Analysis of Satire in Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain is known for, possibly more so than anything else, his sharp, witty, subtle satirization of the society in which he lived. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn exemplifies Twain's ability to write a compelling story with just enough tongue-in-cheek satire to allow the general public to be capable of discerning its message. Twain's introduction of the Duke and the Dauphin, two of the only definitive antagonists, introduces a new layer of subtle, critical satirization of racism and slavery, oppression, morality, and Christianity to the novel.

When the Dauphin allowed “children and niggers free” to his scam Twain is stabbing his satirical pen into several topics. Children and African-Americans are allowed in for free because they are thought to be somehow inferior to adult Caucasians. However, Twain intentionally attaches this elitist mentality to one of the novel's most evil characters. Twain clearly implies that the current moral code which condescends children and African-Americans is inherently evil. Delving deeper into this quote an air of ambiguity appears around the word “free.” Independently of the context, the word seems fairly straightforward. Yet when reminded that freedom from societal oppression is one of the novel's leitmotifs, the word choice appears to be exceedingly significant. Twain attacks both societal beliefs and capitalism in this phrasing. Societal beliefs come under fire when we interpret the quote as saying that children and African-Americans are capable of freedom, whereas adult Caucasians have been bound by their complacency. Twain attacks capitalism by implying that the adult Caucasians, those who are considered to be “superior,” are the ones spending money to be lead by a hypocritical conman. This implication suggests Twain's opposition to capitalistic societies in which money is not necessarily earned, but more obtained by one mean or another.

The Dauphin continues to explain that after his hypocrisy is exposed, it is an African-American who wakes him and warns him of the rising mob. This simple anecdote serves a duplex purpose. Twain continues to glorify the African-American as a race that maintains a resilient morality despite overwhelming obstacles. Twain portrays the average African-American as being kind, thoughtful, and generally merry, often more so than the average Caucasian. The Dauphin's anecdote also serves to wave the proverbial finger at society for it's inherent reliance on violence. Twain in this instance, as well as in many others, makes the town's immediate solution to a dissatisfactory situation to form a mob driven by gratuitous violence. It is significant to note that the mob would have given the Dauphin half an hour to run as if it would elevate the thrill of the hunt. Twain clearly shows a deep disgust for society's overuse of unnecessary violence.

As the Duke is describing his most frequently used scams, he mentions tragedy. This is both ironic due to the Duke's profession and relevant to a leitmotif Twain has begun to build by this point in the story. Twain mocks the way society views death and tragedy through subtle, yet repeated satirization. Twain finds his society's excessive expression of misery in response to tragedy to be foolish and insincere. After his attack on this morality, Twain goes on to attack one of the primary sources of this morality; Christianity. The Duke's statement that he is capable of successfully posing as a preacher shows several weaknesses in Christianity. Primarily, this proves that legitimate preachers are capable of no stronger an appeal to ethos than the Duke, a man who is in many ways the foil of a proper Christian. However, the portrayal of such a wicked character as a preacher also serves to criticize Christianity in its beliefs and practices. It should certainly be noted that the Duke is a conman, and as such, Twain implies that preachers, and Christianity as a whole, con their followers out of their money.

Twain's bitter satirization of the society in which he lived is relentless, yet eloquently subtle. Through the manipulation of opinions and actions of antagonists such as the Duke and the Dauphin Twain is able to convey his messages with great potency. Twain consistently abuses these antagonists to mercilessly satirize racism and slavery, oppression, morality, and Christianity.