Critical Essays Freedom versus Civilization


 Because the practical Huck is an agent of Realism, he finally decides that the "adventures" are simply lies of Tom Sawyer. Huck cannot see the purpose behind Tom's reasoning and imagination, and his literal approach to Tom's extravagance provides much of the novel's humor.

Although Tom resurfaces at the novel's conclusion, Twain makes use of other devices to attack Romanticism during the course of the novel. When Huck hears a "twig snap" in Chapter 1, the subtle allusion is to James Fenimore Cooper and his Leatherstocking Tales, such as The Last of the Mohicans. In "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses," a satire of the early-nineteenth-century American novelist, Twain argued against the Romanticism that caused Cooper to prize "his broken twig above all the rest of his effects . . . . In fact, the Leatherstocking Series ought to have been called the Broken Twig series." In addition, when Huck and Jim come upon a crippled steamboat during their flight down the river, it is not coincidental that the boat's name is the Walter Scott, the same name as the Romantic author of Ivanhoeand The Abbott.

Twain's burlesque of Romanticism represents more, however, than simply a literary method of humor. The imagination of Tom also symbolizes the constructed idealism of civilization, and its contrast with Jim's right to freedom becomes evident at the end of the novel. In this manner, the mistaken belief that nineteenth-century American society, especially in the South, had overcome its racial bigotry and hatred is as ludicrous as Tom's extravagant plan to free Jim from the Phelps farm.

In contrast, as Huck questions the validity of Tom's Romanticism, he also questions the validity of the society around him, including its religious teachings and social laws. But, because Huck believes that Tom's education and upbringing make his judgment sound, Huck feels that he is the one who is destined for hell. The satiric comment is a harsh one and notifies readers that the interplay between Tom and Huck is not simply for humor. The contrast between Tom's Romanticism and Huck's Realism is also Twain's condemnation of a society that was still divided and unequal even after the Emancipation Proclamation.

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