‘Huck’ Finn is a fictional character by Mark Twain. He appears in ‘The Adventures of Tom Sawyer’ and ‘Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’ and is about 12 to 14 years old in these stories, which are set in the 1840s.

There is a famous scene in which, after much agonizing, Huck decides not to obey the conventional morality of his culture—which would dictate that he report the location of Jim, the runaway slave, to Miss Watson, Jim’s owner—but instead decides to obey his own humane impulses. This is a prime example of Huck’s capacity for civil disobedience.

Jim proves his willingness to break the law, another act of civil disobedience, when he runs away after overhearing that Miss Watson may be intending to sell him.

Both the boy and the man, then, are already engaged in acts of civil disobedience, and Huck is already acting on behalf of another and at the behest of his own conscience. Although Jim may seem at first to be acting here mainly to protect himself, eventually it becomes clear that one of his chief motives is to win the freedom of his wife and children. As he explains to Huck, the first thing he intends to do when he gets to a free state is to work to earn enough money to “buy his wife; and then they would both work to buy the two children; and if [the children’s] master wouldn’t sell them, they’d get an abolitionist to go and steal them”. Jim is perfectly willing to disobey the law if doing so is the only way he can help others; his personal flight toward freedom is fundamentally a way of making sure that he can eventually free his family. Huck is shocked by such talk; it troubles his conscience, but by this point the irony of Huck’s references to his conscience is clear. By violating the laws and teachings of his society, Huck is actually doing the right thing and that by transgressing against the kind of “conscience” society has tried to instill in him, he is actually obeying a higher kind of conscience.

Ironically many of Twain’s works have been suppressed at times for various reasons. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been repeatedly restricted in American high schools, not least for its frequent use of the word “nigger,” which was in common usage in the pre-Civil War period in which the novel was set – leading to further acts of civil disobedience by those ignoring the bans, by buying, selling or reading a the book.

Civil Disobedience and the Ending of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Date: 2010
On The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Author: Robert C. Evans
From: Civil Disobedience, Bloom’s Literary Themes