The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

what does the river represent to Huck and Jim? Of what might the fog be symbolic?

symbol: a symbol is a thing that stands for or represents both itself and something eles.

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The Mississippi River

Symbolism, Imagery, Allegory

Huck wouldn’t have had much of an adventure at all if the mighty Mississippi weren’t involved. Thank heavens Mr. Twain did decide to put Huck and Jim in a raft and push them out into the rapids, because the Mississippi River serves as the driving force behind the novel’s plot development. Pretty much everything that happens – from the moment that Huck hatches his escape-from-Pap plan to, finally, Tom’s scheme to set Jim free – happens because the river is involved.

We could look at this famous waterway as simply a means of transportation; after all, that is the way in which Huck and Jim use it. But let’s face it: that river means a lot more to our heroes than just a route for transportation – it’s their key to freedom.

For Jim, the river will take him to “freedom” in the legal sense; he and Huck are aiming toward the free states. For Huck, the river carries him away from his frustrated life in St. Petersburg. Prior to hitting the rapids, Huck feels confined – both by both society (which, figuratively, kept Huck imprisoned by its restrictive rules) and by Pap (who, literally, kept Huck locked up). So when Huck and Jim decide it’s about time for them to move on out, they take their raft to the river. It’s the only route they can take if they want to be free both in that present moment and in their respective futures. So, if the Mississippi River is not a symbol, we’re not sure what is.

OK – the river symbolizes freedom to Huck and Jim, agreed? Whoa, whoa, wait a sec! It’s a bit more complicated than that – after all, the river also directly causes a bunch of problems for our heroes. “Freedom cannot cause problems,” you may be thinking. But, err, it can … just hear us out for a few more sentences.

The river may be carrying Jim and Huck to freedom, but on the way, it creates a few obstacles. First, they encounter the burglars/potential-murderers on the steamboat. While they’re onboard, their own raft washes away down river. Dealing with that whole debacle is challenge number one. Next, the river carries Huck ashore, where he has that moral crisis over “stealing” Jim. The river’s fog makes them miss the mouth of the Ohio River; their raft gets split in half by yet another steamboat; Huck has to witness that Grangerford-Shepherdson bloodbath; the Duke and the Dauphin create lots of drama and sell Jim back into slavery… yeah, the river’s sort of to blame for all of that.

But let’s face it…if Huck and Jim are going to be free, they’ve got to take care of themselves – or as the Widow Douglas would probably chide (inspired by Spiderman’s Uncle Ben), “With freedom comes responsibility.” So back to our original claim: the river symbolizes freedom to Huck and Jim? You bet – freedom with its responsibilities, challenges, and all.