Mark Twain was an insightful commentator on life. Throughout the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain’s characters show readers how pride and ignorance combined contribute to hostility, violence, and acts of injustice. These actions produce a cyclical pattern that is difficult to break. It often takes the sincerity, humility and honesty of someone young and untainted, someone with fresh ideas to begin to break through the cycle.
It is easy to see the pride and ignorance of Pap, Huck’s father. Surely his drunkenness exposes his violent nature in many ways. But after Huck has lived with the widow for some time and has become more educated himself, he no longer fears his father. He just sees him as a mean, old man. Even Pap’s drunkenness though is a commentary of the state of many other characters in the novel. Pride and ignorance have a way of consuming people and causing a state of drunkenness.
When Huck meets the Grangerfords, he goes to great lengths to show how educated and proper they are. But at the same time, we see how uncivilized they have become. The family feud between the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons has continued for generations, even to the point that Buck doesn’t know how it began. Both families are old, well-established families, but they have allowed pride and ignorance to consume them both figuratively and literally. By the end of our encounter with these families, most of the members have killed each other off. The young Grangerfords girl eloping with the young Shepherdson boy was not enough to tide their hostility. In a drunken stupor, they allowed this event to culminate their hatred.
The setting of the novel was during the time of slavery in the South. It was pre Civil War. But it is easy to see parallels between the previous scene and the impending war. Of course, Twain had access to the events of the war. Honest Abe was not enough to stem the tide of violence and to keep the country united. Pride and ignorance had such a firm hold on the people, that like the Grangerfords and their neighbors, the Shephersons, they engaged in a bloodbath with neighbor fighting against neighbor, and brother against brother. And the younger ones, like Huck with the Grangerfords, were left to sort things out and try to make sense of it all.
The novel further shows the plight of Huck and Joe seeking their own freedom from oppression. Huck is fleeing his abusive father; and Joe, not wanting to be sold away from his community and family, is fleeing from the widow. Yet with the turn of events in their journey, they keep heading further and further south, or deeper and deeper into slave territory. This imagery further shows how difficult it is to break the cycle of violence and injustice that pride and ignorance produce. It isn’t until the end of the novel that Huck learns that his father is dead and Joe learns that he is a free black man.
History shows how destructive pride and ignorance are. But each new generation seems to have to relearn that. Mark Twain had a strong hold on human nature and his works help us to see our humanity with all its flaws and all its wonderful capabilities. Huck, as a sincere, young lad, was able to see past Joe’s color and see that he was indeed a man. Of course, Huck was not capable of changing the world as he knew it, but his own world’s view was changed forever. Even though pride and ignorance are consuming evils that produce hatred, violence, and injustice (to which Huck was certainly exposed), Huck’s life’s experiences lifted him above such common evils. Twain lived in an era when the cycle of ignorance and pride that was reflected in slavery and post slavery years was beginning to change. His character Huck is a small part of that change.