Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a story filled with promises and friendships, both made and unmade throughout the course of the narrative. Mark Twain utilizes the relationships Huck forms, with a particular focus on Jim and the royal pair, as a device to highlight the development of the main character. Specifically, Huck creates and solidifies his own sense of morality through the instances of loyalty and treachery he encounters on his travels.
At the beginning of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn the titular character is depicted as a boy with common sense but lacking a strong moral compass. It is important to note that Huck is not as dreadful as the character Pap, and at the same time is not as rigorous in his ways as his foster parentage, Miss Watson or the widow. It’s the gray area between these two poles in which the reader meets Huck. It is not until Huck meets Jim and begins his journey down the river that the reader begins to observe Huck developing his own sense of priorities and morals.
The companionship and kindness shared between Jim and Huck provides a strong foundation off of which Huck begins to build his own ideas of right and wrong. An early instance of this loyalty to one another impacting Huck takes place after the pair reconvene, following a bout of fog, “It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself… and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterwards, neither… I wouldn’t done that one if I’d a knowed it would make him feel that way.” (183) It is clearly displayed here that the connection between Jim and Huck resulted in Huck feeling compassion and guilt, thus realizing the value of friendship (or at least beginning to). Most important is that Huck makes this connection on his own. Jim scolds Huck for hurting him, but rather than brush it off as he would a sermon from Miss Watson or jibe from Tom Sawyer, Huck vows to never hurt him again.
But while the nurturing heart of Jim demonstrates a kind nature to Huck, it is necessary for a crucible of sorts to truly solidify Huckleberry’s morals and beliefs. This crucible comes in the form of the lost King and Duke. This vagabond pair engages in cheating behavior which, with each occurrence, sours Huck’s disposition towards the lifestyle. The most vivid example of their behavior comes when the pair poses as the family of a deceased, wealthy individual in order to rob them of the deceased’s assets. Huck takes great issue with this, “I says to myself, this is a girl that I’m letting that old reptle rob her of her money!… And this is another one…”(238). It is at this point in their adventure that Huck recognizes the repercussions of such treacherous living, and is visibly disgusted by it. Huck goes so far as to say that the perpetrator of the act is less than human. It is nearing the end of Huck’s interactions with the pair of royalty that he grows into who he may be, morally speaking, for the rest of his life.
The finale of the story also gives us the finale of Huck’s moral development. The ‘strength of his steel’, so to speak, is tested upon Jim’s capture at the hands of the King and the Phelps family. Huck determines that he has been granted an opportunity for salvation, going so far as to say that “Providence had slapped him in the face” (261) if he were to send a letter to Miss Watson and turn Jim in. However, after a brief reflection of his journey with Jim, Huck comes to realize his own stance on the issue and acts for himself, dramatically asserting, “All right, then, I’ll go to hell” (262). No other moment so clearly defines Huckleberry’s development than this one as it involves a decision he knows to be legally wrong as well as conflicts with the beliefs Miss Watson attempted to instill in him. It’s a choice made in contradiction to his teachings and upbringing but in line with his own personal morality. The decision to spring Jim, and thus become an out-and-out guilty accomplice to a runaway slave, is one Huck makes because Huck believes that it is the right thing to do.
The story Mark Twain has crafted contains a host of messages and interpretations. The points I have argued are far from the only message of the novel and even farther from the only purpose Jim and the royal pair serve. Despite this, I believe Mark Twain wrote these characters and these situations in an effort to display the importance of development of self and realizing one’s own priorities. Through the interactions shared between Huck, Jim, the king and the duke, the reader not only observes Huck’s decisions and internal monologue evolve throughout the story but the reader, too, is invited to reflect on the occurrences.