The River as a Symbol in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”

The River as a Symbol in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”
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The uses the river in “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” as a whole but particularly between chapters 16-31, it is very symbolic in the story. We find most of its symbolism in the 18th Chapter after Jim and Huck go back to their raft after the adventure which leads them to having an encounter with the Grangerford’s and the Shepherdson’s. The river symbolizes freedom from slavery for Jim to the Free states, and for Huck, it symbolizes freedom from his abusive father Pap and the frustrating life in St. Petersburg.

Hulk and Jim take their raft and use it in sailing through the river when they decided to escape. This was the only way they could only use in obtaining their freedom. When they are sailing, Jim and Huck are seen to be happy and comfortable. They feel so free and are answerable to no one. “It did seem so good to be free again and all by ourselves on the big river and nobody to bother us” (Twain and Kemble, 2005). Along their way to freedom, they are however faced with other challenges they never expected would come along their way that threaten their escape mission.

The river floods and in this mayhem, they encounter criminals, stolen property and steamboat wrecks. While at the towns by the river banks too, they realize that they are not safe from the influences and evils of these towns after all. The society in these towns is hypocritical, hostile and judgemental. They realize they are still surrounded by what they are trying to escape from. They also encounter a very thick fog which makes them miss the mouth of Ohio River which was their key route to the city of freedom.

As they progress further south, the dauphin and the duke attack their raft. These two frauds involve Huck and Jim in their horrible heinous acts. To some extent, Jim and Huck feel that the duke and the dauphin have Pap’s character. They drink too much, just like Pap and fell that they have a right over Huck and Jim simply because they are superior to them. Their drinking leads them to betraying Huck and they sell Jim back to slavery: what he was trying to escape, to a local farmer just for forty dollars all of which they spend on alcohol.

Even if the river offers them refuge from trouble, there is an exchange of one bad situation to another during their journey. Every exit they should use is located towards the Deep South and entrenched slavery. The river that was once viewed as a source of freedom turns into a “periodic” means of escape that nevertheless leads them to more danger. This state of the river reflects the complicated state of the south.

As much as the river promises and is the only way to freedom, it is unpredictably dangerous. Jim’s and Huck’s lives are threatened while at the river: the source of their freedom, by the many challenges that come their way as much as they were before their escape. The river manifests the goodness and dangers of freedom which must be carefully dealt with if one is to achieve a free happy life.

The river also symbolizes friendship. Mark Twain uses river Mississippi to build friendship between Huck and Jim. When they start their journey, they are just two strangers running in search of freedom. But as the story continues, Huck comes to the realization that Jim indeed is a trustworthy and loyal person who is fighting for equal treatment as the whites. As they travel down the river and talk more about their experiences, for instance when Jim cries as he narrates to Huck the story of his daughter Elizabeth, Huck begins seeing him just as any other human being, as an equal and not a slave.

As the story progresses, their friendship grows even more and stronger. At some point, Jim even tells Huck of how he feels about him that: he thinks he is his one true best friend (Twain and Kemble, 2005) When Jim is sent back to slavery, Huck is willing to suffer so as to save Jim from slavery. Jim too takes up the fatherly role in Huck’s life. He protects Huck at the house of death by not allowing him to view the dead body which actually belongs to Pap. Indeed Mississippi river plays major role in creating a strong lasting relationship between Jim and Hulk by bringing them together in their escape journey using the raft.


In the whole story, the river plays a key role in developing the plot of the story. Right from the time Huck plans his escape from Pap to Tom’s plan of setting Jim free, all this happens because the river exists and it will definitely be used to accomplish the two major missions. Mark Twain wrote the whole book in a bid to make the reader feel hope for Jim and Huck. Hope that they finally find freedom they so look forward to. Huckleberry Finn hopes and struggling to find the freedom to be an individual created by his own morals and not those of society. Jim on the other hand hopes to find freedom from slavery. The only way they could establish this hope was if the river carried them to freedom. We see each character grow through the river and realize abilities each of them possess.

Work Cited
Twain, Mark and Kemble, Edward Windsor. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Mineola, N.Y: Dover Publications. 2005. Print.