ideal of freedom is

also shown when Huck becomes the creator and ruler of his own world, free from society and the

overbearing ways of both Pap and Widow Douglass (Sloan 53). Lastly, the journey of Huck and

Jim portrays a voyage away from slavery (Burg 299).


The Jacksonian ideal of equality is present in many instances throughout the novel. Huck

represents this ideal when he realizes that one’s position in society has nothing to do with their

morality (Hoffman 94). Also, Huck’s choice to rescue Jim selflessly exhibits the use of the novel

as a symbol of equality (Burg 308). Lastly, Huck treats the criminals that he and Jim encounter

on the river the same as the good preacher, Silas Phelps. Huck’s equal treatment of the varying

characters exhibits the use of the novel as a symbol of equality (Hoffman 94). The

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn also shows the ideal of democracy when he becomes the

ruler of his own world (Sloan 53).

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn represents the escape from society. Huck

and Jim’s journey down the Mississippi shows that leaving society releases them from the

common beliefs and downfalls of civilization (Sloan 54). Also, Huck’s freedom to have leisure

time at his own free will show how leaving society can give one a satisfactory and easy life

(Burg 303). The fact that Jim is fleeing from slavery, a common institution of society during the

time period, represents an escape from society (Burg 299). Huck expresses his remorse towards

being civilized at the beginning of the novel, which adds the the symbolism of the novel as an

escape from society. Lastly, Jim and Huck’s use of basic survival skills on the river represents

their final step of fleeing society.

Although The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn may seem to be only a simple

story of a boy on the run and an escaped slave, it represents many different themes and ideals.

Situations that Huck encounters on the river and in other places symbolize common themes in

both society today and in the past. Other characters’ situations, like Jim, also symbolize ideals

and characteristics that may be overlooked. These include, but are not limited to, nature,
providence, will, freedom, equality, democracy, and the escape from society. Anecdotes and

situations throughout the novel symbolize these ideals thoroughly.


Works Cited

Burg, David F. “Another View of Huckleberry Finn.” Nineteenth Century Fiction 29.3
(1974) : 299-319. JSTOR. Web. 18 January 2011.
Hoffman, Andrew Jay. “Huck Finn as a Symbol of Jacksonian Ideals.” Readings on The
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Ed. Kate de Koster, et al. San Diego:
Greenhaven Press, 1998. 87-94. Print.
Sloan, David E.E. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:American Comic Vision. Boston:
Twayne Publishers, 1988. Print.
Twain, Mark. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York: Grosset and Dunlap,
1948. Print.