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Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” and Campbell’s “The Hero With a Thousand Faces” Essay

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Updated: Dec 7th, 2021

Education is an important part of human life. People do their best to receive a good education. They go to school, read books solve tasks. But it is only life that can give people moral education. People usually learn some moral lessons from their own experience or from mistakes of their own or others. To find something new and not learned people go on some adventures and come back with some amount of knowledge and received lessons.

Joseph Campbell in the introduction to “The Hero with a Thousand Faces” writes:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man (2008).

One literary figure that can be easily compared to Campbell’s hero is Huckleberry Finn. Campbell’s “A Hero With A Thousand Faces” describes a character who is constantly challenged with moral dilemmas and hard choices on his adventure which ultimately teach him the lessons to become a hero, whether he becomes a well-known figure, such as a guardian of society, or simply a savior to his individual needs.

Campbell created three stages of traveling or adventures of a hero. They are departure, initiation and return. Departure is the part of adventure when the hero starts his journey. Initiation is a stage where a hero is given some tasks, where he/she has to come through some tests and to make conclusions out of them. And the third stage is the return. This is the end of a journey and a hero returns to routine life with his own conclusions and experience. The hero gets unvalued lesson from his/her journey which changes his/her common life. (Campbell 2008)

Throughout “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, the protagonist deals with issues such as exclusion, discrimination, racism, and most importantly making his own difficult yet rational decisions, even if those decisions go against everything he has learned before. “In each of his choices, Huck experiences a conflict between his feelings (which move him to act on Jim’s behalf) and his conscience (which demands that he behave according to the values of his society)” (Kastely 1986).

Huck is a product of a very abusive and remiss southern society, which involved a drunkard father who taught him nothing more than unkindness and egotism, as he would physically abuse him regularly. Aside from the way he was treated unfairly at home, the surrounding culture’s “rules” made Huck dubious, as it preached racism and prejudice. This insight into the wrongness in his society developed a natural desire for freedom.

Once Huck rebels and escapes captivity by faking his death, he begins his adventure. It is clear that his newly found freedom can be easily compared to Campbell’s “Call to Adventure”. It is ironic that the father figure Huck begins to look up to, Jim, is someone that his negligent society had cast out. As a result, Huck begins to understand that time has come to perceive right and wrong through his own coherent point of view. As a result of his negative experiences, Huck secures this distrust in the society in which he was raised, creating natural desire to discover his own perception of morality.

Showing the injustice of people to the black slaves, author gives us such words, “Good gracious! Anybody hurt? No’m. Killed a nigger. Well, it’s lucky, because sometimes people do get hurt” (Twain 2001-293). This was the world, where Huck grew up. He also once believed that the death of a black man is nothing special. And only thanks to Jim he changed his point of view.

Just like any rising hero, Huck is not expected always to make the right choices, especially considering his background. However, it is the wrong choices that allow him to learn from his mistakes and succeed. Many of the moral dilemmas that surround Huck involve slavery, a rather common “grey” area ethically in terms of right or wrong. Huck has been raised to see people like Jim as nothing more than slaves, but Huck grows to see Jim as a regular person just like himself.

After traveling with Jim for some time, he discovers that he isn’t so different from himself. According to Campbell, this is an example of a discovery that heroes have made for centuries — the recognition that the morally right thing to do may not always be according to what popular culture and civilization have forbidden or required, but rather doing something that goes against humanity’s accepted values. I absolutely agree with the author that people should do their own conclusions about every aspect of human life.

Huck received a moral test which he has to solve: he has whether to betray his new friend Jim or to consign himself to eternal torment in hell, as he thought. He made really wise decision, from our point of view; he chose to save Jim to the detriment of himself. The only Huck’s mistake here was that he thought he harmed himself. Vice versa, I suppose, he made a huge step to his updating, he improved himself, and his soul in particular.

This was the experience and new knowledge which Huck got during his adventure. They turned his morality, his views into absolutely different directions.

Huck, I suppose, comes through all stages of the adventures of a hero which describes Campbell. That is the call of adventure, then crossing off the first threshold (the relations with Jim), then initiation and facing some difficulties and challenges (the chose), and at last a return into the society with his newly got experience and achievements.

Morality is an option in general common for everybody. But every person makes his own conclusions according to his/her conscious and life experience. Huckleberry Finn was brought up in absolutely different way than he became after his adventure with Jim. He opened new options and horizons in his life. Making acquaintance with Jim, he first regarded him as someone’s property as he was a slave. During his life he was given some descriptions of notions and followed them. But close relations with Jim changed his points of view. He understood that Jim was the same man as every other person. Huck refused social conceptions and created his own.

In conclusion it should be added that the changes in Huck dealing with the attitude to the society were not easy for him. It is not a secret that changing personal views is a very difficult task to do, taking into consideration Huck’s past. He received a good lesson from his adventure with Jim; it was a good moral education for him.

Works Cited

Campbell, Joseph. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. New World Library, 2008.

Kastely, James L. The Ethics of Self-Interest: Narrative Logic in Huckleberry Finn. Nineteenth-Century Fiction. University of California Press, 1986.

Twain, Mark. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Courier Dover Publications, 2001.

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