Monday, January 20, 2014

Hell: Where the Good Go. Who Knew?

A series of moral dilemmas are presented to Huck throughout his adventure; each is a point of growth and a test of character. One of these dilemmas asks whether or not freeing Jim is a sin. Huck’s restless conscience demonstrates his unyielding tenacity to do what he believes to be right; his decision-making process is just a matter of telling his own voice apart from that of others. In the scene in which Huck discovers that Jim is sold for forty dollars to Silas Phelps, he thinks, “I about made up my mind to pray…So I kneeled down. But the words wouldn’t come. Why wouldn’t they? It warn’t no use to hide it from Him. Nor from me, neither. I knowed very well why they wouldn’t come. It was because my heart warn’t right; it was because I warn’t square; it was because I was playing double” (212). The syntactical use of the semicolons, along with the anaphora in “it was because,” portrays the weight of the emotional burden Huck carries. The tone is heavy-hearted, remorseful, and reflective, which additionally signifies the weight of the matter. “[Kneeling] down” is an act of devotion, surrender, and humility which depicts his sincerity and intention to do what he believes to be right.

Huck wrestles with his conscience, thinks on the shared experiences between him and Jim, and resolves to “go to hell.” He states, “I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: ‘All right, then, I’ll go to hell’—and tore it up” (214). The antecedent of “it,” is the note he wrote to Miss Watson intending to let her know where Jim is. The italicized “go” emphasizes Huck’s determination and resolution to follow through with his intention to set Jim free. The development of the action thread, from “trembling” to “decide” to “studied” to “says” to the italicized “go” and finally to “tore” portrays his decision process from thought to action. The magnet of his moral compass is his value for friendship. When Huck views the dilemma through the lens of experience, intentions, friendship, and character, all of a sudden, “sin” does not seem quite like the right word to describe setting Jim free. Huck’s resolution challenges the power and relevance of man-made laws when measured against the restless human conscience.

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