Sheel to establish an individual opinion in a complex



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22, 2017


“He never done nothing to me”: The Impact of External Forces
on Independent Thought in The Adventures
of Huckleberry Finn


People are shaped by the pressures placed
on them from birth, as every lesson learned and every value acquired originates
from someone else. The nature of humans is to constantly express and share
opinions with others, which often leads to a clash of conflicting views. In
Mark Twain’s The Adventures of
Huckleberry Finn, the naivety of the title character and those he
encounters reveals the susceptibility of the human mind to manipulation. Twain
demonstrates how exterior pressures that influence opinions lead to irrational
decisions and behavioral changes, and how it is only through rational thought
that one can decide the most appropriate 1 actions for themselves. Through
Huck’s struggle to establish an individual opinion in a complex world, the
influence of society, authority, and peers become evident.

Over the course of Huck’s journey
down the Mississippi, Twain eloquently sets up a microcosm of society at the
time, in which he demonstrates the impact of religious, racist, and traditional
teachings that alter behavior, and are the accepted way society functions.2 

Firstly, the expectation for Huck is
to treat slaves such as Jim poorly, as they are regarded as lower-class
citizens. The world in which he resides forces him to believe that positive
characteristics such as loyalty and a “level head” are “uncommon… for a nigger”
(Twain 11) like Jim. On his adventures independent of exterior influence,
Huck begins to consider the slave, and by extension his race as equal to himself. It
takes Huck “fifteen minutes before he could humble himself to a nigger”
because of the superiority of white men to black men that was taught to him,
but “he done it and he wasn’t even sorry for it afterwards” (65). Him coming to an understanding that
he should not feel sorry for apologizing to a slave epitomizes his gradual
transition towards treating black men and white men equally. By coming to this
independent realization, he dismisses societal expectations. Using this shift
in opinion, Twain explains how in the world Huck lives3 4 , beliefs are thrust upon everyone
to create a society assimilated in thought, but also that these values cannot
apply to every unique individual. Society conditions Huck to think and act in a
way that he would otherwise not, when allowed escape and time for independent

as racist ideals do, religion plays a dominating role in the South. After
committing deeds that are condemned by religion, Huck is guilt-ridden. He
believes that if he sends a letter telling Miss Watson where Jim is, “Huck
would feel washed clean of sin for the first time”, (158) despite the fact
Jim would get put back into slavery. The feeling of repentance and defying his
values simply to conform to religion is so influential that it tempts Huck to
sacrifice Jim in order to have this contrition. In the end, Huck matures enough to overcome the religious
influence on his actions, accepting that “he will go to hell” and “tearing
up” (159) the letter. Even after
making the morally correct choice, the influence of religion lingers, creatingSA5  hesitation to make the decision
suited to his values, as he believes he would go to the bad place and suffer
eternal damnation. In Twain’s novel, religion is an omnipresent force that
influences most decisions and weighs on Huckleberry’s conscience until his
growth and rational thought overcome the pressures, leading to the eventual
decision to free Jim6 .

Grangerfords and Shepherdsons are also influenced by societal pressures.
Unfortunately, unlike Huck, they rarely display rational thought, which
demonstrates the potential consequences of societal manipulation. Focused on a feud that spans decades
back, the families are determined to destroy each other because of what they
were taught. Buck Grangerford admits “he wants to kill any Shepherdson” but
when questioned as to why he confesses it is “only on account of the feud”
(79). The expectations of these two families from generations ago to hate each
other gives them purpose. Of course, they are becoming tired of the fighting
and the pointless casualties, which displays how they do not independently want to fight,
but are expected to continue from their past teachings. They are so consumed
with hatred that even when they crave an end to the hostility, they cannot
think logically enough to accomplish SA7 it. Furthermore, the Grangerfords
and Shepherdsons keep their guns “against the wall” at the “ornery preaching –
all about brotherly love” (81), providing a respite to the fighting. However,
if they truly despised each other, they would not let the church suspend their
conflict, reinforcing the growing weariness towards their feud. Their traditional
hatred originates from a quarrel in the past, and the new generations have no
independent will to continue the fighting. The rational decision would be to
cease the conflict, but due to the influence passed down from generations
before, the families continue to suffer unnecessary grief and misery. Twain
illustrates that when expected and taught to act in a certain way, one conforms
to it, to the extent of making irrational and even personally unwanted

            In summary,
expectations from the past and world around oneself can lead to irrational
behaviour. By influencing the way people are taught and expected to act, any
naive person can be forced to replicate certain values. Such is the story of
the families trapped in eternal feud, and Huck’s confusion regarding the values
of race and religion. Society can only set broad expectations that do not apply
to each person’s values. Therefore, the more restrictive type of influences are
those which are unique to each person.

An individual in a position of
authority can be more influential than societal pressures. In these
relationships, the person with less power is expected to do as those in power
wish, without regard for what is best for them.

            Most persuasive in their control is Colonel
Sherburn.8  Sherburn belittles a mob attempting
to lynch him after his senseless murder of Boggs, who “never hurt nobody, drunk
nor sober” (102). By declaring that ” the idea of the mob lynching anybody!
It’s amusing… they are cowards… now go home and crawl in a hole”, he
influences the way the mob was going to act; eventually it “broke apart, and
went tearing off every which way” (107). Sherburn’s authority alters what the
mob aims to do, and as the group is in such a vulnerable position, they succumb
to the pressure without second thought. This scenario demonstrates how the
power of authority functions; when the influence takes the form of a direct
order it becomes hopeless to resist. The mob has a decided goal, but the
influence of the Colonel leads to the mob acting irrationally. All of the
members in the mob have less power than Colonel Sherburn and are therefore more
vulnerable to being blinded by Sherburn’s authority and position. Thus, they do
exactly what is demanded of them. From this illustration, Twain conveys how
easily an inferior can be influenced if they are not able to retaliate to

In a like manner, Miss Watson proves
the impact authority has on the actions of others. She demands that Huckleberry
“does not put his feet up there… don’t scrunch up like that” and follows with
“telling him all about the bad place” (3). By establishing a consequence, she
adds weight to her commands, further motivating Huck to follow her rules.
However, this works adversely, causing Huck’s desire to rebel. Consumed with
hate, “He wishes he was in hell… all he wants was a change” (4).
Twain displays how all the limitations placed on Huck make him crave anything
but his current situation. He wants any possible alternative from Miss Watson’s
restrictions, and while pledging to go to hell is irrational, it highlights the
impact the rules have on Huck. From these experiences, Huck develops a poor
impression of what civilization is at large. External pressure can negatively
change the way people act, and in this case, it elevates Huck’s longing for
change. Its lasting effects drive Huck to embark on his adventure, as well as
prompt the rebellion that leads him to escape. When given time to think
independently and consider how civilization could be better than the
uncertainty on the river, he regrets his actions. The experience with
civilization reveals the polarizing impact of authority on inferiors that can
create resentment of their current situation and radical thoughts.

            As a direct consequence of the hate for
civilization developed because of Miss Watson, 9 Huck escapes with his father, even
though Pap is despicable and “lays drunk with the hogs in the tanyard” (12). H10 uck has changing views about school;
“at first he hates the school, but by and by…he could stand it”, (11)
which demonstrates his cautious acceptance of civilization11 . Then, Pap holds him hostage,
“locking the door and puting the key under his head” (17). Pap 12 forces him to stay at the small
cottage and remain uncivilized. However, Huck does not protest about reverting
back to enjoying “lazy and jolly days, smoking and fishing, and no books nor
study” (17), even though this contradicts his previous views. Huck goes along
with this because of Pap pressuring him to remain common and simple, and after
excessive beatings, he has no other choice but to blindly follow. Huck makes
the irrational decision of putting up no resistance, simply because he could
not consider any other alternative due to the dominating influence of his
father. In a moment of logical thought, Huck breaks from the total control of
Pap and can see how horrible his predicament is, leading to his subsequent
escape. Twain illustrates how the total authority of Pap restricts Huck to the
extent that he has no capacity for independent thought and cannot rebel. In a
relationship where one holds complete control, the room for logical thought is
nonexistent, and behavior is forcibly controlled by the dominant.

            The power of an authoritative figure comes
at different levels. Some have such authority that even with no preexisting
relationship, they can manipulate the way people act. Others have the full
power to establish rules that can irritate the inferior and lead to unexpected
thoughts and actions. Lastly, the power of some is so significant, that the
inferior cannot think for themselves and is obligated to follow along in every

While control is often associated
with those with more authority, some at the same level of authority can
influence the logical thoughts of others to such an extent as absolute as
manipulation. Peer pressure or influence from an equal can make even the most
mature people give way to juvenile suggestions and is commonplace in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

            First13 , the conclusion of Twain’s novel
speaks to how even if one equal has grown, they are still easily drawn back
into old troubles. Age does not
define maturity; thus, people of the same age can be less sensible. This is why
when Huck develops a simple plan to free Jim, Tom believes the plan is as “mild
as goosemilk” and proposes a “plan… that was worth fifteen of Huck’s for
style… that would make Jim just as free a man… and get them killed” (165).
Nonetheless, Huck goes along with the radical plan, which ends in disaster.
Huck knows his own plan is the most rational to free Jim, but Tom pressures him
to follow his strategy. Even though Huck has grown as a person from his
adventures and independently discovers the rational option in the situation, in
mere minutes Tom can once again influence Huck’s actions. In this example,
Twain conveys that Tom is still immature in contrast with Huck, but Huck
remains naïve enough to follow the
scheme without protest. Since Huck trusts and respects Tom, he stops thinking
for himself and complies with Tom. A close friend can obstruct one’s
independent thought and lead to blind decision-making because one becomes a
follower, fully depending on the other. Therefore, the insistence of a friend
can lead to decisions that are not logical, and restrict one’s independent

A second form peer pressure takes is
often not explicit, but rather a fear. Huck fears exclusion from Tom Sawyer’s
gang at the beginning of the novel and as a result is influenced to make commitments
he cannot keep. To be allowed entrance into the group Huck “offers the gang
Miss Watson – they could kill her” (3); he is nervous when they question his
acceptance and makes a hasty decision. The rest of the group urges him to irrationally
pledge to “murder, burgle, and ransom” (4). Even though at this point in the
novel Huck remains innocent, he makes decisions he would never otherwise consider
because the opinions of his peers are extremely important to the naïve child.
However, the gang remains harmless and fearful, 14 which is why even when the boys
pledged to kill for Tom Sawyer, after they think about it independently,
“Huck resigns. All the boys do” (9). In the intimidating scenario, the group
is pressured by Tom and each other, and if Huck is the only one who does not
commit he is sure to be excluded. The need and craving for inclusion Huck feels
forces him to stop reasoning and blindly follow along, which in turn limits his
capacity for independent thought, and leads to the inability to make the best

            In brief, when one person has trust in a
peer or fears exclusion from their equals, they can make irrational decisions
that do not match how they think when independent. Exclusion from a group whose
opinions are important to oneself can weigh on the pride of a trusting and
innocent person, and a juvenile suggestion from a respected peer can lead to an
ill-advised decision.

the decisions one makes are often based on the reactions, orders, and
impressions of others, as illustrated in Mark Twain’s The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn. The independence of thought that
coincides with one’s gradual maturity is not foolproof and remains vulnerable
to manipulation. Whether the influence is an expectation and teaching of
society, or alternatively a demand from a person in authority, both can be seen
as total manipulation. Additionally, in a relationship of trust and acceptance with an equal,
one can be influenced to make decisions out of fear of exclusion. SA15 In a world where everyone has polarizing opinions and craves
attention, it is crucial to develop individual beliefs by critically analyzing
the abundance of information. Otherwise, one will be totally submissive and
lack distinctive identity and unique character.


Works Cited

Twain, Mark. The
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Chatto & Windus / Charles L. Webster

Company, 1884.

Word Choice


How to make more formal?

i don’t see anything wrong with this


maybe add a concluding sentence that talks about how difficult it was
to overcome the pressures


How could I open differently?

How to reword?

How to make transition better?


plot summary

Instead say…