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Huckleberry Finn Marxist Satire

Page history last edited by Jayson Yeagley 13 years, 10 months ago

Marxist Satire Within Huckleberry Finn

Scott Alter


              How well does capitalism really work? Some people would claim that it is the only way to fly, so to speak. Many other people would say that it just allows abuse of power by those willing to cheat others, results in the enlarging of the gap between rich and poor, causing differences in class culture and creatingclass warfare, as well as not bringing good people to power. Mark Twain is of the latter school of thought. In his book Huckleberry Finn, he satirically criticizes capitalism in each of the three ways listed above.

              The Duke and the King are prime examples of capitalism allowing the morally bad to take control and exploit the people. In fact, the only reason that the Duke and the King are able to pull of their schemes and make so much money is that they are morally horrible people. They start by cheating the town with a bogus performance. The first group of people want another group to come so that they are made fools of too so they tell their friends to go, and both groups come back a third night with things to throw and the king and the duke. The king and duke don’t show up for the third performance. The duke summarizes it afterwards: “Greenhorns, flatheads! I knew the first house would keep mum and let the rest of the town get roped in; and I knew they’d lay for us the third night, and consider it was their turn now” (Twain 148). The Duke and King were easily able to take advantage of the people and steal their money because of capitalism. In another major exploitation, the two charlatans pretend to be the English cousins of a very rich deceased man, claiming all of his belongings. Twain directly expresses his satirical intentions with by having Huck say “It was enough to make a body ashamed of the human race” (Twain 156). Clearly Twain doesn’t agree with the ideas of capitalism. For their last big prank, the Duke and King sell Tim as a runaway slave. Over all, the King and Duke make huge sums of money, and purely because they acted horribly.

              All throughout the book an apparent gap between rich and poor and their cultures is evident. When Huck is living with Mrs. Watson and spills salt, he, as his culture has taught him, wants to throw it over his shoulder for luck. “I reached for some of [the salt] as quick as I could to throw over my left shoulder to keep off the bad luck, but Miss Watson was ahead of me, and crossed me off” (Twain 16). Miss Watson’s “civilized” culture does not believe in bad luck in the way that Huck’s poor culture does. The “civilized” culture also has a sense of cleanliness that the poor culture lacks. “Pretty soon I wanted a smoke, and asked the widow to let me. But she wouldn’t.  She said it was a mean practice and wasn’t clean” (Twain 4). The differences become increasingly apparent when Mrs. Watson is ranting at Huck about doing things right. “Miss Watson would say, ‘Don’t put your feet up there, Huckleberry’; and ‘Don’t scrunch up like that, Huckleberry- set up strait’and pretty soon she would say, ‘Don’t gap and stretch like that, Huckleberry – why don’t you try to behave’” (Twain 4). Later in the book, the judge tries to “civilize” pap by taking him into his house and showing him the way of the rich culture. By the end he decides “a body could reform the old man with a shotgun, maybe, but he didn’t know no other way” (Twain 22). The conflict and differences between the cultures are so intense that the two cultures cannot even mix, resulting in tensions and class warfare as shown by Pap’s conflict with the village.

              All the characters in this book that have power are horrible morally and abuse their power. The horribleness of the people that capitalism brings to power is shown by the Grangerfords and the Shepardsons. Both groups are the height of civilization and have been brought into economic power via slave labor and plantations. “The old gentleman owned dozens of farms and over a hundred niggers” (Twain 103). There was an intense conflict between the two that caused many deaths and nobody knows how it started. “Laws, it was years ago, how would know” (Twain 105) yet the two sides fight anyways. At the end Buck and other Grangerfords lie dead because of the horribleness of the two families. Of course we also have the king and the duke, who, as explained earlier, were among the worst types of people imaginable. When rich men who have used capitalism by hunting slaves come down the river, they show their weaknesses as people by not helping Huck and supposedly his father. Huck told them his father had small pox and they essentially ran away. “It won’t do to fool with smallpox, don’t ya see” (Twain 89).They do offer advice and leave some money, but refuse direct help. Twain’s satirical intentions also are shown by the fact that Huck, one of the poorest characters, is portrayed as the best character in the book when it comes to morals.

              All throughout the book, Twain satirically shows that morally questionable people rise to power through capitalism, the gap between rich and poor is enlarged by capitalism, and all the people in power abuse it. The king and the duke gain power through exploitation and raging “class warfare” is shown by the tensions between the “civilized” town and Pap. The true genius of Twain is how he was able to work in so many different satirical elements so subtly and still keep the reader interested.


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