Huck Finn Moral Dilemma Essay

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Huck’s morality at this point corresponds well with the ‘pre-conventional’ (otherwise known as the ‘pre-moral’) stage identified in Kohlberg’s theory of moral development (1981, cited in Gibbs, 2003, pp.57-76), wherein the individual’s behaviour is dictated by self-interest and self-preservation.

His avoidance of further arguments with the widow regarding Heaven and Hell, for instance, is not a mark of respect for the woman trying to raise him as her son, but rather a recognition that pursuing his point would “only make trouble” for himself (Twain, 2006a, p.9).

Altschuler (1989, p.31) notes that Huck’s early experiences are the reason why he cannot accept Widow Douglas as a substitute mother figure at this stage.

Altschuler (1989, p.31) observes that his moral development would likely have been stunted during early childhood, as “motherless children…

The story is narrated by the protagonist, Huck, and follows his journey wherein he is faced with a number of moral choices, which subsequently lead him to question the morality and supposedly ‘civilised’ nature of society, outgrowing his own instincts of self-preservation and moral deviancy in the process.

Using Kohlberg’s theory of moral development (1981, cited in Gibbs, 2003, pp.57-76), this essay will analyse how and why Huck begins to take responsibility for his own moral choices, rejecting the prescribed morality of some of the authority figures in his life and accepting that of others, thus demonstrating how life experiences of kindness and cruelty can affect the development of an individual’s mortality.Little information is supplied about Huck’s mother, but Huck reveals that he was regularly beaten by his father (Twain, 2006a, p.23) and thus reacts to Pap Finn’s unannounced return with fear and suspicion (Twain, 2006a, p.25), concerned that his father is after his fortune.Although Widow Douglas treats him with kindness, he is initially resistant to the love and lessons of morality she offers him.have great difficulty developing into moral human beings”.Viewed in regard to child attachment theory (Bowlby, 1988, cited in Waters et al, 2005, pp.80-84), Huck’s comments regarding the non-importance of moral lessons given by those who are “[long] gone” (Twain, 2006a, p.9) and his subsequent trust issues are particularly pertinent, as they suggest Huck’s ability to form paternal attachments has become disorientated (Ainsworth et al., 1978, p.282).Huck loses his nerve, and lies to the authorities when asked the skin colour of his companion (Twain, 2006a, p.82).It is important to note here that some critics would argue that this does not constitute a sufficient moral shift, as Huck’s change of heart is not initiated by a realisation of the inhumanity of slavery, but rather his reluctance to betray a friend in his time of need – thus, the black struggle is reduced to a motif no more powerful than Huck’s imprisonment at the hands of his father which, although awful, cannot compare to the horror that was enslavement (Lester, 1999, p.201).by trying to determine what is the ‘right’ thing to do), he judges his actions only in relation to society’s views and expectations, rather than relying on his own personal judgment.In rural Missouri during the period leading up to the American Civil War, slave ownership was widely accepted as a legitimate form of possession and was not subjected to critical pressure – subsequently, Huck views turning Jim in to the authorities as being the ‘right’ thing to do, despite the fact that Jim has shown him only friendship, and Miss Watson (and the ‘civilised’ society she represents) has mainly offered him criticism, chastisement and cruelty.However, Huck experiences a change of heart when he paddles away from Jim intending to turn him in, and Jim calls out that Huck is “de bes’ fren’ Jim’s ever had, en…de only fren’ ole Jim’s got now” (Twain, 2006a, p.81).


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