The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is perhaps the best example of Realism in literature because of how Twain presents it to us. Morality becomes something that Huck must be consider and think out as opposed to something forced down his throat. He knows the moral thing to do would be to report Jim, noting, " "People would call me a low down abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum -- but that don't make no difference. I ain't agoing to tell" (Twain 269). Furthermore, he cannot send Miss Watson his letter he because his friendship with Jim trumps the morality he knows. Similarly, Jim wrestles with issues of good vs. bad. This is evident because of they way he decides to escape. He even begins to understand what Huck is going through when Huck does not turn him in. His revelation forces him to realize that Huck is "de bes' fren' Jim's ever had; en you's the only fren ole Jim's got now" (305). These characters represent the Realistic movement in literature because neither one of them is completely good or completely evil. In short, they are simply human. In their humanity, the must deal with moral issues that require not only thought but also emotion.
It is important to note that Huck does have a problem understanding what he has been taught - he has a problem with what it means. Through his young eyes, he cannot see why Jim cannot be free. Because of this idea, he cannot simply accept what he has been taught about slaves because he does not see Jim as a slave; he sees Jim as a friend. Interestingly, once he sees Jim in this light, he does not want to play tricks on him because it will hurt his feelings. Huck solves his moral dilemma by deciding that he will do "whichever come handiest at the time" (Twain 307). Huck would rather be thought of as a bad person that treats his friend badly. He is too young to understand the weight of what he has decided but Twain brings this into light through the dynamic of the boy's friendship with a slave. Without this historical context, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn would lose all of its value.
Naturalism and Realism are two closely related literary movements that focus on the unique human experience. They share many qualities with the major exception since Naturalism is more pessimistic in its outlook. Naturalistic thinking is tied to thoughts that individuals are not in control of their environment. Stories that examine the human condition under this circumstance are Maggie: A Girl of the Streets, the Red Badge of Courage, of Mice and Men, and the Grapes of Wrath. While each of these novels tells its own story, the notion that man cannot control his fate is embedded within each one. Each of these stories deals with characters that become victims of circumstance and their outcome is rather depressing and dark. Free will may be an idea but it remains only an idea in these stories as the protagonists must accept their fate and do the best that they can with what life has handed to them. Maggie, Henry, George, Lennie, and the Joads must deal with the unpleasantries of life and their struggles for individuality make them heroes of a sort. The Realistic literary movement deals with similar type of issues without delving so deeply into the dark areas of life. A perfect example of this type of story is the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Huck and Jim are subject to the same dilemmas that we see with the traditional Naturalist movement but they are able to reconcile their situations in their minds and hearts- at least for the most part. The historical context of Twain's novel plays an important past in its structure and would fall apart without it. Despite the significance of this historical context, the characters become more important than the setting because the characters have a moral lesson to teach. Huck and Jim prove that mankind is never completely evil or good. Their humanity drives the plot. Stephen Crane, John Steinbeck, and Mark Twain explore characters in their natural environment and show that struggles in life and how they deal with them are what make us human - despite how the endings strike us.
Crane, Stephen. Maggie, a Girl of the Streets. New York: Random House. 2001.
The Red Badge of Courage. New York: Aerie Books Ltd. 1986.
Steinbeck, John. Of Mice and Men and Cannery Row. New York: Penguin Books. 1986.