Motif to Theme in Huckleberry Finn – Essay Example

Motif to Theme in Huckleberry Finn – Essay Example

When approaching the writing of Mark Twain, especially in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, readers should consider a variety of themes and motifs at work in the novel. Comparing these two literary aspects helps individuals delve even deeper into the underlying devices at work in Twain’s writing. With such rich text to work with, there are numerous themes and motifs readers can explore.

The difference between a motif and a theme is significant. Themes exist in the underlying fabric of the entire novel. They include major concepts, especially social, which the novel addresses through actions and words. Major themes at work in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:

  • Societal civility. Much of Huckleberry Finn’s adventures involve him addressing the benefits and downfalls of being ‘civilized.’ At times, the characters even display ‘uncivilized’ behaviors that are morally right – such as helping escaped slaves. Twain develops the theme of social acceptance and civility throughout the novel, commenting on what exactly makes a person civilized.
  • Race relations. The social commentary, personal conflicts and other events in Huckleberry Finn often address race relations in the old South. Characters face moral dilemmas involving slavery and live during a time where racism, despite being ethically incorrect, was deeply ingrained in the population.

There are other themes within Huckleberry Finn, but the above two are perhaps the most prominent and widely discussed. Motifs, however, are far different from themes. A motif is a repetition of behaviors, ideas or devices that helps to support the major themes within the novel. The main motifs at work in Huckleberry Finn include:

  • Truth and lies. Especially regarding religion and morality, the motif of honesty runs rampant throughout Huckleberry Finn. Characters are chastised for lying even though the lie saved innocent men; at the same time, lies told by the church are accepted as unchangeable truth. Twain comments on society’s hypocrisy by highlighting their emphasis on ‘telling the truth’ while illuminating their dishonest ways.
  • Children vs. Adults. The novel also addresses the intelligence of various ages of people in the novel. Children are often seen to form informed, logical decisions or manage well in tricky situations, while adults are portrayed as far more impractical. The novel questions who is in control – children or adults – and hints that adults, though older, have had their initial intelligences corrupted by the social stigmas of adulthood.

There are more motifs and themes to be found within Mark Twain’s novel, but these are some of the main ones often discussed in classroom and by literary experts.

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