The Raft, the River, and The Weird Ending of Huckleberry Finn: Crash Course Literature 303 - YouTube (2)
But on the Phelps farm the story falls back into stereotype and caricature,
and to return to the boys' adventure mood of the beginning is a kind of defeat.
It's giving up on what Huck and Jim have forged on the river.
Why did Twain do this? Could he not think of a better ending?
Or had he seen too much of how racial injustice continued even after the Civil War to believe that Huck and Jim could escape its indignities?
Therin lies my half-hearted defense of the ending.
It's a big pivot from the rest of the novel, but it might be an honest one.
Two friends on a river can accomplish a lot, but they cannot escape the deep systemic racism in America.
We get a taste of this when Jim risks his freedom to save Tom, and Huck says approvingly,
“I knowed he was white inside."
Huck means that Jim is brave and honorable and loyal,
but those are qualities that most of the white people he has met throughout the book have not exhibited.
But the fact that he uses “white” as a mark of approval shows that neither Huck nor Jim has become somehow magically free from racism.
And so in the end, the book concludes, not comically or tragically, but on a note of uncertainty,
as Huck realizes that he'll have to leave again, have to seek out a new place in which to feel at home.
“I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest,” he says,
“because Aunt Sally says she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before.”
We can only hope for Huck, as for America,
that his time on the river becomes part of a much larger journey toward acceptance and understanding and compassion.
Safe travels, Huck. Godspeed.
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