Huckelberry Finn – Chapter 1 Commentary

“There were things he stretched, but mainly he told the truth.” Straight away Twain shows us the irony and hypocrisy of American society through the eyes of the young and innocent Huck. For Twain’s story to come out as he has intended the voice of the narrator is a crucial part. Twain has deliberately chosen a 13-year-old boy as the first person narrator to give the reader a greater sense of belief and trust which Huck quickly gains through his innocence. A young boy such as Huck would be less influenced by the world around him and, therefore, he will be telling the story straight from the heart and what he truly believes in. His vision isn’t clouded by the ‘sivilised’ society, which Twain perhaps purposely uses to symbolise the way in which American society attempts to place people into a certain stereotype.
The language Twain has used is very simple which reflects Huck himself. The grammatically incorrect English. This seems to give Huck more appeal as it further demonstrates his innocence and honesty. Further more, Twain provides us with two contrasting characters in the widow Douglas and Miss Watson in both their personalities and language they use. Their main concern is to behave in the manner that is considered by the society to be ‘sivilised’. This gives the reader the impression that they are fake and not true to themselves but rather more worried about what others will think of them.
From the beginning it is clear that Huck believes to be trapped by what he believes to be a confined society. When he is away from this Huck feels ‘free and satisfied’ but now that the widow and Miss Watson have taken to ‘Civilizing Huck’, his new clothes symbolise the way in which he is feeling on the inside. Huck feels ‘all cramped up’ and ‘tiresome and lonesome’. He feels so lonesome that he ‘wishes [he] was dead’. All Huck wants is ‘to go somewhere’ and he ‘warn’t particular’. He is so desperate to get away from the society that is constricting him that Huck wishes he was at the ‘bad place’. Twain perhaps uses Miss Watson’s criticism of Tom Sawyer going to the good place ‘not by a considerable light’ as a way to emphasize Huck’s fear of being lonely. Huck is very glad at this thought because he wants ‘Tom and [him] to be together’.

Perhaps one of Twain’s greatest concerns about America’s society is its evident hypocrisy. This is greatly exemplified by the widow’s ban on smoking because it was a ‘mean practice and wasn’t clean’ while she herself ‘took snuff too’. As she has authority others are willing to ignore her faults and ‘of course that was all right, because she done it herself’, whereas Huck is compelled to follow the rules, only because he has not yet been ‘sivilised’. This passage also seems to explore the idea of criticizing others in order raise themselves. By condemning Huck for smoking, the widow is making herself feel better knowing that she has the authority and that it is all right for her to smoke. Twain uses the idea of Miss Watson using the spelling book perhaps to symbolise the way in which Huck sees this ‘sivilised’ society- ‘I couldn’t stood it much longer’.
The society’s concern with being respectable is emphasised by the irony that Huck is only allowed to join Tom’s ‘band of robbers’ if he goes back to the widow and becomes ‘respectable’. A possible implication of this is that no one would suspect a ‘respectable’ person. The society would straight away try and accuse the ‘unsivilised’ rather then point the blame on someone of a ‘respectable’ status. Therefore, in order for Huck to join the ‘band of robbers’ he must establish himself as a ‘respectable’ member of the society so as the blame won’t be pointed at him.
Throughout the chapter the tone changes but particularly towards the end there is a darkness which is mainly created by the use of sounds. ‘I heard an owl, away off, who-whooing about somebody that was dead, and a whippowill and a dog crying about somebody that was going to die’, all add to the lonely mood that Huck is feeling at the time and his wish that ‘[he] had some company’.
Through Huck Twain is also able to express his views of racism in American society at the time. The use of the word ‘nigger’ shows the acceptance of the term. Huck’s observation that ‘things go better’ when ‘mixed up’ seems to refer to the racial segregation. Twain is perhaps portraying his view that society would be a better place if we all ‘mix up’ and ‘swap around’.
As the society in which Huck is being bought up in slowly attempts to ‘sivilise’ him, Huck’s character and values seem to grow stronger. As he fights against the society that is attempting to take away his individualism, Huck is determined to stay true to himself and tell the truth, with as little ‘stretches’ as possible.

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