Summary and Analysis
The first chapter also serves to introduce an important thematic image that pervades the work: natural, free individualism contrasted with the expectations of society. Huck feels confined by the social expectations of civilization and wants to return to his simple, carefree life. He dislikes the social and cultural trappings of clean clothes, Bible studies, spelling lessons, and manners that he is forced to follow. Huck cannot understand why people would want to live under such circumstances, and he longs to be able to return to his previous life where no one tries to "sivilize" him.
The contrast between freedom and civilization permeates the novel, and Huck's struggle for natural freedom (freedom from society) mirrors the more important struggle of Jim, who struggles for social freedom (freedom within the society). Both Huck and Jim search for freedom during their adventure down the Mississippi, and both find that civilization presents a large obstacle to obtaining their dream. From the beginning, readers realize that civilization is filled with certain hypocrisies, including religion and the practice of slavery.
Huck's candid narration gives Twain the opportunity to make barbed comments about literary and social institutions of the nineteenth century. The barbed comments range from his literary aversion to the novels of authors such as James Fenimore Cooper (Last of the Mohicans) to overt religious hypocrisies such as the Christian acceptance of slavery in his boyhood town.
The historical realities of slavery and racial division are, without doubt, the most important and most controversial elements in Huck Finn. Imbedded in the contrast between freedom and civilization is the issue of slavery, and the inclusion of the pejorative slang term "niggars" in the first chapter prepares readers for the similar coarse language that will follow. In order to depict the region and the attitude in a realistic manner, Twain makes a conscious choice not to edit regional bigotry and the language that accompanies it.
The reader should remain aware of two major points while reading this novel: First, the novel is a satire; that is, irony, sarcasm, or caustic wit are used to attack or expose folly, vice, or stupidity. Second, the novel is first person narrative (told from Huck's point of view). Confusing either of these issues can lead the unsophisticated reader to drastic misinterpretations. The feelings and interpretations of situations, issues, and events advanced by Huck are not necessarily those the author is advocating.
By the end of this first chapter, the reader has gathered a good deal of data about Huck: his mother is dead, his father is the town drunk, he has "a dollar a day . . . all the year round" income, he lacks "book learning," hates the "sivilized" ways, is keenly observant of details around him, and is a realist.
sugar-hogshead a large barrel used to store sugar.
niggers niggar, originally a dialectal variant of Negro, the term is a derogatory and vulgar racial slur directed primarily toward African Americans.