Throughout the novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, the theme hypocrisy of civilized society is present whenever various town inhabitants interact with the main characters. The town members can appear as congenial individuals such as Sally Phelps, or as a vindictive group such as the audience of Royal Nonesuch. In either case, hypocrisy resides within the actions of those involved. This hypocrisy defines the collective ideologies behind communities in the 1830s.
In chapter 22, Colonel Sherburn presents a speech to a vengeful mob awaiting his surrender. On his roof, he speaks of the mob’s weaknesses in an effort to survive. He states that “The average man is a coward.” The town is afraid to back down after they are told to lynch a man. In chapter 23, the Duke and Dauphin perform a show called Royal Nonesuch. The audience is appalled by the performance, yet they want the rest of the town to feel cheated as well. These examples express the greed and subservience of society.
In chapter five, a new judge replaces Judge Thatcher and deals with the issue between Huckleberry and Pap. He says “Courts mustn’t interfere and separate families if they could help it.” Subsequently, Pap was given rights to Huck instead of the widow. The new judge was ignorant, and his plans were to no avail. This action furthered the premise of society’s accepted customs and conceptions.
Chapter 32 introduces Sally Phelps, a mother and slave owner. She represents a member of society who is nice and respectful, yet owns slaves. This is highly controversial and a prominent example of the hypocrisy of society in the 1830s. Sally does acknowledge the humanity of slaves by treating them well, yet possesses them nonetheless. Huck learns throughout the book the flaws of slavery through experience with helping Jim escape.
A similar reference to slavery is found in chapter 35, where Jim acts upon Tom’s requests. Jim is imprisoned and continues doing ridiculous things for Tom, no matter how bad it gets. Though Tom’s aim is to help Jim escape the shed, he treats him as a slave. This behavior is mutually accepted because it is the status quo of society at the time.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn presents a unique view of the hypocrisy of civilized society through the eyes of a young white boy, namely, Huck. Through various examples, the accepted social practices of the 1830s are exposed. Society is seen as selfish, subservient, and ignorant. Sometimes even innocent, amiable characters such as Sally Phelps are susceptible to the questionable ways of the world.
Written for a high school class.