The conflict between society and the individual is a theme portrayed throughout Twain's Huckleberry Finn. Huck was not raised in accord with the accepted ways of civilization. Huck faces many aspects of society, which makes him choose his own individuality over civilization. He practically raises himself, relying on instinct to guide him through life. As portrayed several times in the novel, Huck chooses to follow his innate sense of right, yet he does not realize that his own instincts are more moral than those of society.
From the very beginning of Huck's story, Huck without a doubt states that he did not want to conform to society; "The Widow Douglas she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me... I got into my old rags and my sugar hogshead again, and was free and satisfied"(Twain, 2). Miss Watson lives with Huck and she is always picking at him, trying to make him become conventional. According to the essay, The Struggle to Find Oneself Huck has become so used to being free that he sees the Widow Douglas' protection solely in terms of confinement. She doesn’t let Huck smoke when he wants and she is always nagging. “Miss Watson would say, "Don't put your feet up there, Huckleberry;" and "Don't scrunch up like that, Huckleberry -- set up straight;" and pretty soon she would say, "Don't gap and stretch like that, Huckleberry -- why don't you try to behave?"(Twain, 3). We get the feeling that Huck is an individual, a person who is independent and has the willingness to live a life free of complications. According to Ryan Schremmer’s essay Examination of Freedom as an Overall Theme in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn the theme of freedom is shown in Huckleberry Finn, which parallels to his distancing from society: One of the most prominent and important themes of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is freedom. Freedom not only from Huck's internal paradoxical struggle in defining right and wrong, but also freedom from Huck's personal relationships with the Widow Douglas and his father, as well as freedom from the societal institutions of government, religion, and prejudices.
When Pap returns for Huck, and the matter of custody is brought before the court, the reader is forced to see the corruption of society. The judge rules that Huck belongs to Pap, and forces him to obey an evil and abusive man. One who drinks abundantly and beats his son. In this case Pap symbolizes the viciousness and cruelty of civilization. Later, when Huck makes it look as though he has been killed, we see how society is more concerned over finding Huck's dead body than rescuing his live one from Pap. This is a society that is more anxious about finding a dead body than it is in the safety of people. This situation prepares us for Huck’s need to escape from society. In Schremmer’s essay we see how Huck struggles for freedom from two families. He tries to stay away from getting “sivilized” from Widow Douglass and tries to escape his father’s brutality.
Later on in Chapter VI Pap kidnaps Huck and puts him in a cabin in the woods. We see how Huck prefers the freedom of the wilderness to the limitations and restrictions of society. “It was pretty good times up in the woods there, take it all around” (Twain 32). But when Huck feels Pap’s presence, is when we see how his feelings about being free in the wilderness change.
The theme becomes even more evident once Huck and Jim set out, down the Mississippi in chapter VIII. Huck enjoys his adventures on the raft, "Nothing could be better"(115), Huck thought. But only a few pages later the raft and Jim provide the same comforts. Nothing had ever sounded so good to him as Jim's voice, and Huck felt "mighty free and easy and comfortable on the raft"(128). He prefers the freedom of the wilderness to the restrictions of society. Also, Huck's acceptance of Jim is a total defiance of society. Huck realizes that society would “call me a low down ablitionist and despise me for keeping mum,”(Twain 62) but he decides not to conform to society. Ironically, Huck believes he is committing a sin by going against society and protecting Jim. He does not realize that his own instincts are more morally correct than those of society'. According to the Hartford Courant we understand Huck’s feelings about accepting Jim and going against the norm: Most amusing is the struggle Huck has with his conscience in regard to slavery. His conscience tells him, the way it has been instructed, that to help the runaway, nigger Jim to escape--to aid in stealing the property of Miss Watson, who has never injured him, is an enormous offense that will no doubt carry him to the bad place; but his affection for Jim finally induces him to violate his conscience and risk eternal punishment in helping Jim to escape.
In chapter sixteen, we see the most inhumane action of society. Huck meets some men looking for runaway slaves, and he fabricates a story about his father on the raft with smallpox. The men fear catching this disease and instead of rescuing him, they give him money and advise him not to let it be known of his father's sickness when seeking help. These men are not hesitant to hunt slaves, yet they refuse to help a sick man.
Huck's acceptance of his love for Jim is shown in chapter thirty-one. Huck writes a letter to Miss Watson to return Jim, yet he ends up ripping the letter and wishes to free Jim. "'All right, then, I'll go to hell'- and he tore it up." Here, we see that Huck concludes that he is evil, and that society has been right all along.
Huck doesn’t realize that his goodness comes from within. He doesn’t become aware that those inner qualities are not paralleled to external behavior. If Huck was to catch on that he would be eager to change how society functions instead of running away from it.
Huck acts as a much nobler person when he is not confined by the hypocrisies of civilization. Throughout the story we see how he distance himself from society and creates his own world in which he follows his own feelings of what’s moral and honorable. From the beginning of the story we see his instinct come into play and how it affects his decisions throughout the story. He almost always goes his own way, makes up his own mind, and lives by his own standards.