A Very Fickle Whim: The Moral Crisis of Huckleberry Finn
Of his book, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain said that when a sound heart and deformed conscience collide, “conscience suffers defeat”. There is, however, much that Twain does not reveal here: the character who possesses the heart and conscience, when and where the collision takes place, and just how the reader witnesses the conscience’s defeat. The answer is clearly to be found in Chapter 31 (“You Can’t Pray a Lie”) of the novel. When Huck learns that Jim has been caught and enslaved, he is forced to make an important decision about Jim’s fate, and it is in this moment that his “sound heart” and his “deformed conscience” collide. Because of his choice to stay faithful to Jim, and as he phrases it, “go to hell” (191), Huck’s “conscience suffers defeat.”
Huckleberry Finn has a fickle conscience that bases decisions more off of societal norms and intuitions than knowledge. Mere minutes before Huck decided to come to Jim’s rescue, he thought to himself that it would be “a thousand times better for Jim to be a slave at home where his family was” (189). For someone brazen enough to assist a slave, you would think Huck’s mind would be clearer of his intentions. It seems that his conscience is not balancing right and wrong, rather acting according to concepts Huck gains through his experiences in society. From this pattern of behavior one can only deduce that Huck’s conscience is immature and unintentionally misguided.
It is also clear that Huck is a character bearing a sound heart. Huck's ability to determine what is good is a result of his wit, mental perspicacity in tricky scenarios, and his natural sympathy. The reader is constantly engulfed in Huck's childish antics in opposition to racism. Towards the beginning of their journey to the free states, Huck is separated from Jim and the raft. Jim gets mad at Huck for making a fool of him after he had worried about him so much. Huck...