Irony in Huck Finn 1

Irony in Huck FinnIrony in Huck Finn

Mark Twain created an ironic character whose narration is at every turn ironic. Although Huckleberry Finn in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn doesn’t realize it, much of what he says is ridiculed. This story is about a young boy who leaves behind his father, a drunkard, and finds his place in society. He spends a lot of time floating down the Mississippi River with Jim, an African American man who is looking for freedom. In a way they both do. The author of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is Mark Twain. He mocks religion and superstitious belief, the educational maturity of Tom Sawyer’s gang of criminals, and slavery through irony, satire, and his writing.

Irony can be defined as a literary device that makes things appear very different than they really are. This may seem like a vague definition. Irony can be defined as a broad term. It encompasses three types of irony: verbal and dramatic irony. Irony is a term that refers to one of these types of irony most of the time.

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Irony in Huck Finn: Dramatic Irony

Pap’s Racism:

Near the start of the novel, Pap–-Huck’s abusive alcoholic father gets drunk and laments the fact that a Black professor can vote. This creates a momentary irony.

  • They said that he was a p’fessor at a college and could speak all sorts of languages and knew everything. That’s not the worst of it. They claimed he could vote while he was at his home. That was enough to let me go. “What is the country of a-coming to?”

The Circus:

Huck, in a humorous example of dramatic irony finds himself attracted to the circus’ performance for the first time. He believes the ringmaster was fooled by a performer pretending to be a drunken audience member.

The ringmaster saw how he had been duped, and he was, in my opinion, the sickest ringmaster I have ever seen. It was actually one of his own men. He made that joke out of his head and didn’t tell anyone. Although I felt a little sheepish, I didn’t want to be taken in by that ringmaster, at least not for a thousand bucks.

Huck Helping Jim

Huck believes that by helping Jim out of slavery, he is either committing a crime or wrong. This is an example of the dramatic irony in Huck Finn . Twain wrote this book years after the Civil War and the official end to slavery in America. He assumes that readers will see Huck as doing the right things in helping Jim. Dramatic irony is created by the tension between what Huck and readers understand.

Irony in Huck Finn: Situational Irony

Brotherly love:

Huck spends time with the Grangerfords, learning about their decades-old feud with Shepherdsons. He then joins them at church. This description contains irony in situation:

We all went three miles to church the next Sunday, everyone on a horseback. Buck and the men brought their guns with them, as did Buck. They kept their guns between their knees, or held them against the wall. The Shepherdsons did the same. It was pretty ornery preaching, all about brotherly love and such-like tiredness

Jim’s Humanity:

After several chapters where Huck is focusing on the king and the duke’s antics in detail, his attention shifts to Jim who watches him grieve over his separation from his family. Huck’s observations are full of situational irony.

He was thinking about his family, his wife, and his children up there, and he felt low and homesick. Because he had never been away from his home before; and I believe he cared as much for his people than white folks do for their’n. Although it doesn’t seem natural to me, I believe it is.

Huck Judging Tom

Huck tells Tom Sawyer, his friend, that he helped Jim escape slavery in a bizarre moment. Tom doesn’t judge Huck but instead offers to help him. Huck doesn’t appreciate Tom’s offer and instead he judges him negatively. His narration of his internal reaction to it is a perfect example of situational irony.

It’s certain that Tom Sawyer was a significant victim in my estimation. It was unbelievable to me. Tom Sawyer is a nigger stealer!

Twain grew up in a Southern white slaveholding society and was familiar with the term “nigger” being used to describe African Americans. It is likely that this is why the word is so frequently used in the novel. Twain, however, disapproves slavery and racism. His novel exposes blacks as ignorant and unfeeling. However, it is only done to show the hollowness that has been ingrained into his society. To accomplish this, he uses both the Horatian style and the Juvenalian style.

Irony in Huck FinnIrony in Huck Finn: Racism and Slavery

Huck is a vagabond. He believes that black people are just properties and has no feelings. Only through close contact with Jim does he see how wrong he is. Jim, too, is a vagabond, a passive follower of an irrational belief that black people are properties, devoid of feelings. Twain mocks slavery and the way in which whites have patronized it.

Irony in Huck Finn: Faulty Educational System

Twain’s satire of the educational system of his day is evident in Huck’s indifference to Jim’s injustice. Huck’s claims that he learned at school are false. Interestingly, Huck hates school and his father, Pap, disapproves of him learning anything. When Pap learns about Huck’s ability to learn, he threatens him with the following:

“… You’re going to be caught fooling around at that school again, I hear. Your mother couldn’t read and write… I can; and you’re just a-swelling up like this.”

The fact that the society was not educated in the truest sense of the word is also evident in two other vital ways. First, the way in which con-artists, such as the Duke and King fool most of the characters, and second, the feud of Feud of Shepherdsons and Grangerfords. Although the cause of this feud is unknown, many people die as a result. Twain inculcates this dispute to criticize the foolishness of educated people, and highlight the futility of the endeavor. Ironically, he also adds an ironic twist on the contemporary “Romeo and Juliet” family-drama by declaring that the only ones who survive are the lovers.

Irony in Huck Finn: Hollow Religious Beliefs

Huck believes that Jim would be in hell if he didn’t help him enough. This is because these are the religious beliefs he was taught to follow. Huck also believes that praying would give him everything. Twain portrays Huck as someone who accepts whatever the priest tells them, but doesn’t take the time to study the Bible. This is a key problem in religion.

Twain also mocks religion by using an unusual funeral scene. Twain mocks the lack of respect shown to Christians in his time by telling how a dog barks throughout the funeral procession for Peter Wilk. This reinforces the fundamental truth that ceremonies are useless if a man does not have true worth. Huck’s and Jim’s frequent use of superstitions highlight their faulty understanding of religion.

Irony in Huck Finn: No-nonsense Romanticism

Twain was not a fan of romantic details. Therefore, the steamboat that Huck and Jim boarded is called Walter Scott. This suggests the demise of romance in Twain’s time.

Irony in Huck Finn: Blatant Hypocrisy

Twain then attacks the hypocrisy in his society by attacking the lies of Miss Watson, a good Christian woman. Huck is honest to her, but she promises to never sell Jim. Although she does apologize for trying to sell Jim, it’s only Huck and Tom Sawyer’s schemes which help Jim avoid his misery.

Irony in Huck Finn: Weaknesses of Human Nature

Through the comments of Pap Finn, Twain mocks the common white habit of blaming others for their faults. Pap accuses government multiple times in the novel. He says, “Call it a govment” or “This is a wonderful govment. Wonderful.” But the truth is that he can’t go against society’s norms and therefore passively suffers.

Twain’s satire on the idea of lynching, and the fragility of human nature to judge based on general opinion, is revealed in the episode of Colonel Sherburn & Boggs. After being taunted by Boggs, a wealthy shop owner, Colonel Sherburn kills him. He confronts the crowd and tells them, “An enraged crowd has resolved to lynch Sherburn.”

“Why, a man is safe in the hands ten thousand of your type–as long it’s daylight and you are not behind him,”

This refers to their cowardice and inability to be objective.

Irony in Huck FinnExamples of Irony in Huck Finn

Twain’s use irony allows him to satirize his feelings wrong but also makes the plot more vivid and real.

Huck’s Moral Struggle

Huck’s mental dilemma of whether to assist Jim in his escape is a case of dramatic irony. The reader is aware that Huck is doing the right thing and is not repulsive towards Jim.

The Phony Church Mannerisms from the Grangerfords & Shepherdsons

Situational irony is evident in the way the Grangerfords, Shepherdsons and others follow church practices. Ironically, these two families enjoy the sermon and keep their guns “between the knees” while still adhering to the message of brotherly love.

Huck’s Gullibility

Huck’s inability understand everything makes him comment in such an ironic way that it causes a lot of verbal and Socratic irony. Huck reveals his disinterest in living with Widow Douglas, saying:

“The Widow Douglas took me as her son and permitted her to sivilize me. But it was hard living in that house, given how regular and decent the widow was in all of her ways.”

Huck’s use of the word “decent”, despite not considering himself honorable, highlights the fact that he is more concerned about others than any other civilized character. This is acknowledged by both the author and the reader.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a controversial book in American literature. It was banned in 1885 because it contained “little humor” and “that of a very coarse kind.” However, notable black authors Toni Morrison and Ralph Ellison praise the novel for its authenticity in exposing the hypocrisy of its age in precise details.

Irony in Huck FinnIrony in Huck Finn:  Quotes

Jim claimed that bees don’t sting stupid people, but I was skeptical because I tried them many times and they never sting me.

Mark Twain

Chapter 8 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. This quote not only demonstrates Huck’s modesty, but also contains irony. Huck is smart and can see through society’s hypocrisy, pretenses and lies better than others.

“I doan’ mine one or two kings, but that’s enough.”Dis one’s strong drunk, and de prince ain’t better.”

Mark Twain

Chapter 20 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Jim is furious at the pretend King and Duke getting drunk on his boat. He doesn’t want any additional royalty on board. Ironically, Jim & Huck have never met any kings. They are two liars.

All of us were happy except Tom, who was most content because he had a bullet in the leg.

Mark Twain

Chapter 40 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Tom was so passionate about adventure that the bullet became a memento. Huck on Tom Jim was liberated from slavery and Huck became Tom’s friend. Tom was content, however, because he had a battle wound to show everyone.

He was just as concerned about his people as were white people.

Mark Twain

Chapter 23 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Huck is starting to change his attitudes towards slaves and black people. Huck is beginning to realize that Jim is human. He has real feelings. It is quite natural for people to love their family. Huck was taught that this was not natural for black men.

“I don’t want any rewards, but to know I did the right things.”

Mark Twain

Chapter 39 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Tom Sawyer pretends to gang robber Jim Phelps. Ironically, Tom doesn’t want to do the right things. Tom makes Jim’s life harder than it should.

The old doctor arrives, examines the situation and says:
“Don’t make him feel any worse than you have to, he’s not a terrible n *****.”

Mark Twain

Chapter 42 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Jim is being taken to Phelps and given rough treatment by some men, including head cuffs. The old doctor saves Jim. Twain uses humor to show Jim’s freedom, while the other men think he’s still a slave.

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