After Mark Twain was acknowledged for his comic writing talent for his book The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the public anticipated the same innocent humor in its sequel as well. However, the expectations were only partially met because the voice of the author is far more satirical and ironical than purely humorous. It is obvious from the book that Twain’s intention was not to merely amuse the audience but to reveal serious issues caused by hypocrisy regarding social institutions like religion, politics and education.
When targeting at religion, Mark Twain does not mean to ridicule people’s sincere faith. He is ironic about the fact that religion has moved too far from its beginnings and has turned into a tool of manipulation and self-justification. His satire especially focuses on the fact that religion deals with abstract matters talking about the sublime and universal love while neglecting the closest neighbor’s feelings and troubles. This abuse of religion is demonstrated by Twain in several situations in the novel.
It is remarkable that he uses Huck Finn as a kind of truth and lie detector regarding the issues that he satirizes. He plays a role of a savage whose innocence measures the level of sincerity. Due to him absurdity of human society and its customs is revealed by the author. Thus, when Finn is adopted by Widow Douglas, a pious woman, she tries hard to civilize him and turn into a decent, socially acceptable boy. She believes that it is her duty to teach him to pray before meals as well as some sacred stories about the most significant figures from the Bible.
However, she fails to convert him, which is revealed by the author through a humorous contrast between his down to earth attitude and her bookish ideas of life. For instance, does not mind going to hell for a change and does not care about Moses because he is dead. By describing the situation, the author conveys and idea that dead religion is not helpful to society. He is sure that instead religions should care about alive people and help them solve their problems.
Another aspect that Twain criticizes in a satirical way is unfair and inhumane attitude to black people in the United States. Although slavery had been over by the time when the book was published, it did not erase the issues of racial prejudice and cruel attitude towards blacks. Thus, although Jim was released, he is still exposed to mockery and superiority, which often comes from the so-called good citizens. The author reveals the most horrible thing about society: those people who consider them to be good, honest and decent help inequality spread and take roots. So, even Tom who is seemingly a positive character, is the writer’s tool to demonstrate how good people can be unfair and cruel because of diminishing attitude to black people. Tom puts Jim’s life at risk even though he realizes that he might be doing harm to the person. In the same way, the Phelps who are seemingly good Christians, take slavery and racial discrimination for granted. Their talk demonstrates the neglect that they show towards black people:
Good gracious! anybody hurt?" [asked Aunt Sally.]
"No'm. Killed a nigger."
"Well, it's lucky…two years ago…the old Lally Rook…blowed out a cylinder-head and crippled a man. He was a Baptist…I remember now, he did die" ( Twain)
This passage shows that they are not just cruel but that they do not treat black people as people at all.
Overall, the novel by Mark Twain proves to be more than an entertaining book for teenagers. The author is indifferent to such burning issues of society as racial discrimination and hypocrisy, and makes them targets of his satire.