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Man's Inhumanity to man


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In Mark Twain's novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, he uses several different themes. His themes help to portray the meaning and message of the novel. Twain's major theme in the novel is man's inhumanity to man. Huck Finn states, "Human beings can be awfully cruel to one another" (254). This theme occurs several times throughout the novel. He develops this theme through the inhumane actions of Pap towards Huck, the feuds between the Grangerfords and the Shephersons, and the dishonesty of the King and the Duke to the Wilks girls, the townsmen, and their betrayal of Jim for money.

Twain uses the atrocious actions of Pap toward Huck to help develop the major theme of his novel. The things Pap does to Huck are heartless. "I'll take you down a peg before I get done with you'" (20). This quote shows how man is inhuman to other men, even if they are related and supposed to love each other. Pap talks and acts mean towards Huck, even though Huck is his own son. He also makes him drop school. “And looky here-you drop that school you hear?”(15). He doesn’t want his son to have an education for his own good. Not only is Pap mentally abusive toward Huck, but he is also physically abusive to him. "But by and by pap got too handy with his hick'ry, and I couldn't stand it. I was all over welts" (17). The way that Pap treats Huck shows the vicious ways people treat one another no matter how close they are. Twain included this notion to help develop the major theme of the novel.

Another example of excessive cruelty is when the King and the Duke try to scam three orphan girls when their uncle, who is their guardian, dies. The King decides to pretend to be the dead man’s brother who is coming in from England where he learns there is money to inherit. They both took cruelty to another level trying to steal and lie to the girls who are left alone with no parents. But the doctor did not believe them. "You talk like an Englishman - don't you? It's the worse imitation I ever heard. You Peter Wilks's brother. You're a fraud, that's what you are!" (184).. Not only do the Duke and the King steal money from the girls, but they also lie to them about bringing them to England just so they can have more money. Also, when they went from town to town, they put on a play and charged the citizens lots of money for an extremely short show. This outraged the citizens. Twain also develops this major theme through the betrayal of Jim for money by the King and the Duke "... and nobody came out of the wigwam. Jim was gone!"(203). The Duke and the King symbolize the nation's scum, and through their action of selling Jim they also prove that they do not care about Jim or Huck. They are inhumane and just care about money. Huck learns about the Duke and the King's actions from a boy in town. " 'It was an old fellow - a stranger - and he sold out his chance in him for forty dollars'"(203). The Duke and the King are so cruel and desperate that they cannot even wait to sell Jim back to his owner for $200, even if it was just $40. The Duke and the King are cruel to their fellow man, Jim, even when Jim and Huck are so loyal to them.It is unjust how the Duke and King live with themselves after the acts they performed. There’s an old saying "what goes around comes around" which relates to this situation, because later on in chapter 33 the Duke and the king get tarred and feathered by a mob of angry citizens who figured them out. This also shows that human beings are hypocritical.
Human beings cruelty to one another was also demonstrated with the Grangerfords and the Shephersons. There was a feud between the two families and they were always after one another. Neither family exactly knew why or what the feud’s purpose. "What was the trouble about, Buck? - land"' 'I reckon maybe - I don't know.' 'Well, who done the shooting? - was it a Grangerford or a Shepherson"' 'Laws, how do I know? It was so long ago'" (119).This illustrates what savage acts humans are capable of doing. The terrible acts that humans commit become much more ridiculous when violence like this has no reason or justification.


Twain uses these types of deliberate cruelty to help make the major theme clearer to the reader. He expresses this theme by the inhumane actions of Pap towards Huck, the massacres of the Grangerfords and the Shepardsons, the dishonesty of the King and the Duke toward the Wilkes girls, and the betrayal of Jim for money. He uses these experiences to show us that man is cruel and savage as well. Some characters, like Huck, come to realize the reality of cruelty in the world with war, violence, death, racism, and hatred while others deal with family, friends, or society matters. In addition, Mark Twain placed this theme in his novel as satire. He used satire to criticize or "poke fun” at society. This shows Twain’s belief and can even be considered as the overall truth in any society.



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