The journey taken by two people down a river, is rarely thought of as anything more than just an adventure. However, Mark Twain uses his novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, to explore and poke fun of many problems facing American society. Huck, the main character, is considered an uneducated boy who is constantly under pressure to conform to the “civilized” aspects of society. Jim, who accompanies Huck, is a runaway slave seeking freedom from the world that has denied it to him for so long. In his novel, Twain uses satire to demonstrate many of “civilizations” problems.
In the beginning of the story, Huck sneaks away from his home to play with Tom Sawyer and his friends. The boys start a gang and decide that one of the things they will do is kidnap people, and hold them for ransom. The boys quickly discover that they cannot ransom anyone because they don’t know what “ransom” means. Tom has a theory as to the meaning of the word, “But per’aps if we keep them till they’re ransomed, it means that we keep them till they’re dead.”(12) Without any doubts, all of the boys agree with this meaning of the word. In this segment of the novel, Twain uses satire to demonstrate that even though something may be truly wrong, if civilization or society adopts it to be true, then it is believed to be true. Twain may be specifically using the issue of slavery as his target, in this instance of satire.
During the time period in which The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was written, religion was as much an integral part of civilization, as was an education. Religion is one of the key victims of Twain’s satire throughout the novel. This satire is no more apparent then when Huck’s guardian, the Widow Douglas, preaches to him about Moses. Huck didn’t think very much of her lecture; “Here she was a-bothering about Moses, which was no kin to her, and no use to anybody, being gone, you see…”(3) Twain uses Huck to exhibit his objection to the blind faith that “civilized” society places towards religion.
During Huck and Jim’s journey, they encounter two men who refer to themselves as the Duke and the King. Theses characters make their living swindling people out of their money. When they are eventually caught, they pay for their sins by being tarred and feathered. Huck expresses his thoughts on the subject by saying, “It was a dreadful thing to see. Human beings can be awful cruel to one another.”(294) Through this event, Twain shows that crooks and criminals aren’t the only ones that can be cruel. The crowd which considers themselves to be civilized and opposing any such imprudent and cruel acts, actually commits one themselves. Twain illustrates how a society that views themselves as civilized can display such irresponsible conduct.
Twain uses a boy and a runaway slave in, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, to not only tell a story, but to express what he thinks are the problems of civilized society. Satire is the key tool in which he uses to demonstrate these problems. Through Twain’s use of satire, we can not only poke fun at American society, but we can learn from its mistakes. Twain turned an ordinary adventure down a river into an exploration of the problems society, especially civilized society, faces. Because of the brilliant way in which Twain intertwines satire into his novel, the lessons in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, will be remembered forever.