Why the Ending Doesn T Fit the Development of Huck Finn Term Paper

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Leo Marx and Huckleberry Finn

Katelyn Stier

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has a controversial ending, which, as stated in Professor Leo Marx's 1995 analysis, resulted from: the enforced happy ending, the author's basic betrayal of Huck's companion Jim (Twain, 1994), and the return of the tale to the original mood, reflected at the novel's start (Broussard, 2011). Leo Marx states that Huckleberry becomes a powerless, naive and subservient accomplice of Tom the robber (Marx, 1995, p. 296), akin to the eager boy, prepared to become a part of Tom's gang of thieves at the novel's outset. I concur with Twain's view, since Tom's wild scheme holds no significance after the revelation that, all this time, Jim was a liberated man. Further, Huck discovers his father is deceased, and hence, is freed, as well. Ultimately, Twain (1994) ties up loose ends, providing writers with a seemingly happy ending, which, however, has a dark aspect, discovered easily by critics. This opinion isn't held by Marx alone. A number of readers are alarmed by the fact that, in the last chapters, both Huckleberry and Twain revert to their old ways. Huckleberry's coming to Phelps's Farm leads to the creation of a glaring contrast between the novel's ending and the prior three-quarters of it, wherein Huck essentially comes of age and is no longer the boy playing pirates and electing "Tom Sawyer first captain" (Twain, p. 10) but rather taking that captainship on himself -- for instance when he says, "All right, then, I'll go to hell," after deciding not to deliver Jim up in order to "save" his own soul (Twain, p. 217). This change in Huck, from being a follower of Tom to being a commander of his own destiny is the result of the journey that transpires in Huck's own heart and mind once he leaves Tom behind -- and yet that journey is suddenly and unexpectedly routed with the return of Tom at the end of the novel, when the latter commandeers the narrative and turns it back into a kiddy-style adventure. This is the crux of Marx's argument, the validity of which is displayed in this shallow full-cycle turn.

The story abruptly reverts to the playful mood encountered in the initial chapters, prior to Huck's father's return and prior to going down-river. In these early chapters Huckleberry is a naughty boy with a somewhat questionable moral compass, who is in constant need of chiding. Miss Watson attempts to fill the role of chider with such lines as "Take your hands away, Huckleberry; what a mess you are always making!" (Twain, p.17) and "Don't scrunch up like that, Huckleberry -- set up straight" (Twain, p. 3), highlighting the way in which Huck is still a little boy in need of "civilizing," supervision and guidance. In these same chapters, Huck doesn't shy from playing practical jokes (like offering up Miss Watson as a ransom to the boys in his make-believe pirate gang -- "Oh, she'll do. That's all right. Huck can come in" (Twain, 8) -- a sign not only of Huck's mischievous innocence but of the other boys' as well), and by his act of placing a dead rattlesnake on Jim's blanket (a joke that could have proved fatal).

Though his mischievous spark still remains, his trip down-river helps Huck to understand the growing complexities of better life. His maturation can be best portrayed by the deepening of his and Jim's friendship, and his inner conflict at the idea of turning Jim in. But it can also be discerned in the way in which he takes charge of the situation when he sees that the Duke and the King are planning to steal everything from Miss Mary Jane and her sisters: Huck becomes like a real-life general, plotting with exquisite foresight so as to catch the Duke and the King without arousing suspicion: "I says: 'Miss Mary Jane, I'll tell you what we'll do, and you won't have to stay at Mr. Lothrop's so long, nuther ... lay low till nine or half-past tonight, and then get them to fetch you home ... " (Twain, p. 191). It is an example of just how masterfully Huck has come in to his own, taking charge not only of himself but of the situation around him. That he should so willingly hand over this new found assumption of right to Tom upon the latter's arrival is about as illogical and out of character for the come-of-age Huck as it
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would be for him to suddenly start playing "pirates" again now that he has truly seen the fate of real life pirates on the Mississippi.

Yet this is exactly what happens when, after arriving at Phelps's farm, he reunites with Tom. It appears that all he achieved while on his trip down-river has turned to dust. Tom forces Huck to participate in an unnecessary, complicated plot to set Jim free. Still, it is Huck's inexcusable return to his earlier childishness that allows this to happen. His unfounded admiration of Tom (and after all that Huck has been through in the novel it really is an unfounded admiration -- Huck has aged beyond his years; Tom has stayed the same); nonetheless, there is Huck saying to himself of Tom: "What a head for just a boy to have! If I had Tom Sawyer's head I wouldn't trade it off to be a duke, nor mate of a steamboat, nor clown in a circus, nor nothing I can think of. I went to thinking out a plan, but only just to be doing something; I knowed very well where the right plan was going to come from" (Twain, p. 235). What is the reasoning for this reversal in Huck, who just pages earlier had been the one issuing commands and coming up with plots so convincing that he had adults following his lead? If it is meant to be irony, it falls flat: Huck "knowing" that Tom would lead the way is nothing more than an attempt by Twain to symmetry to a novel where symmetry cannot be established: the hero has grown out of his childhood. It does not make sense that he should close out the novel having to endure Tom's antics.

On top of that, Jim's longing for freedom has been made the target of nonsensical acts (Marx, 1995, p. 295). After so much heart and soul has been poured out by Huck over the life of his friend Jim, the fact that the novel should end in such clowning is a disservice to the leaps and bounds it has taken in preceding chapters illustrating Huck's growth. One should truly start sensing the author's departure from his story's initial parts after reading, in detail, Twain's description of the pointless plan hatched by Tom, which takes up almost seven chapters of the book.

Those who criticize the tale's ending look beyond the silly front placed by Tom's shenanigans, to something a lot more alarming: Jim's degradation and emasculation. Marx (1995) states that while journeying with Huck, Jim was a person, but in the last episode, readers fail to consider Jim in Tom's maze of nonsensical invention (p. 296). All through the course of their stay at Phelps's farm, it appears that Jim is more enchained than ever. Jim calmly accepts Tom's absurd escape plan, and when it appears that things are falling apart, his allegiance to Tom and Huck drives him to go back to the place where he will face certain arrest and enslavement. Jim's docile return is described as follows, in Huck's words, "Jim never said nothing, and he never let on to know me, and they took him to the same cabin ... and chained him again" (Twain, 1994, p. 214). The reason he decided to remain mute was: Jim was well aware that word had no value among the Whites. Marx (1995) remarks that Jim represents the stereotypical, submissive Negro slave (p. 296). This fact is made glaringly clear by the "calico dress" he appears in at the story's ending.

Leo Marx (1995) is strongly against T. S. Eliot's statement that the trip leads to freedom. He contends that Miss Watson is to be credited with setting Jim free, and hence, Eliot's opinion that the river sets him free is nothing, but "moral imagination" (Zhang, 2009). Taking the events that transpired at Phelps's farm seriously means taking the whole downstream journey lightly (p. 292). However, giving value to the farm scene is what lends real significance to Jim and Huck's journey. Judging by the previous works of Mark Twain, any outwardly unconscious twist to the plot was actually done using wit, and for a specific purpose. The author doesn't become sloppy towards the story's culmination, nor does he simply fall into racial stereotypes. Instead, he employs his sharp wit and criticizes the society Huck and Jim land in towards the tale's ending. A glaring contrast is witnessed between the novel's initial three quarters and the ending, which becomes…

Sources Used in Documents:


Broussard, R. (2011). The Controversy Over the Ending. NSHSS, 2-7.

Eliot, T. S. (1995). The Boy and the River: Without Beginning or End." Mark Twain Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: A Case Study in Critical Controversy. Ed. Gerald Graff and James Phelan. Boston: St. Martin's, 286-290. Print

Fishkin, S. F. (2006) Race and the Politics of Memory: Mark Twain and Paul Laurence Dunbar. Journal of American Studies, 40.02: 283-309. Print

Marx, L. (1995). "Mr. Eliot, Mr. Trilling, and Huckleberry Finn." Mark Twain Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: A Case Study in Critical Controversy. Ed. Gerald Graff and James Phelan. Boston: St. Martin's, 290-305. Print.

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