A person’s identity is not simply his name. No matter how much value a reputable name may carry, ultimately it is just a symbol for the individual who uses it. The innermost character, instead, defines one’s identity and shapes one’s life. Thus, the quest for “who” one truly is beyond its name is a putative mission for every teenager. Oftentimes, this search for one’s true self can become a difficult journey. In his novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain delineates Huck Finn’s pursuit of his own identity along with his cruise down the Mississippi River. Huck, the rebellious thirteen-year-old, strives to define himself by seeking new relationships, freedom, and the moralities.
The basic values of an individual are formed by the relationships he has. Huck determines to leave St. Petersburg in order to flee his abusive father, who came “away down the river” (Twain 29) just because he hears about Huck “being rich”, and Miss Watson, who makes Huck feel “tiresome and lonesome” (13) often. Not surprisingly, Huck is eager for new relationships as soon as he escapes. When he meets Jim, he soon becomes friends with the runaway slave just so that he “warn’t lonesome” (49). The relationship developed only to avoid solitude, naturally, appears to be superficial. As Huck and Jim raft further down the Mississippi, Huck finds himself in a new friendship with Buck Grangerford. Their relationship is engendered by their similarities in age and interests. They spent their days and nights together before the feud takes away Buck’s life. Huck “[cries] a little” (117) when he “was covering up Buck’s face” (117) in the shambles. He ascribes his sadness to the fact that Buck “was mighty good” (117) to him. This time, Huck realizes that the happiness among different people nourishes treasurable relationships. After meeting a number of different characters through his adventure down the river, Huck ultimately finds Jim a friend that worth him to sacrifice himself for. He determines to save Jim from slavery after pondering about all the experienced they have had along the way. Huck fails to convince himself “to harden against” (207) Jim, who has “[done] everything he could think of for [Huck]” (207) and “said [Huck] was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world” (207). Finally, Huck’s understanding of friendship evolves to a new level, where he experiences himself how a relationship is developed through the care two people have for each other.
Relationships indeed have a strong influence on a person, but independence is also needed in the search of a true self. Therefore, freedom becomes another meaning that Huck searches for rafting down the river. One of the reasons that makes Huck set off for his journey is that he rebuffs the control of his father and Miss Watson. Instead of Sunday schools, he dreams of freedom in the grand nature, which he does enjoy after the escape. When they are on the river, “sometimes [they]’d have that whole river all to [themselves], for the longest time” (120). To Huck, times like these are fraught with contentment. He even lets the raft get a feel of freedom that it never gets by “letting her float wherever the current wanted her to go” (119). He further claims that “it’s lovely to live on a raft” (120) and “have the sky up there, all speckled with stars” (120). For a thirteen-year-old who is used to all the rules and orders at home, relaxing in the beautiful nature without worrying about school and church is the best definition of freedom. Yet the real world is more complicated than the peaceful night on the Mississippi River, and the real freedom is not simply doing whatever is desired at the moment. When Jim’s personal freedom is at stake, Huck realizes freedom should be guaranteed to everyone equally. Moreover, Huck shows that through his determination to “go to work and steal Jim out of slavery” (207). Despite the difficulties, he never gives up preserving the freedom for either himself or others. The ending of the book perfectly displays the spirit of freedom that is deeply rooted in Huck’s heart. Being Huck who seeks freedom ardently, his narration can end in no other ways but claiming he “can’t stand” (279) Aunt Sally to “adopt [him] and sivilize [him]” (279) and “got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest” (279).
Complete freedom would lead the society into chaos without moralities as guidelines. Therefore, Huck’s quest for his true self would be incomplete without developing the right morals. In the beginning, Huck does not have a fair judgement of right and wrong. Under the negative influence of his father, he even had to “talked it over all night” (71) with Jim to determine what is borrowing and what is stealing. As his journey down the river expands, Huck has had more experience and developed his own moral beliefs that are not affected by the people around him. As he can bear no more lies from the duke and the king, he decides to “tell the truth” (182) to Mary Jane about the fraud. Huck thinks telling the truth is unusual to him, but it perfectly proves that he has developed a sense of right and wrong. Furthermore, Huck rather “go to hell” (207) than let Jim be sold back into slavery. This is more important and respectful than confessing to Mary Jane. By saying he would rather “go to hell” (107), Huck suggests he is doing the wrong thing, which reflects the societal norm of the pre-Civil War South. Therefore, such behavior against the custom exemplifies Huck’s growing ability to act base on his own morality that has perfected throughout the journey on the river.
Huck’s adventure down the Mississippi River is also his journey to explore new relationships, different forms of freedom, and the meaning of morality. The friends he encounters along the way help to form his beliefs through their experiences together; the search for freedom leads him to figure what he can truly become without Tom Sawyer, Jim, or any adult who is trying to control him; and ultimately, the personal ethical standards he developed marks his maturity from a teenager to a young man. Through his depiction of Huck Finn’s quest for identity, Mark Twain suggests the significance of relationships, freedom, and moralities in a broader picture. The interactions with other people, either positive or negative, will have impacts on any person, especially teenagers who tend to emulate the people around them unconsciously. As a result, it becomes vital for adults to have some control over who their children are spending time with. Next, freedom, the ultimate American ideal, is not the satisfaction of desires without limitations, but a pursuit based on equal opportunities. Lastly, Twain proposes that morality should be the personal ability to judge right from wrong, instead of following the general flow of the society, which the majority deems to be right. This notion is as relevant and significant today as it was when America was troubled by racial discrimination. No matter the time period, one’s conscience should always decide what is right or wrong.