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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn | Symbols

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Twain took great strides to write in Huck's voice in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Since Huck sees the world in a straightforward manner, he often overlooks or does not reflect on deeper meanings. For these reasons symbols in the book are not featured prominently.

The Raft

The raft, which serves as Huck and Jim's transportation down the Mississippi River, symbolizes freedom from the rules of society. When they are on the raft, Huck and Jim are free to act as they see fit. Jim is no longer a slave nor is Huck a runaway. Instead they are masters of their own fates. Huck says in Chapter 18, "We said there warn't no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don't. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft." It is on the raft that Huck and Jim feel most comfortable.

On the raft the rules of society, including slavery, are left behind. It is here where Jim and Huck have their best conversations. It is also on the raft where Huck learns to see Jim as a three-dimensional person and not simply a slave. When Huck and Jim are on the raft they form a type of family, with Jim acting as a surrogate father. Such a relationship—in any form—would not have been forgiven in the towns they float past and sometimes visit.

The Mississippi River

The Mississippi River serves as the conduit taking Jim away from his enslavement. It also serves to take Huck away from those who would try to civilize him and away from Pap's abuse. Therefore, the river represents freedom. Huck and Jim are eager to be moving on the river and obtain the sometimes complicated freedom they both seek.

However, the river flows freely, and sometimes it can overwhelm. There are storms and the river overflows. One storm sinks a steamboat, killing a group of robbers on board.

The river even seems to bypass freedom at times. It takes Huck and Jim past their destination, Cairo. Once the raft passes Cairo and the duke and the king enter the story, the river no longer offers much freedom for Huck and Jim. It does offer freedom for the duke and the king who conceive their plans while on the river. The Mississippi River ultimately takes them from one con job to another, even as it exposes Huck to multiple dangerous situations and to angry, violent, and frustrated people. Complete freedom seems impossible to obtain.

Jim

Because Jim is the only slave who is featured in a book focused on slavery, he comes to symbolize slavery. Therefore one can extrapolate that all slaves have common and decent traits. And just as Jim deserves his freedom, so do all slaves. While the book was written in the postslavery period, one of Twain's goals in writing the book was for people to recognize that African Americans deserve equal opportunity.

As Huck gets to know Jim, he sees him display many good traits. In Chapter 23 Jim calls out for his family while sleeping. Huck is so surprised to learn that Jim cares about his family. He says, "I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks does for their'n." With each good trait and show of decency Jim displays, Huck's respect for Jim grows.

As the story goes on Huck sees Jim as a person, just the same as himself and not as a slave. He sees beyond Jim's skin color and status and recognizes his humanity. Because of this newfound appreciation for Jim, Huck is willing to do whatever he can to help Jim get his freedom.

Flashcards for Symbols

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Term:

Who tells the story?

Definition:

Huckleberry Finn

Term:

What town does the story begin?

Definition:

St. Petersburg

Term:

What is the year this story takes place?

Definition:

1844

Term:

With whom does Huck Finn live?

Definition:

Mrs. Watson and Widow Douglas

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