The ending of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is indeed puzzling. On the surface, the story looks a perfect happy end – more or less, everybody seems satisfied with the new order of things: Jim is now a free man, Tom is fully recovered, and Huck gets rid of his father and receives a chance to move West to start an independent life free of “civilizing” efforts of well-meaning adult women.
This looks like a perfect American ‘happy end’ which so often ends Hollywood movies even if the previous course of events had seemed unlikely to bring about such a happy combination of circumstances. Perhaps the sympathetic treatment of the runaway slave on the part of Huck seemed idealized to many of Clemens’ contemporaries and later critics.
At the same time, the ending contains one very important message that makes it less ideal than it may seem on the surface. This is the whole behaviour of Tom Sawyer who had known all the way that Jim was in fact a free man, yet had chosen to withhold this information from his friends simply to have a spectacular liberation. In doing so, he had subjected Huck and Tom to many trials and dangers that are surely exciting to read about, but overall so difficult that few of us would like to repeat it on their own.
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This callous and insensitive action on the part of Tom, although he tries to justify it with a lame excuse that he had meant to repay Jim with money for his troubles, vividly demonstrates that his treatment of Afro-Americans is less idealistic. In showing Tom’s lack of sensitivity for the feelings of another human being simply because this human being happens to be a black slave brings home to the readers of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn the real situation of the relationship between slave-owners and slaves. To a great degree, such attitude puts Huck’s heroic deeds in context and reveals that many people would probably choose to imitate Tom’s behaviour rather than Huck’s especially if this promised them an opportunity to have fun.
True, the readers realize that Tom is not a typical white male as there is probably no such thing as a purely stereotypical person who simply follows all the norms of his class without showing any individuality. Tom does have a very bright and outstanding individuality, and he is notable for his love of a good prank. Thus, he is going to take liberties with the lives and need of other people, including those of his own class, as he had shown during his school jokes. However, would he be willing to make a white person from a respectable background undergo such hardship as Jim did? The question remains unanswered, and the readers can very well suspect that Tom can be doing many things to have fun with things that are life and death to other people, less empowered than himself.
Therefore, the ending of the book does reveal the inhuman attitudes of white slave-owners toward their black slaves. The author does show that the life of a black person is no bed of roses even after the basic question of personal freedom is solved. This freed person finds oneself in the setting in which the white majority are taught to see their black fellow citizens as worthless individuals in contrast to themselves – as people whose human value is at least slightly less than that of their own.
As to Huck’s kind treatment of the runaway slave, this does not seem so improbably even one considers the wide scale of the abolitionist movement in the nation. Huck is shown to experience pangs of conscience when he conceals a runaway slave, feeling affinity with his own class and race. Yet, like many people in theory born to be slave-owners, he oversteps the prejudice the society imposes upon him and manages to become a moral person by helping a human being.
Summing it up, the ending of Huck Finn does not seem to contain any improbable elements that would confirm that Twain cheated. The closure of the book does show that white people often tended to see slaves as inferior, and that many were able to rise above prejudices to help slaves.
- Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. 13 Jan. 06 <http://www.bibliomania.com/0/0/54/99/frameset.html>.
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