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Moral Development in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Info: 1860 words (7 pages) Essay
Published: 10th May 2021 in Literature

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Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not only considered Mark Twain's greatest work but is also widely regarded as one of the most important and most influential books in all of American literature.” (Evan) Throughout this classic novel, the reader witnesses the moral development of the main character, Huck Finn. The reader can also experience all the issues Mark Twain discusses in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Some of these issues would include racism, slavery, child abuse, and religion. However, Huck grows from a self centered young boy into a figure of respect of selflessness; moreover, Huck’s moral growth progresses through Kohlberg’s Moral Stages of Development, but does have moments of regression. As the reader begins to focus on Huck’s journey, the reader will find major moments throughout the story that highlight Huck’s moral growth, and Huck's Moral relapse. Huckleberry Finn’s morality, despite having regression, grows through his journey with the influence of many other characters.

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As Huck’s journey begins, the reader will find him in “ordinary world” in between stages two and three of Kohlberg's development. Ordinary world is the first of the many stages of Joseph Campbell’s theory of a hero's journey.  In ordinary world Huck begins to be influenced and taught by other characters such as Miss Watson, Pap, and Tom Sawyer. Miss Watson teaches Huck etiquette, religion, and the importance of an education, while Pap teaches Huck cussing, smoking, drinking, and that education is bad, and Tom Sawyer teaches Huck imagination and adventure. However, what Huck has learned from everyone in society was racicim and industrial slavery. As Huck learns or is reminded of all these concepts, he begins to act on them. This is when the reader can witness where Huck stands in his morality. The reader can find this when in the book the Widow was trying to explain to huck the importance of helping others and prayer and the response Huck made in his head was, “ but I couldn’t see no advantage about it—except for the other people; so at last I reckoned I wouldn’t worry about it any more, but just let it go.” (Twain, 14) In this quote Huck finds no interest in helping others because it does not benefit himself. This quote shows Huck at stage two in Kolberg’s Stages of Moral Development. This stage refers to being oriented in oneself and having a view on outcome that are in self interest. So, as we begin Huck's journey the reader finds him with a weak moral compass and under significant influence from other characters.

As Huck's journey continues his morality also begins to grow. As Huck's morality begins to be challenged, the reader finds him in a completely different situation. This is during Huck’s call to adventure. The stated reason for Huck's journey or his call to adventure was to escape his father's abusive ways and Miss Watson trying to civilize him. Due to Huck answering the call to adventure Huck begins his journey in trying to escape his problems and also being his moral development. This all began in the book after Huck has escaped Miss Watson and Pap and was headed to Jackson’s Island where he would find Jim. As Jim and Huck started to converse, the reason for why Jim was there came up. Jim was hesitant to tell Huck that he had run away; however, Huck had made a promise to Jim. When Jim told Huck and reminded him of this promise this was Huck’s response, “Well, I did.  I said I wouldn’t, and I’ll stick to it.  Honest injun, I will.  People would call me a low-down Abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum—but that don’t make no difference.  I ain’t a-going to tell, and I ain’t a-going back there, anyways.  So, now, le’s know all about it.”( Twain, 42) In this quote the reader recognizes that Huck had promised Jim that he would tell nobody of his secret even though Huck knows this secret could potentially get him in big trouble. However, Huck is still hesitant to the idea of Jim running away and feels that what Jim did is wrong. Therefore, he has not yet completely reached level three of Kohlberg's stage of moral development and is still on level two. Moreover, This does show Huck taking a major step on his journey because now the reader has discovered the real reason for Huck’s journey, which would be Huck's moral growth. This is a major step in Huck's moral development because Huck now has a mentor and is beginning to get closer to the final level of Kohlberg's stages.  

Following one of Huck's major steps in moral growth, the reader finds Huck crossing the threshold and entering into the unknown world. This is a huge part of Huck's journey because he now has a mentor, Jim, and starts the process of unlearning everything from the ordinary world. During this stage of Huck’s journey the reader comes across one of the most crucial parts of Huck's moral development. The reader reads this scene when Huck has returned from Judith Frey’s house with information that men were coming to search the island. When Huck found Jim and told him the news, he said, “ They’re after us.”( Twain, 59) Such few words for such an important moment. This shows Huck disregarding society's views of Jim, and how he now begins to see Jim as a person and not for the color of his skin. The reader can see Hucks change of character and his very important in his moral growth. This scene in the book showed huck reaching stage 5 of Kohlberg's Stages of Moral Development. This means that Huck has now reached the point where his opinions matter and that now one can judge your own perspective even if it is different from society's views.  

Even though Huck has shown moral growth he does have moments of regression. One of these moments included the time Huck had pulled a prank on Jim by pretending that he had dreamt that they were seperated on the raft. This made Jim very upset when he figured out he was lying because he felt the Huck didn’t understand how important Huck is to him. Huck felt bad for doing this to Jim and apologized and after Huck said in his head, “It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger; but I done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterwards, neither.”( Twain, 81) This quote shows regression in Hucks moral growth, because even though he apologized, he felt that he had to bring himself down to Jim because he is less than him. This is a major setback in Huck’s moral development because he brings back society's views on Jim and the thought that because Jim is black he is less significant. This brings Huck back down to Level two of Kohlberg's stages. In Huck's moral journey this is one of several moments of his moral regression.     

 After Huck's moral setback, he begins to find again where he stands moraly. This part of his journey begins to set focus on him crossing the last threshold. This moment in his journey gives the reader a strong belief in where Huck stands moraly. This moment in the novel begins with Huck writing a note to Miss Watson describing the situation he and Jim are in, but instead of sending this letter he tears it up. As huck tore the paper he said, “All right, then, I’ll go to hell.”

( Twain, 195) This quote is so morally significant because it shows that Huck would rather go to hell than give up his friendship and that he has made with Jim. The progression of Huck's moral character has come so far at this moment because Huck has finally made the decision to do what is ethically right and not what is right by law. This part in the novel shows Huck as a true hero because when faced with a life altering decision he not only takes on “moral responsibility”(Evan)  but also “personal moral freedom”(Evan) even though he is struggling with fear. This shows Huck reaching the stage six of Kohlberg's stages of moral development. This is Kohlberg's final stage and in this stage moral reasoning is not based on what is legally right and wrong but based on the universal ethical principles. It is very clear to see that Huck has reached this level of morality and is now at a certain point in his journey where he chooses Jim over society.

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Now that Huck has crossed the final threshold and is back into ordinary world, he is surrounded by the beliefs of society. The reader may feel it is inevitable to fall back to the views on which society holds for those of colors, and in this case it was for Huck. Unfortunately, Huck fell back into treating Jim as less significant. For instance when Tom Sawyer came to the Phelps farm and they came up with an awful plan to free Jim, and ended up putting a lot of people through pain. However, the reader clearly can see how Huck, once again, has moral regression. This happens when Jim went to get a doctor for Tom after he was shot. Huck had said in response to Jim’s reaction, “ I knowed he was white inside.” When Huck says this he means that because Jim took Tom to a doctor knowing that he would get in trouble that gives him the qualities of a white man because he is brave, strong, fearless, ect. Mark Twain created a very controversial ending because it is now hard to tell where Huck Finn has ended moraly in his journey, and becomes someone different and lesser than the Huck seen with Jim on the raft.

However, even though Huckleberry Finn did have periods of regression in which created an ending where Huck was not the character the readers expected at the end, Huck overall did grow morally and reached all levels of moral development. Huck’s journey through moral development included many characters that had influence over him and led him down different paths moraly.  The reader could observe the ups and downs of Huck’s moral growth starting with a narcissistic young boy and ending with a boy who has a developed moral compass. As Laurel had concluded, “Twain's novel not only reflects the harsh moral realities of its era, but works toward incorporating simultaneously the possibility of success alongside significant failure within the very moral terms it explores.” This shows that in the end Twain did a great job at providing and ending the reached the reality of moral development for Huck. Overall the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an American classic written by Mark Twain that goes deeper into the importance of developing morality, so that people can overcome unjust ways.

Work cited

  • Bollinger, Laurel. “Say It, Jim: The Morality of Connection in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” College Literature, vol. 29, no. 1, Winter 2002, p. 32. EBSCOhost, search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aqh&AN=5810752&site=ehost-live.
  • Evans, Robert C. “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.” The American Novel, Facts On File, 2011. Bloom's Literature, online.infobase.com/Auth/Index?aid=102268&itemid=WE54&articleId=483669. Accessed 8 Mar. 2020.
  • Twain, Mark, and Robert G. O'Meally. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Barnes & Noble Classics, 2008.


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