Essay Preview: ‘Moral Development and Change in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’


As you may already know, I complete a lot of academic work – writing essays, completing research and literature reviews, and even writing full dissertations which are tailored to meet the needs of the client. Below is an extract of my work, used by UK Essays to demonstrate the high quality of work produced by their writers (of which I am one).

If you’re studying Huckleberry Finn, or just fancy knowing a little more about how morality is conceptualised by Twain in the book, then read on, my friends, read on!

Moral Development and Change in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn


Mark Twain’s novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (2006a, pp.1-504), first published in 1884, starts out in a small fictional town of St. Petersburg in Missouri situated close to the Mississippi River, and is set a few decades before the outbreak of the American Civil War. The story is narrated by the protagonist, Huck, and follows his journey wherein he is faced with a number of moral choices, which subsequently lead him to question the morality and supposedly ‘civilised’ nature of society, outgrowing his own instincts of self-preservation and moral deviancy in the process. Using Kohlberg’s theory of moral development (1981, cited in Gibbs, 2003, pp.57-76), this essay will analyse how and why Huck begins to take responsibility for his own moral choices, rejecting the prescribed morality of some of the authority figures in his life and accepting that of others, thus demonstrating how life experiences of kindness and cruelty can affect the development of an individual’s morality.

Huck’s Initial Absence of Morality

At the opening of the novel, the reader finds Huck feeling restricted after being placed in the guardianship of Widow Douglas and her sister, Miss Watson. This occurs after he has come into possession of a large sum of money as a result of his earlier adventures with friend, Tom Sawyer – who, of course, features alongside Huck in Twain’s earlier text, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (2006b, pp.1-375) – and is placed under the widow’s guardianship by a judge who hopes she can “sivilize” him (Twain, 2006a, p.7) by teaching him the Christian faith. Huck is keen to demonstrate that her attempts have been unsuccessful, describing his desire to join up with Tom’s gang of thieves rather than being trapped in such a respectable household, feeling cramped and sweaty in the new clothes she makes him wear, and being frustrated at not being allowed to smoke, curse or slouch (Twain, 2006a, pp.7-9). He is dismissive of the morality contained within the religious teachings that the widow offers him, noting that he has no interest in the dead are they are “no good to anybody, being gone” (Twain, 2006a, p.9), and even goes so far as to tell the widow that he would prefer to go to Hell rather than Heaven, because he could “see no advantage in going where she was going” (Twain, 2006a, p.9). He is similarly pleased to hear that the widow believes Tom Sawyer will go to Hell (Twain, 2006a, p.10), as that means they will be together, showing his flippant approach to serious issues (Blair, 1973, p.138). He also demonstrates his tendency to lie (Twain, 2006a, p.53), steal (Twain, 2006a, p.32), and exhibit his prejudices, such as can be seen in his initial stereotyping of the black slave, Jim, who Huck repeatedly disregards as a simple “nigger” (Twain, 2006a, p.22). Huck’s morality at this point corresponds well with the ‘pre-conventional’ (otherwise known as the ‘pre-moral’) stage identified in Kohlberg’s theory of moral development (1981, cited in Gibbs, 2003, pp.57-76), wherein the individual’s behaviour is dictated by self-interest and self-preservation. His avoidance of further arguments with the widow regarding Heaven and Hell, for instance, is not a mark of respect for the woman trying to raise him as her son, but rather a recognition that pursuing his point would “only make trouble” for himself (Twain, 2006a, p.9). His response is dictated by the possibility of punishment or gain, rather than by a moral sense of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ (Kohlberg, 1981, cited in Gibbs, 2003, pp.57-76). This is also demonstrated by Huck’s adherence to superstitious behaviour and beliefs, such as his worry that burning a spider will bring him bad luck, his use of horseshoes to frighten bad spirits, and the binding of his hair to ward off witches (Twain, 2006a, p.10)…

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