Lying In Huck Finn Essay

Free Essay on Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Cruelness

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Cruelness in Adventures Of Huck Finn


                     Throughout the tale of Huckleberry Finn as told by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), almost every character for his or her own reasons lies. This can be considered a commentary on the morality and ethics of man kind by Mr. Clemens. Almost no person exists that has never uttered at lease one untruth. That is one of the wonderful things about this novel. It closely mimics real life. There are characters that lie for personal gain. There are also those that lie only in hopes of helping others. Though both are lies, one can be considered courteous or even heroic at times, where the other can only appear greedy and wrong no matter what light it is viewed in. Mark Twain often uses the river to denote freedom and purity, however just as many lies are told on the river as off. This is because Twain doesn't make the assumption that all lies are wicked, and can thus attach them to his symbol of pure good. Practically every "good" character in Huckleberry Finn lies. Huck himself lies on almost countless occasions. Miss Watson lies on at least one occasion. Jim tells several lies during the tale. Tom Sawyer is practically unable to speak the truth. Yet none of these characters are seen as morally corrupt. The villainous characters lie on a constant basis in the course of the story. The king makes lying an art at times, while the duke lies without pause for his entire appearance in the story. Pap makes up numerous tales during his time in the book. All these characters are considered evil and wrongdoers. The difference is the fact that the latter characters lie in hopes of personal gain, while the first characters lie to help others, or in order to entertain. Nearly every character lies in Huckleberry Finn; it is their motivation for their lies that defines their character to the reader. Huckleberry himself tells many a lie during the story. Perhaps his biggest lie is when he fakes his own death, and makes the whole town look for his "dead carcass" (Clemens 32). This caused the widow and Miss Watson a terrible amount of heartache and concern.

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He also helped Jim escape by telling men on a passing boat that the man on his raft was his father who "got the small pox" rather than a run away slave (Clemens 75). Although the first lie hurt some people, the reader interprets it as Huck's only choice and therefore doesn't "mark him as a bad person" (Miner 23). The perception of Huck is that of a hero, so no matter the moral choices he makes, we tend to see him as such. Miss Watson, a picture of Godliness tells a terrible lie. She swore to Jim that he wouldn't "sell him down to New Orleans," while she had full intention to until he ran off (Clemens 39). This lie was the type that held gain for Miss Watson, but negative affects for others namely Jim. Yet even though she is seen as somewhat of an ogre until she eventually releases Jim, she is not seen as one of the villainous characters of the book for this lie. This has to do mostly with her being introduced with Huck's interests apparently as her main concern by giving him directions for his own good such as "sit up straight" and the like (Clemens 8). By being brought into the reader's view as a role model, the cruel lie she told is diminished and barley even dwelled upon by most readers. Tom Sawyer is a professional liar. Tom however is considered imaginative rather than a liar for the most part. He is known well for his lies amongst the other characters. When Huck fakes his own death, Jim comments that "Tom Sawyer couldn't get up no better plan" since Tom is constantly lies (Clemens 39). Tom also takes part in the scheme to steal Jim out of captivity; the whole time lying to Huck that Jim isn't free when he knows perfectly well that Miss Watson freed Jim on her deathbed. Tom's character is a diabolical liar and is yet seen only as a mischief-maker and not a true threat to anyone. Even the lovable innocent Jim will lie for personal gain. His "innocence is lost" when he successfully scams unwitting Huck (Miner 21). He manages to trick Huck out of a quarter for the use of his "magic hairball" that tells the future (Clemens 19). This lie was only designed to get Huck's money, not to hurt anyone. This and the fact that Jim is practically ignorant account for his being a "hero" in the story even though he lies to his friend and steals himself out of slavery. The King and the Duke are dubbed villains for their lies. Even the only names the reader is able to call them by are frauds. The "Duke", purely to receive preferential treatment from Huck and Jim claims he is a descendant of the "Duke of Bridgewater" (Clemens 100). Inspired by the duke's lie, the king tells his own tale. He claims to be the long lost "King of France" "Dauphin" (Clemens 101). This is clearly not true to everyone except for trusting old Jim. Huck however treats them as royalty so as not to anger them. These men only lied in order to escape work and receive favors from Jim and Huck. They later deceive entire towns with their makeshift theatre presentation "The Royal Nonesuch" for financial gain (Clemens 121). Also they play with the emotions of two girls that recently lost their uncle in order to steal his money. The king and the duke lie only to "please themselves", this is why, unlike other liars throughout the story, they are pegged as the criminals and eventually ridden out of town on a rail (Miner 24). The river and the shore often have meanings in Huckleberry Finn. The river can represent purity and freedom. The shore almost always represents the things that are wrong with society and captivity. Even so, both contain an equal amount of lies. This suggests that the lies themselves are not necessarily evil, so much as the person telling them may be. The king and duke lie to Huck on the river on many occasions. This illustrates the fact that all the characters lie; it is just a question of their character that denotes the nature of the lie. Had all lies in the story been evil, Clemens never would have had any occur on the utopian Mississippi. While all characters and for the most part all people lie, it is the motivation behind the lie and the moral fiber of the person telling it that causes harm or good. The fact that a character in the story lies does not make them a bad or evil character, simply more realistic. The focus of Clemens through the social graces of his characters and their dialects was to create a true to life story. By adding the complexity of honesty to good or evil ends greatly contributes to this theme of realism.

While there are many lies told in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Huck is the only character who lies at times for a noble cause. These are lies that Huck relies on Providence for there creation. In Chapter 32, when Huck arrives at the Phelps farm, he explains how he will lie in order to learn about Jim so that he can save him from slavery,

I went right along,... but just trusting to Providence to put the right words in my mouth when the time come; for I'd noticed that Providence always did put the right words in my mouth if I left it alone.

Here are three examples of such "noble lies" that Huck feels Providence provides him:

1. After stealing the boat of the robbers, in Chapter XIII Huck makes up a tall-tale to the watchman on the steamship, telling him that Miss Hooker was on the horse-ferry and the oar was lost, so they floated down the river until Miss Hooker grabbed ahold of the wreck of the Walter Scott. Huck further tells the watchman that Miss Hooker's uncle is a rich man, so that the watchman will assume there will be a reward for retrieving the lady. 

Knowing that the watchman would not be inclined to search after murderers, Huck tells this lie in order to save the robbers from drowning. He also cannot tell the watchman that these men are endangered because he has stolen their boat for Jim and himself. In one of Twain's satiric comments on society, Huck is proud of his lie that has done the murderers a good turn:

I wished the widow knowed about it. I judged she would be proud of me for helping these rapscallions, because rapscallions and dead-beats is the kind the widow and good people takes the most interest in.

2. In Chapter XVi, Huck lies in order save Jim from being caught as a runaway slave, although at first he thinks of turning Jim over to authorities. However, when he begins to wrestle with his conscience, two white men on a skiff with guns stop by Huck and ask about the raft and if anyone is on it; then, they explain that five Negroes have run off. Upon hearing this, Huck quickly feels that he cannot let these men take Jim, who has praised him for being the only white man who has cared about him. So, Huck relies again on "Providence," and he tells the men that a white man is on the raft.

 I see I was weakening; so I just give up trying, and up and says:

“He's white.”

“I reckon we'll go and see for ourselves.”

“I wish you would,” says I, “because it's pap that's there, and maybe you'd help me tow the raft ashore where the light is. He's sick—and so is mam and Mary Ann.”

When the men hear that others have gone away when he has asked for help, they assume that "pap" has smallpox; therefore, they guiltily give Huck money, and push off. Huck tells a bigger lie, 

“Good-bye, sir,” says I; “I won't let no runaway n---s get by me if I can help it.”

3. In Chapter XXXII, Huck learns that Jim has been sold by the king for forty dollars. From a boy Huck learns that Jim is on the Phelps Plantation, a miserable farm. Again, he wrestles with his conscience over writing Miss Watson and telling her where Jim is. Finally, he decides against doing so; instead, he goes to the Phelps' place where he pretends to be the person they think he is, Tom Sawyer, so that he can learn the whereabouts of Jim. From Uncle Silas Phelps, Huck learns that the runaway slave has informed on the two shysters, and they have been tarred and feathered. Then, he and Tom plan to rescue Jim.

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