“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” by one of the most famous American authors and satirists in United States history, Mark Twain. This novel is the continuation of a previous work “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” The latter story was written in Mark Twains voice as the narrator while the former is written in Huckleberry Finn’s voice. Huckleberry Finn is the son of a drunk and as a result he has essentially raised himself. This has led to him being independent and self-reliant and to feel stifled by the kindness of the Widow Douglas who has taken him in and set about “civilizing him.” He may not have a family in the traditional sense, but the story is about his need to rely on others. Huck’s identity is discovered through the identity of both his biological family and his “adopted” family of friends and well intending townspeople who care enough about Huckleberry to look out for him. Personal identities are inextricably linked to our family identities. People are products of their cultures and environments, and outside of the individual, it is the family that is the smallest unit of the community of a society. Throughout the novel this dichotomy between personal and family identity is present as a primary theme of the story.
The beginning of the story of begins with a summary of the adventures from the previous book “The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.” Readers enter at a midway point in a story that has already been told up to the point when Huckleberry Finn has discovered a small fortune of gold that is being kept in a back of trust for him. He says that, “Tom and me found the money that the robbers hid in the cave and it made us rich” (4). Each has received six thousand dollars and was given a dollar a day, which was more money, then either, knew what to do with.
Huck is reluctant in his new life in a family situation with the Widow Douglas serving as a mother or grandmother figure in his life. He says that “She put me in them new cloths again, and I couldn’t do nothing but sweat and sweat, and feel all cramped up” (4). He desires to return to his old cloths and his former more free way of living when he could come and go as he pleased and smoke his corncob pipe, but Tom Sawyer convinces him to keep toughing out his new life of being civilized in exchange for being part of Tom’s robber game. Soon though, the choice of whether to stay is not longer up to him as he is taken out of this new family to return to a biological family that had never function.
Huck fins identity is defined as much by a lack of a family as having one. “Here’s Huck Finn, he hain’t got no family; what you going to do ‘bout him?” (7). In the traditional sense that all of the other kids around him have, Huck does not have a family. This lack is as important to his identity as family’s are to those who have them in the traditional sense. In the dictionary, family is defined in the first three definitions as blood relations. Only the fourth definition allows for a definition of a family that does not include a blood relation. This is described as “A person or people treating each other with special loyalty or intimacy.” In this sense, one could argue that Huck’s family consists of the people in his life who care for him—Tom, Jim, the Widow Douglas. If one insists on the traditional definition of a family than the only fitting way to say that Huck has a family would be to say that he has a dysfunctional family, an abusive father who is never around, but makes an appearance in Huck’s life once he realizes that there is a financial gain involved in becoming the father that he never was to Huck.
This blessing of financial security though turns out to be a curse since it causes his father, who is a bum and an alcoholic who has never had an interest in Huckleberry’s life, to return and demand custody of his son in order to get at the fortune that he has found. If Huck was dissatisfied with his new life in which the Widow Douglas attempts to civilize him, his life takes a turn for the worse when his father reappears and successfully wins a court case to claim custody of his son. The local judge, Judge Thatcher, never would have agreed to this and tries to advocate for the Widow Douglas getting custody of him, but in the end his biological, drunk father retains custody of him.
Huck would rather define himself as an independent individual void of family than to call his father his father and call their relationship a family.
Things take a dive shortly after and Huck enters into a dysfunctional family life. Huck’s dysfunctional father has become part of his identity. The reason that Huck believes that he “hain’t got no family” is because he is ashamed of the family that he does have.
Huck’s own father goes so far as to kidnap him and hold him against his will in a cabin. When he returns home he abuses him. Though this was beyond the scope of the psychology at the time. Such abuse leads to a person developing attachment disorders which makes them unable to form bonds with people. Mark Twain, without knowing the term “attachment disorder” does a good job of characterizing Huck as a realistic portrayal of such a disorder. His inability to adjust to a new life with the Widow, he blames on not wanting to follow rules and dress in uncomfortable cloths that make him “sweat and sweat.” But what is really at heart here is that Huck has passed the critical stage at which he is able to bond with people. This casts him as the perpetual loner that he is.
Huck comes up with a plan to convince his father that he has been killed by smearing pig’s blood in the cabin and manages to escape. He hides out on Jackson Island where he meets the slave Jim who has also escaped in order to avoid being sold by Miss Watson to a plantation down river where he would be subjected to horrendous conditions. Huck and Jim are eventually forced to leave and they spend much of the rest of the book on various adventures that include meeting up with con men, river bandits, and a cast of other colorful characters. There eventual goal is to get Jim to the north where slavery is outlawed so that he can be free. The bond that Jim and Huck form is a powerful one. Jim protects Huck from seeing the dead man’s face on a raft they encounter floating on the river because he does not want him to see that it is his father. When a riverboat collides with their acquired raft they are separated, but Jim fixes the raft and again comes to Huck’s rescue. This fits the fourth definition of family. Jim, because he is a slave, does not own his family’s destiny and it is in the hands of the owners. The bond of loyalty between them though is familial and each seem willing to lay their lives on the line for the other.
Likewise Tom and Huck have a bond that seems like brothers. Huck’s identity as a loner only exists because he has others in his life where he can play the loner card so to speak. The book ends with Huck deciding to go West. He says that “But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it” (185). But it’s not the cloths that he is afraid of, but the life within a traditional family where he has long ago lost the ability to function normally. This is part of his identity. His family are the people around him, but his independence is more important to him then their presence in his life. His rugged independence is who he is, and he remains consistent to his identity as a loner till the end.
Twain, Mark. The adventures of Huckleberry Finn. New York, NY: Smithmark Publishers, 1995. Print.