By J. Wash Watts
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Additional resources for A Survey of Syntax in the Hebrew Old Testament
Huck even shows compassion for the King and the Duke when they are tarred and feathered later in the novel: “Well, it made me sick to see it; and I was sorry for them poor pitiful rascals, it seemed like I couldn’t ever feel any hardness against them any more in the world. It was a dreadful thing to see. Human beings can be awful cruel to one another” (290). In Huck we see not only a battle between custom and human sympathy but between inculcated language and the authentic heart-speech that can dispense with such convention.
The entire speech, then, points to the inscription of these cultural customs in language, and it is the language of his culture that Huck must move beyond in order to act ethically. If men are machines, Huck malfunctions in this climactic scene when he decides to go to hell to help his friend. He is most assuredly programmed to think and speak in a certain way, or, perhaps more precisely, to think in a prescribed way because he speaks in a certain way. And yet in this scene Huck acts in direct opposition to his programming.
As many critics have pointed out, then, the entire novel can be seen at heart as the story of Huck’s overcoming this bias and learning compassion for Jim. In an early example, when the raft is lost in the fog and Huck plays the trick on Jim of letting him think it was all a dream, Huck is racked with guilt at having hurt Jim. “I didn’t do him no more mean tricks,” Huck 30 Machine and Metaphor declares, “and I wouldn’t done that one if I’d a knowed it would make him feel that way” (105). And when Huck sees Jim “moaning and mourning to himself,” he believes he “knowed what it was about” and declares “I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks does for theirn.