Before the novel begins, Huck Finn has led a life of absolutefreedom. His drunken and often missing father has never paid muchattention to him; his mother is dead and so, when the novel begins, Huck isnot used to following any rules. The book’s opening finds Huck living withthe Widow Douglas and her sister, Miss Watson. Both women are fairly oldand are really somewhat incapable of raising a rebellious boy like HuckFinn. Nevertheless, they attempt to make Huck into what they believe willbe a better boy. Specifically, they attempt, as Huck says, to “sivilize”him.
This process includes making Huck go to school, teaching him variousreligious facts, and making him act in a way that the women find sociallyacceptable. Huck, who has never had to follow many rules in his life,finds the demands the women place upon him constraining and the life withthem lonely. As a result, soon after he first moves in with them, he runsaway. He soon comes back, but, even though he becomes somewhat comfortablewith his new life as the months go by, Huck never really enjoys the life ofmanners, religion, and education that the Widow and her sister impose uponhim.
Huck believes he will find some freedom with Tom Sawyer. Tomis a boy of Huck’s age who promises Huck and other boys of the town a lifeof adventure. Huck is eager to join Tom Sawyer’s Gang because he feelsthat doing so will allow him to escape the somewhat boring life he leadswith the Widow Douglas. Unfortunately, such an escape does not occur.
TomSawyer promises much–robbing stages, murdering and ransoming people,kidnaping beautiful women–but none of this comes to pass. Huck finds outtoo late that Tom’s adventures are imaginary: that raiding a caravan of”A-rabs” really means terrorizing young children on a Sunday school picnic,that stolen “joolry” is nothing more than turnips or rocks. Huck isdisappointed that the adventures Tom promises are not real and so, alongwith the other members, he resigns from the gang. Another person who tries to get Huckleberry Finn to change isPap, Huck’s father. Pap is one of the most astonishing figures in all ofAmerican literature as he is completely antisocial and wishes to undo allof the civilizing effects that the Widow and Miss Watson have attempted toinstill in Huck.
Pap is a mess: he is unshaven; his hair is uncut andhangs like vines in front of his face; his skin, Huck says, is white like afish’s belly or like a tree toad’s. Pap’s savage appearance reflects hisfeelings as he demands that Huck quit school, stop reading, and avoidchurch. Huck is able to stay away from Pap for a while, but Pap kidnapsHuck three or four months after Huck starts to live with the Widow andtakes him to a lonely cabin deep in the Missouri woods. Here, Huck enjoys,once again, the freedom that he had prior to the beginning of the book. Hecan smoke, “laze around,” swear, and, in general, do what he wants to do. However, as he did with the Widow and with Tom, Huck begins to becomedissatisfied with this life.
Pap is “too handy with the hickory” and Hucksoon realizes that he will have to escape from the cabin if he wishes toremain alive. As a result of his concern, Huck makes it appear as if he iskilled in the cabin while Pap is away, and leaves to go to a remote islandin the Mississippi River, Jackson’s Island. It is after he leaves his father’s cabin that Huck joins yetanother important influence in his life: Miss Watson’s slave, Jim. Priorto Huck’s leaving, Jim has been a minor character in the novel–he has beenshown being fooled by Tom Sawyer and telling Huck’s fortune.
Huck findsJim on Jackson’s Island because the slave has run away–he has overheard aconversation that he will