The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is said to be the source from which all great American literature has stemmed (Smith 127). This is in part attributed to Mark Twain’s ability to use humor and satire, as well as incorporating serious subject matter into his work. Throughout the novel Twain takes on the serious issue of Huck’s moral dilemma. One such issue which is particularly important in the novel is pointed out by Smith: He swears and smokes, but he has a set of ethics all his own.
He believes that slaves belong to their rightful owners, yet in his honest gratitude toward his friend Jim, he helps him to escape the bonds of slavery. 181) This is something that tears at Huck throughout the novel and helps Twain show how complex Huck’s character really is. The recognition of complexity in Huck’s character enabled Twain to do full justice to the conflict of vernacular values and the dominant culture (Smith 125). Throughout Huck and Jim’s adventures Huck is constantly playing practical jokes on Jim who seems to take them all in stride.
But unknown to the reader Twain uses this aspect as another notch in Huck’s moral growth. Critic Frank McGill points this out: Huck’s humble apology for the prank he plays on Jim in the fog is striking vidence of growth in Huck’s moral insight. It leads naturally to the next chapter in which Twain causes Huck to face up for the first time to the fact he is helping a slave escape. (119) Another serious issue addressed by Twain is the abuse that was given to Huck by his father. Huck was kidnaped from the Widow Douglas by his father who had heard of his inheritance.
Huck’s father then took him to a cabin far away in the woods where he kept the boy a prisoner, beating him and half starving him. Twain tells us how Huck felt about life with his father: Before long Huck began to wonder why he had even liked living with the widow. With his father he could smoke and swear all he wanted, and his life would have been quiet pleasant if it had not been for all of the constant beatings. (156) Huck would soon after grow tired of the beatings and fakes his death to escape the cabin.
The humorous side of Twain is probably what he is most well known for. Humor is considered an art form by many writers. Jane Bernadette states the difference between humor and comical stories: The humorous story is strictly a work of art high and delicate and only an artist can tell it; but no art is necessary in telling the comic and the witty story; anybody can do it. The art of telling a humorous story-understand, I mean by word of mouth, not print-was created in America and has remained at home. (159) Twain satirizes the south for its seriousness on certain matters.
I think one of the most notably southern traits of Mark Twain’s humor is its power of seeing the fun of southern seriousness(Bernadette 175). Twain also satirizes the society of the day’ by describing the colonel Grangerford as the symbol of southern aristocracy(245). Twain also goes on to satirize the south’s racism. One such instance is pointed out in the novel when Aunt Polly hears of a steamboat explosion. Good gracious is anyone hurt? No, it just killed a negro (209). Religious satire is another aspect that Twain uses.
An easy illustration of this is the Widow’s attempt to teach Huck religious principles while she persists on keeping slaves. Huck’s principles of morality make him more Christian’ than the Widow even though he takes no interest in her lifeless principles(Bernadette 288). Twain’s humor has been mistaken by some to be racist or politically incorrect. The humor of Mark Twain contains a sense of the incongruous which frontiersmen felt in a region where civilization and uncultivated nature come face to face (McGill 95).