The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has stirred up much controversy over such topics as racism, prejudice and gender indifference, but the brunt of the criticism has surrounded itself around the ending, most notably with the re-entry of Tom Sawyer. Some people viewed the ending as a bitter disappointment, as shared by people such as Leo Marx. The ending can also be viewed with success, as argued by such people as Lionel Trilling, T. S. Eliot, V. S. Pritchett and James M. Cox in their essays and reviews.
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I argue that the ending of the novel proves successful in justifying the innocence of childhood through such themes as satire and frivolous behaviour. One of the underlying aspects of the novel is that it is a novel based mostly around adolescence. Jim and Huck are the two chosen by Twain, to set out on a wild adventure. This adventure saw murder, theft, lies and death, all aspects of life that youth is generally deterred from, deterred in a sense of misguidance and frivolous behaviour that leads them to concern themselves with other matters, matters circulating around innocence and light-hearted activities.
For Jim and Huck, their various mishaps and adventures proved childish in a sense that they are taken generally lightly. Take for instance the discovery of the corpse in the floating house (Page 44). With discoveries like this murder, and other various mishaps the boys behave as they should, as boys. None the less, the two are not yet matured and ostracized of their real “boyhoods. ” Within just the first few pages, we see that Huck is truly playful at heart, when he is sneaking around in the forest in search of a ghost, and runs into Tom; “Tom whispered to me and wanted to tie Jim to the tree for fun” (10).
Although Jim is a young adult, his childish antics seem more prevalent then Huck’s. His silly superstitions of bad luck occurred more often then not backing up the notion of youth, “And Jim said you mustn’t count the things you are going to cook for dinner, because that would be bad luck. The same if you shook the table-cloth after sundown” (41). The boys are young, foolish and generally playful in nature. With respect to Jim’s and Huck’s lives, Jim has lived a life of slavery and Huck of brutal mishaps with a drunken father. The two are certainly not the poster boys for the stereotyped youth.
I argue that this very adventure is some sort of escape from their real lives to experience a false sense of childhood and freedom thereby justifying the success yet heavily debated, ending. In tying this reoccurring theme to the ending, it sets the stage well for the re-entry of Tom Sawyer, perhaps the most childish of them all, to plan the great escape. Pushing simplicity aside and resorting to drastic, elaborate and foolish plots, Sawyer replaces the relative ease of success to that of immaturity and the reoccurring theme of youth and frivolous behaviour.
For Sawyer it is a game, just as his idea for the band of robbers at the beginning of the novel (Page 12), Tom’s ideas run wild as Huck simply tags along for the ride deciding it best not to argue, but go with the crowd. When it came down to Tom’s ideas, “Everybody was willing…. Everybody said it was a real beautiful oath. ” (Page 12). Not once is Huck’s true will shown, just that of the others. The journey versus quest ideas appears more often then not when speaking of the novel as a whole. Are Huck and Finn simply on a trip with no destination, or are they truly in search of some common goal?
Leo Marx’s general interpretation of the story is that the journey is really a quest (Page 326). He believes that Twain fails to take into consideration, the common goals and attributes associated with journeys. James M. Cox disagrees with Marx, saying; to see the journey as a quest, whereas it simply is not at any time a quest. A quest is a positive journey, implying an effort a struggle to reach a goal. But Huck is escaping. His journey is primarily a negation, a flight from tyranny, not a flight toward freedom. (Page 350) Cox views the story as a great escape, not a search for freedom.
I view it not as an escape, nor a quest, but an adventure. This adventure has no real goal or end, it is one that the events unfold unwillingly and the characters must adapt themselves accordingly to the obstacles ahead. Just as the thrills of the adventure seem to die down and Jim’s escape proves to be a success, Tom puts more fuel onto the fire placing the two convicts into the spotlight once again with his flamboyant plan. Even though Tom knows of Jim’s already granted freedom, he wants to continue the adventure of which he had missed so much of.
As Huck tells Tom what has been missed, “And he wanted to know all about it right off; because it was a grand adventure, and mysterious, and so it hit him where he lived” (178). Even with all that has happened and the trouble Huck and Jim are in, Tom takes no time to join in the fun and games, “I’ll help you steal him! ” (178). I believe that Twain’s admiration for Sawyer interferes with the ending as Twain wants to again put Sawyer in the spotlight aside from Huck and Jim and their easy way out. The adventure was not yet over, and Twain had no intention of ending just yet.
Much emphasis is put onto the last several chapters of this meaningless great escape, an escape that would inevitably prove futile, and provide for an unclear ending, leaving readers to question, why all the fuss? Adventures, unlike quests and journeys are haphazard; the odds of a runaway slave and small town southern boy jumping on a raft, and searching for freedom seemed very dubious. In the end their childish, yet entertaining adventure ended up like many of Sawyers and Huck’s adventures, missing the main objective, but providing for some great stories of fun and excitement.
Another way to divide the criticism of the ending of the novel is to split the seriousness and the satire. The novel can be viewed as satire, with Tom providing the comic relief with his Romanticist like ideas. On the contrary, it can be viewed with utter disappointment, in regards to an overall poor and easy way to end the novel. As Marx argues, humour is used to mask the very human existence in which Huck faces (Page 337-338). I believe that Twain wants to abandon the notion of seriousness (slavery, southern hospitality, etc) to that of foolishness and childlike antics.
Take, for instance, when Huck does some reconnaissance dressed as a woman, but gets caught in the act when he catches the lead ball between his legs (Page 48-54). Or when the town first realizes that Huck is gone and fires cannon over the water and throws mercury poisoned bread into the river. Superstitious, but silly antics like these and many others help back up the notion for humour. Although both of these events occur near the beginning of the novel, their direct sense of humour can be linked to the ending and its own satire.
I believe that Twain’s message was impartial to that of the touchy subjects of slavery and general prejudice, but more so to that of the direct targeting of laughter and folly of the boys. Take into consideration when Tom and Huck visit Jim in his captivity. Their quick wit and cunning easily deter the African American guard from believing that they knew Jim. Almost playing with the guard in a sense they manage to easily confuse him (Page 186-187). There is much humour in the book, and the ending does seem to fit well into this category. As V. S. Pritchett depicts it is humour, The curious thing about Huckleberry Finn is that, although it is one of the funniest books in all literature and really astonishing in the variety of its farce and character, we are even more moved than we are amused by it” (305). Twain portrays the very touchy subject of racial discrimination into a different light, that of adolescence and humour. Putting this concept into a better perspective, comedians and late night talk show hosts use this approach all the time when they joke about, poor health care, corrupt government and international wars.
Seemingly easier to interpret for the general public this method gets the message across in an indirect but serious way. The last few chapters take this approach to end the novel in a way befit for satire. Read by young and old alike, the American classic of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has causes many to question the ending. Why can the ending not be accepted by all? In my view, the novel seems to come off as marking its target audience as a matured populace; although that doesn’t mean that younger generations can’t see its underlying themes.
With the childlike background but adult-focused audience, an ending to fit these two groups appropriately would be difficult to pull off. Should there be a “and lived happily ever after” mentality or perhaps one of enlightenment and justice? I think that the novel takes the cliched happily ever after approach. Lionel Trilling points out, “yet some device is needed to permit Huck to return to his anonymity, to give up the role of hero, to fall into the background which he prefers” (326). This very device in which Trilling suggests is that of the simple solution to end the novel on a subtle note.
There needed to be something to bring Huck back to the norm of everyday life as to which the novel began. Although that life consisted of brutal mishaps with his father, in comparison to the murders, lies and scandals he so recently witnesses, the life he lived before was far more stable. I think that this very device in which Trilling depicts is needed to be somehow incorporated to place Huck back into the norm of everyday society as that which the novel began. For Twain it seemed fit to deal with the easy way out in wrapping up the story briefly and without conflict.
With Huck’s fortune secured, his father dead and Jim a free man (228-229), the story ends relatively stable. All great adventures must come to an end. The irony that everything turns out almost too perfectly is that of the childlike attribute. Even when everything is settled, Huck says, “Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can’t stand it. I been there before” (229). By throwing in this tidbit of humour at the very end, Twain relates back to humour and general satisfaction, knowing that our hero can rest at ease.
This trend can be found in many children’s novels and stories such as “Cinderella”, “The Sleeping Beauty”, and “Little Red Riding Hood, ” each of which has an unconvincing, but generally satisfying ending. The “happily ever after” theme appears more often then not and is a sure way to win over the audience, it does not provide for a easy out, but simply a means to please the audience and climax the story.