Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, provides the reader with the complex idea of religion versus slavery. At this time in the United States, (as Alex pointed out in her post), the United States remained torn on issues of slavery and the overall treatment of African Americans. I believe that Twain uses Huck’s ideas of religion to assist him in forming his relationship with Jim, demonstrating the hypocrisy of southern values. Many of the slave traders and plantation owners in the south preached the importance of religion and following the word of God, but refused to acknowledge the evil in treating African American’s as chattel.
In the beginning, Huck sees Widow Douglas as encapsulating all that is religion or religious. Periodically, Huck thinks about Widow Douglas and reflects on whether she would approve of his actions, demonstrating that Huck understands the basic concept of what Widow Douglas was trying to teach him; Christianity is generally about treating others the way you want to be treated (as Jesus did). Although Huck doesn’t understand this idea completely, he slowly begins to notice the hypocrisy in what he has been taught about religion, and how he treats African Americans.
This idea resonates with Huck in a scene where Huck returns to the river only to find that Jim has been taken and sold for forty dollars. In his reflection, Huck says, “There was the Sunday School, you could a gone to it; and If you’d a done it they’d a learnt you, there, that people that acts as I’d been acting about that nigger goes to everlasting fire” (223). The most significant part of this passage is to notice that Huck equates the continual maltreatment of blacks consistent with being a good Christian. Huck believes that if he had refused to help Jim and turned him back in to his proper owner, God would not be punishing him by taking Jim away. This is incredibly powerful and ironic because the very thing that Huck believes is damning him (helping Jim escape), is more consistent with actions of a ‘good Christian’. Huck is not conscious of the fact that helping Jim escape bondage is probably making Him proud. In the end, the reader finds that Huck loves Jim dearly, and chooses to accept his inevitable fate of eternal life in hell, over treating Jim like a slave.