Thursday, June 16, 2011

Satire in Huckleberry Finn

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The use of satire by Twain in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn , is used to attack what he sees as the hypocritical views of the mid-western society. The satire makes fun and criticizes something foolish or bad that happened in the book. Some elements of satire that develop in this book are the satire of gullibility, satire of religious hypocrisy, and satire of racism. He took it upon himself in this new novel to expose the problems which he saw in society, using one of the most powerful methods available to him.

One expression of human failure that Twain satirizes is gullibility. Gullibility was most seen in the characters of the king and the duke. The Wilks girls believed that the King and Duke were actually their uncles, even after Doc Robinson told them otherwise and even tried to prove it to them. ”Say looky here; if you are Harvey Wilks, when ’d you come to this town?’(17). Twain is satirizing the fact that some people fail to listen and they are fooled because they do fail to listen when someone is trying to help them. The people at church believed the king and the duke to be so sincere at the funeral. “[…] it worked the crowd like you never see […] everybody broke down and went to sobbing right out loud”(164). Twain uses this as a way for the king and the duke to fool people into thinking that they are actually threatened by Peter’s death. It is comical how the townspeople, like our contemporary TV evangelists viewers, fall for his phony revival spiel. So the King went through the crowd with his hat, swabbing his eyes and blessing the people and praising them and thanking them for being so good to the poor pirates away over there”(166). Here, Twain mocks the gullibility of the townspeople as the King dupes them by pretending to be a missionary.

The satire of religious hypocrisy Twain uses is deeply expressed throughout Huck’s adventure. It seemed like it only happened when people didn’t mean to be so insincere. “[…]Tom asked a lot of questions […] Jim told him that Uncle Silas came in everyday of two to pray with him[…]”(48). In this passage Twain poked fun at the situation because Uncle Silas only came in to pray with him so he could have someone to pray with him. Uncle Silas doesn’t really care about him like that. To Silas, Jim is only a runaway slave. One tremendous example is when Huck goes to church with the Grangerfords. “Next Sunday we all went to church[…] the men took their guns along”(10). The Grangerford thought nothing of it but Huck, the fact that they had guns hadn’t even crossed his mind until then. Huck is a little shocked by what he had seen especially after the sermon, which consisted of the preaching of “brotherly love”. when the Grangerfords and Sheperdsons were talking about how good the preaching was. The whole time Huck was thinking that this could be normal on a Sunday for such strong family rivals. This type of satire also shows up at the Phelps farm. When Huck first arrived, he didnt know who he was supposed to be that these people were expecting, and he made up the excuse that the steamboat had blown a cylinder-head. Well, its lucky...two years ago...the old Lally Rook[…] blowed out a cylinder-head and crippled a man. He was a Baptist […] I remember now, he did die”(1). Aunt Sally thought nothing of a nigger who supposedly died, but right away went into talking of a man who was killed once in a similar accident, not forgetting to mention his religion. So Twain makes Mrs. Phelps become a key target in this satire of religious hypocrisy. Overall any reader would think that religious hypocrisy gave Huck a lot of experience of what Huck thought he might never experience. And fortunately, it will change Huck’s outlook of what religion could be based on.

Along with religious hypocrisy is the satire of racism. Many words the book contains are full of vivid hatred towards black slaves. Every single line talks about how white people despise and refuse to accept the black race. Answering Aunt Sallys question about whether or not anyone is hurt Huck answers, no mum, just killed a nigger( 1). This is the one and only acceptable way to talk about black people in the white society. In addition to this, not only is the black people treated differently from the white, they are also considered to be ones property. He is the only property I have (1). Huck is forced to say in order to save Jim. This is the only way to get through without the essence of suspicions. The first time the reader meets Jim he is given a very negative description of Jim. The reader is told that Jim is illiterate, childlike, not very bright and extremely superstitious. Though Huck shows racism in public as society teaches him, deep inside he understands that Jim is a great person. Through the eyes of Huck Finn, Mark Twain shows that there is more to people then looks and race, showing the importance of beliefs and character.

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The satire that Twain uses in Huckleberry Finn gives the reader that sense of understanding and pure entertainment. In the satires of gullibility, religious hypocrisy, and racism, Twain brings out into the open the ugliness of society and causes the reader to challenge the original description of blacks. In his subtle manner, he creates not an apology for slavery but a challenge to it. Overall satire is a key defining feature of Huckleberry Finn and Twain makes good use of it to poke fun at American and especially mid-western society. Throughout the story satire keeps coming back to laugh at the characters and their settings and tell us how Twain really feels.

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