In Mark Twain’s novel, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain focuses on religion as a social issue that impacts people’s decisions and lifestyles. Through the eyes of the thirteen year old Huck Finn, he satirizes organized religion and slavery. This satire, and the hypocrisy that he brings to light, allows readers to understand his opinions on the two topics. Throughout the novel, readers witness the growth of Huck as he battles with the ideas of religion and freedom during his many ordeals. He makes decisions as he journeys on the Mississippi that are impacted by his longing for freedom and the idea of Christianity. In this novel, Twain exploits religion through characters’ decisions and exposes their hypocrisy in order to satirize religion, a critical issue of the past and present.
The novel is set in the pre-Civil War South. Slavery was the way of life for many Southerners and almost all African Americans, and those who did not partake in this tragic lifestyle were still affected. Slaves were treated as property by almost all whites living in the South, and some Northerners looked down on them. Twain’s use of a teenage boy from the South is clever. Huck’s adopted guardian, The Widow Douglas, has somewhat Christianized him. However, he rejects her idea of religion when he realizes praying would not get him what he wanted: “Then Miss Watson took me in the closet and prayed, but nothing come of it. She told me to pray every day, and whatever I asked for I would get it. But it warn’t so. I tried it” (Twain 8). His view of religion continues to deteriorate through Christians view of slavery. He observes slavery on a firsthand basis because the other woman living with them, Miss Watson, owns slaves. Twain uses Huck to make decisions based on this hypocritical slave-owning, Christian lifestyle. Huck must choose to either aid Jim, a runaway slave previously owned by Miss Watson, or return him, which white society of the South would expect. Huck and Jim’s friendship makes this a significant decision. Huck is morally conflicted. Jim is his friend, but he is also property of Miss Watson. An excerpt from Magill’s Survey of American Literature puts the situation in an understandable perspective:
Jim is property before he is man, and Huck is deeply troubled, surprisingly, by the thought that he is going to help Jim, not only because he sees it, in part, as a robbery, but more interestingly, because he sees his cooperation as a betrayal of his obligation to the white society of which he is a member. (Steinbeck -Zindel 1968)
Even though Huck lives as a member of the white society, his free spirit does not bind him to the ideals that other whites possess. He has been fending for himself for so long that he is now morally conflicted on right and wrong. Twain points this out to readers when Huck thinks, “I tried to make out to myself that I warn't to blame, because I didn't run Jim off from his rightful owner; but it warn't no use… ( Twain 66)....