In Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain discusses and illustrates the pursuit of individual and social freedom through Huck and Jim’s respective struggles. Huck, as an individual, yearns to break free from a “sivilized” life. As a young boy full of curiosity and daring, he feels restricted by the rules that govern his day-to-day life. Thus, when he “couldn’t stand it no longer”, he elected to run away and live a “free and satisfied” life, only to return for his friend Tom Sawyer’s sake.
In addition to this, he even jokingly wished he were in “the bad place”—Hell—in hopes of experiencing a change in the routinely order of his life. “All I wanted was to go somewheres,” he states, “all I wanted was a change.” Having not realized the gravity of his words and reacting defensively when berated by Miss Watson, this shows how Huck is one to make decisions and speak without much forethought. It is clear that such strict rules are incapable of tying him down, but he is still constantly searching for human companionship, though he fails to consciously acknowledge it.
In moments of solitude, Huck confesses his reliance on the company of others to survive: “I felt so lonesome I most wished I was dead… I got so downhearted and scared, I really wish I did have some company”.
Having grown up with his abusive father being mostly absent from his life, Huck’s greatest social desire is to find this missing paternal figure—a gap which Jim managed to fill with neither of the two realizing it.
This is effectively portrayed by Huck’s remarks and passing thoughts, such as “Jim, this is nice, I wouldn’t want to be nowhere else but here,” and “I was ever so glad to see Jim. I warn’t lonesome, now”. This is particularly evident when Huck finally resolves to taking matters into his own hands in attempting to retrieve Jim from Silas Phelps. This moment in the novel depicted Huck’s greatest moral dilemma as he had to decide between his own conscience and the socially “good”.
Despite the conflicts in his mind between what he personally believes to be right and what he was taught to believe was right, it is from the moment when Huck decides “All right, then, I’ll go to hell” that he finally frees himself from the bonds that still rooted him to the civilization he was trying to forgo.
Jim, on the other hand, is a runaway slave—a victim of social inequality who seeks most to escape the societal conventions of slavehood. His greatest desires are to be seen as fully human and to be able to make decisions for himself, so he could eventually free himself and his family by any and all means necessary. Jim’s strong desire for freedom allows him to seek solace in Huck’s company, and vice-versa, as Huck is a companion to him and often brings out Jim’s paternal instincts. As demonstrated by Jim’s ramblings of gratitude when the two planned their departure from Jackson’s Island— “Pooty soon I’ll be a-shout’n’ for joy, en I’ll say, it’s all on accounts o’ Huck; I’s a free man, en I couldn’t ever ben free ef it hadn’ ben for Huck; Huck done it. Jim won’t ever forgit you, Huck; you’s de bes’ fren’ Jim’s ever had; en you’s de ONLY fren’ ole Jim’s got now”—Jim is exceedingly grateful to have found a comrade in Huck, and routinely reminds him of that.
Though Huck is still working his way through slowly unlearning the racism that was instilled in him, there are moments in which a marked change is occurring, namely when he realized Jim “cared just as much for his people as white folks does for their’n.” This show that, while both characters’ pursuits of freedom are riddled with challenges and by no means quick or easy, they have each other’s company as well as a myriad of opportunities to learn from each other, as demonstrated by Huck and Jim’s conversations with one another. This theme of pursuing freedom is then furthered by images of nature, as represented by the Mississippi River, and society, as represented by the town Huck and Jim escaped from and the ones they eventually visit during their journey.
Towns, a sign of civilization, are man-made environments built to be sturdy, stable, and stationary. They are full of regulations and restrictions in order to reduce risk and danger. Contrarily, the river is uncontrollable, unpredictable, and ever-changing, thus making it a much more treacherous place to be. These qualities bring emphasis to Huck and Jim’s pursuit of freedom as they are abandoning their presumed roles in society to journey into the unknown, where anything can happen.
The river is like an open door, or gates that lead to the vastness of the sea, where there are no constraints and a sense of adventure and potential change awaits them. Thus, the contrasting images of nature and society encapsulate and bring further depth to the theme of chasing freedom, showing the dual qualities that exist within both characters in this novel and creating a sense of hope that these two individuals, while so different in their own ways, may really achieve what they were hoping for and finally be free.