Truth Behind the Lies

1 January 2017

The famous romantic novelist, Mark Twain, is well know for his attitude towards social conformity and the mores of society. In Twain’s mind, it is human nature for people to want to do the right thing in life, without silly rules or protocol. Everyone has their falls from grace, but the human race is generally good, with some exceptions. In the novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, characters are frequently faced with dilemmas that challenge the morals they were taught to faithfully abide by, and most of these situations are resolved through the use of deception and lying.

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It is not the act of lying that defines the characters, but it is their motivation behind deceiving those around them that truly emphasizes their moral worth. Mark Twain seems to support the timeless moral adage, “The ends justify the means. ” Many people disagree with this statement, but Twain exemplifies the reality that the chains that confine people to society’s rules must be broken by lying to survive or to protect another. Through Huck’s journey to self-discovery, Twain conveys his belief that defying society’s moral standards is necessary in certain situations in order to do the right thing.

Much research has been done on the topic of morality in Twain’s point of view and how it has been expressed through the main character, Huck. Laurel Bollinger suggests that “Huck never moves into the realm of “abstract” morality; he never asserts a conviction that when two moral principles come into conflict, one will have priority because of the nature of the moral principle itself. Instead, he acts strictly through his sense of Sherrard 2 commitment to his friends” This is appealing to the romanticism in the novel.

Huck makes his decisions purely based off of his instincts and connections to those around him, not off of the moral standards he is obligated to fulfill because of society. Albert E. Stone comments that “Huck is the image of the classic Good Bad Boy. The Good Bad Boy is, of course, America’s vision of itself, cruel and unruly in its beginnings, but endowed by its creator with an instinctive sense of what is right” Man is given an internal moral compass to guide him. Rules that are written are not what guide us to do what is right.

It is the natural God given instinct to wan to do the right thing in life. This is why Huck perverts the truth. “The most obvious place to look at [Huck’s character development] is Huck’s changing attitude toward Jim, who he eventually comes to see as a fellow human being rather than a slave or an object of property” (Sewell 114). For example, as Tom Quirk suggests, it is ironic that Huck finds himself inferior to those around him because he decides to lie to protect his companion, Jim.

He feels that it is a sin, but in this situation it is the more ethical choice to be made, even though society deems it unacceptable. Huck’s lies, while situational, are mostly told in order to ensure his own survival and the protection of Jim. From the beginning of the novel, Huck’s fascination with truth is displayed in his saying, “Mark Twain, he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another,” (Twain 13).

To Huck, the idea of lying is not a big deal, so to speak. Huck lies to all the people around him when he fakes his death, but the only reason he does this is to escape the clutches of his alcoholic father. Huck’s survival is his first priority and if it were not for this deception, Huck would have continued to live in an abusive environment. His motive behind lying is survival. It is human nature to want to Sherrard 3 survive, and Huck’s instincts kick in telling him what he needs to do to survive: pretend to die in order to live.

When he discovers Jim has run away, Huck decides to go against his morals and keep Jim’s secret to protect his friend. Although in southern society during the era of slavery this action would have been considered extremely immoral, Huck keeps the truth of Jim’s running away to himself because to him, it seems like the best idea at the time. Even though Huck’s intentions seem pure, he has a hidden motive for harboring Jim. Huck is a young boy and his immaturity is evident. Running away by himself would be extremely lonely and frightening for a child to do on his own.

Jim’s presence would be comforting to Huck, so he decides not to reveal Jim. While Huck has been taught that under no circumstances is lying acceptable, these situations are examples of when the deception of others is ultimately the safer or more ethical choice that ultimately saves two lives, even if the intentions for lying were not completely pure at this point in the novel. Mark Twain uses the Duke and the Dauphin as foils to Huck in order to convey the difference between lying as a last resort and the unnecessary, malicious deception of others for one’s own selfish gain.

When the Duke and the King are introduced to Huck and claim their titles, Huck is skeptical, saying that It didn’t take me long to make up my mind that these liars warn’t no kings nor dukes at all, but just low-down humbugs and frauds. But I never said nothing, never let on; kept it to myself; it’s the best way; then you don’t have no quarrels, and don’t get into no trouble. I never learnt nothing else out of pap, I learnt that the best way to get along with his kind of people is to let them have their own way (Twain 125). The so-called Duke and King craft many schemes throughout the novel to scam people Sherrard 4 ut of their money and keep it for themselves.

Twain feels that it is an inevitable part of human nature to tell lies, but the motivation behind these lies varies between characters. The villainous characters tend to lie for corrupt reasons while the good characters lie in order to do what is best in a given situation. A major turning point in Huck’s journey to discover his identity and relationship with the truth is when he makes up his mind to turn Jim in but then decides to protect him by telling two slave-catchers a story so that they will not discover Jim on the raft.

In the midst of Huck’s doubt over his loyalty to Jim and willingness to lie for him, Huck makes a decision to lie to protect his friend from being captured and punished. Twain feels that these lies are important. These are the lies worth telling. Would it truly be right to allow an innocent man to be punished for his freedom; would it be wrong to help a friend, to save him? By the end of the novel, Huck’s character development closes with him having a greater understanding of the truth and when it is appropriate to lie, and also his compassion towards Jim grows into true friendship.

The Duke and Dauphin have deceived countless people for their own personal gain, and Huck grows tired of their lies. Huck realizes that by not revealing the King and the Duke for who they are, he is protecting the guilty and allowing them to hurt innocent people, so he reveals him for the con artists they truly are. “I got to tell the truth, and you want to brace up, Miss Mary, because it’s a bad kind, and going to be hard to take, but there ain’t no help for it. These uncles of yourn ain’t no uncles at all; they’re a couple of frauds- regular dead-beats” (Twain 182). Huck tells the truth to stop the lies.

Even though Huck himself is a liar, this demonstrates that there is a great difference between lying for a noble cause and unnecessarily lying for profit. The point that marks Huck’s true identity revelation is when he decides that even though protecting Jim is a sin, he is willing to do it. This is the Sherrard 5 moment when Huck realizes that every lie he told to protect Jim has been worth it because Jim is a person, not property. This is Twain’s statement that lying to do the right thing must happen. When the rules society has set out fail to accomplish a person’s goal to do the right thing, these rules can be strayed from.

This is a person’s moral obligation to do what may not seem ethically correct, but in the end it will have been the right decision. Huck Finn, like every other character, makes decisions that influence who he is and what type of person he has become. Towards the beginning of the novel, he was naive and immature, but throughout his journey his understanding of the meaning of truth grew. Huck’s journey to individual discovery is Mark Twain’s attempt at provoking an individual discovery in all of the readers of his novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

A person’s morality is not defined by the lies they tell but by their reason behind telling this lie in the first place. In Twain’s mind, “sometimes a man has to do what a man has to do,” in order to do what is ethically right, and if that means going against what society deems morally correct, then so be it.

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Truth Behind the Lies. (2017, Jan 09). Retrieved February 24, 2019, from
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