The fact is that he has undergone a similar transformation.On the raft he was an individual, man enough to denounce Huck when Huck made him the victim of a practical joke.From a literary standpoint, perhaps it is unforgiveable; it is not for me, here, to judge.
Is it so surprising, then, that Huck sides with his old mate?
The behavior becomes even understandable when we add in a few more variables.
With the arrival of Tom, that change is even more apparent: Tom is a part of Huck’s past, and there is nothing like context to cue us back to past habitual behavior in a matter of minutes.
(That’s one of the reasons, incidentally, that drug addicts often revert back to old habits when back in old environments.) Again, then, is it all that surprising that Huck reverts back to his old self, shedding some of the change that was inspired by the Mississippi?
’s free newsletters."data-newsletterpromo-image="https://static.scientificamerican.com/sciam/cache/file/458BF87F-514B-44EE-B87F5D531772CF83_source.png"data-newsletterpromo-button-text="Sign Up"data-newsletterpromo-button-link="https:// origincode=2018_sciam_Article Promo_Newsletter Sign Up"name="article Body" itemprop="article Body" one of Mark Twain’s most famous novels. Eliot and Lionel Trilling—the two most vocal proponents of ’s iconic status—had to explain it away.
In fact, probably one of the most famous English-language novels of all time, period. And what’s more, they continue, it’s completely unmotivated psychologically.Jane Smiley sums up the arguments in a 1996 piece for .“It is with the feud that the novel begins to fail, because from here on the episodes are a mere distraction to the true subject of the work: Huck’s affection for and responsibility to Jim.” Huck cares little that Jim might be dead when the two are separated in the fog.And what’s more, the sharpest decline was in conformity to pro-social behaviors. Jim is an adult—and an adult who has become a whole lot like a parent to Huck throughout their adventures, protecting him and taking care of him (and later, of Tom as well) much as a parent would.And the behavior that he wants from Huck, when he wants anything at all, is prosocial in the extreme (an apology, to take the most famous example, for playing a trick on him in the fog; not much of an ask, it seems, unless you stop to consider that it’s a slave asking a white boy to acknowledge that he was in the wrong). And his demands are far closer to the anti-social side of the scale.Another crucial caveat to Huck’s apparent metamorphosis: we tend to behave differently in private versus public spheres. A closed-door us is not the same as the us that faces the world in a social setting.As psychologists from George Kelly on have argued, behavior is highly contextual—especially when it comes to behaviors that may not be as socially acceptable as one might hope. It is just them, alone on the river, social context flowing away. The moment that he returns to a social environment, when he joins the Grangerfords in their family feud.Smiley takes her criticism on this point a step further: there is a chasm, she points out, between Huck’s stated affection for Jim and his willingness to then act on it, especially in these final episodes. But wouldn’t it be more correct to blame Huck’s only too real humanity?It’s that same break between the private and the public, the new and the habitual.Twain might have offended on other accounts, but there is one thing he got right: not only do so if he were a flesh-and-blood twelve year old fresh off a rafting adventure.What is it exactly that critics of the novel’s final chapters object to?