American Novel

Critical Essays
Freedom versus Civilization in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
As with most works of literature, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn incorporates several themes developed around a central plot create a story. In this case, the story is of a young boy, Huck, and an escaped slave, Jim, and their moral, ethical, and human development during an odyssey down the Mississippi River that brings them into many conflicts with greater society. What Huck and Jim seek is freedom, and this freedom is sharply contrasted with the existing civilization along the great river. The practice of combining contrasting themes is common throughout Huck Finn, and Twain uses the resulting contradictions for the purposes of humor and insight. If freedom versus civilization is the overarching theme of the novel, it is illustrated through several thematic contradictions, including Tom's Romanticism versus Huck's Realism.
The Romantic literary movement began in the late eighteenth century and prospered into the nineteenth century. Described as a revolt against the rationalism that had defined the Neo-Classical movement (dominate during the seventeenth and early eighteenth century), Romanticism placed heavy emphasis on imagination, emotion, and sensibility. Heroic feats, dangerous adventures, and inflated prose marked the resulting literature, which exalted the senses and emotion over intellect and reason. Authors such as Harriet Beecher Stowe, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Edgar Allan Poe all enjoyed immense popularity. In addition, the writers of the New England Renaissance — Emerson, Longfellow, Holmes, and Whittier — dominated literary study, and the public's appetite for extravagance appeared to be insatiable.
By the end of the 1870s, however, the great age of Romanticism appeared to be reaching its zenith. Bawdy humor and a realistic portrayal of the new American frontier were quickly displacing the refined culture of the New England literary circle. William Dean Howells...