October 24, 2004

Examining the River in terms of Symbolism in "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn"

In “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, the Mississippi River plays several roles and holds a prominent theme throughout much of the story as a whole. Huckleberry Finn and Jim are without a doubt the happiest and most a peace when floating down the river on their raft. However, the river has a much deeper meaning than just a compilation of water. It almost goes to an extent of having its own personality and character traits. The river offers a place for the two characters, Huck and Jim, to escape from everybody and even everything in society and leaves them with a feeling of ease. In the middle section of Huckleberry Finn, the river takes on more of a concrete meaning and will be discussed more so in the paragraphs that follows.

Before investigating exactly the roles that the river played in this section of the novel, I decided to actually get a dictionary definition of river before continuing. However, I believe this may sound very simply but it may indeed clear up controversies or confusions found later on in the presentation. The definition of a river is simply a natural wide flow of fresh water across the land into the sea, a lake, or another river. I found this definition to be rather what I had intended and decided to now find how the novel, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” used the river in the context as a whole but more importantly as symbolism in the middles sections of Chapters 16-31.

The majority of symbolism in regards to the river is found in Chapter 18 when Huck and Jim return to their raft after an adventure in which they get caught up with a feud between the Grangerford’s and the Shepherdson’s. Huck believes that “he had never felt easy till the raft was two mile below there and out in the middle of the Mississippi.” This quotation shows exactly how Huck feels in regards to the river in this case the Mississippi and its ability to portray a peaceful mind-set. The river in this context shows a more peaceful setting than that of society. As the author shows, the river and its society is calm and the land and its society is troublesome in a variety of different aspects.

I found another quote rather similar and close in context to the first that shows exactly the river in regards to a peaceful and serene aspect. Huck and Jim also after escaping from the feud on land believes that “there warn’t no home like a raft after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don’t. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.” This continues to argue the point that the river is a place of freedom from the terrible situations found on land. As stated in the quotation, the river was a home where Jim and Huck could relax, feel comfortable, and generally be at ease. This was very easy to comprehend as a reader but to envision a home as the river or even a raft on a river does not necessarily coincide with ideals of a picturesque home.

In Chapter 19, we continue to view exactly why Huck felt the river was so peaceful through the various descriptions offered about by the author. The author in this chapter seems to make his words flow like a river and generally captivate the audience to a point in which they feel the calmness of the river as well. Huck begins by telling that “sometimes we would have that whole river all to ourselves for the longest time. Yonder was the banks and the islands, across the water; and maybe a spark or two—on a raft or a scow, you know; and maybe you could hear a fiddle or a song coming over from one of them crafts.” This particular quotation brings an individual into the story to almost picture the aspects described by the author. In reading this quotation, you can just literally sense the flowing of the river and the peaceful sounds that were outlined. This not only outlines the calmness of nature but the ability for freedom. The freedom is portrayed in the ability to do as one pleases when and even wherever they decide to do so.

The last and most prominent example of the river symbolizing peace, calmness, and freedom was the ability of Huck and Jim to when they wanted “lit the pipes, and dangle their legs in the water and talk about all kinds of things.” The most surprising aspect was when Huck stated that “we was always naked, day and night.” This continues to portray the theme of peace, calmness, and freedom that is given to the characters by the river. The most obvious is that because the river was so peaceful and calm that it led to their freedom to do as they please without the barriers given by society on land.

When reading this part of the novel, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” I found that Huck and Jim were set in a period of society that was or can be labeled as somewhat hypocritical, judgmental, and hostile. However, the characters have one escape that being the Mississippi River. The river is a quiet and peaceful place where Huck and Jim can revert to any time to examine any predicament they might find themselves in. The natural flow of the river and its calmness causes deep thoughts, which shows how unnatural the collective thought of society can be. We actually see Huck grow up having the river as a place for solitude and thought, where he can participate at times and other times sit back and watch. The ideas of nature, peace, and freedom, are presented in the form of the river where Huck and Jim go to think. The river is a very important part of the novel, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” because it shows that the river signifies calmness, peace, and freedom for both characters. Huckleberry Finn is actually struggling to find himself in regards to his freedom to be an individual created by his own morals and not societies and Jim is essentially looking for freedom from slavery. It is essentially through the river that we see each character grow and realize the capability they each possess.

Questions to Discuss:

1. Can you as an audience find any other examples of when the river was used as a symbolism of peace, calmness, or freedom for the characters?

2. Do you see any other areas of symbolism in regards to the river that is taken on throughout the novel?

3. What are some other areas of symbolism mentioned throughout the novel that really struck your attention?

4. Do you agree that the river is a symbolism of especially freedom? Explain. If not, what do you think the author is trying to use the river as throughout the novel?

Posted by MelissaHagg at October 24, 2004 7:39 PM

In my viewpoint, the main theme of the novel is the conflict between civilization and "natural life." Huck represents natural life through his freedom of spirit, his uncivilized ways, and his desire to escape from civilization. He was brought up without any rules and has a strong resistance to anything that might civilize him. This can be found in the first chapter through the efforts of the Widow Douglas: she tries to force Huck to wear new clothes, give up smoking, and to learn the Bible. Throughout the novel, Twain seems to suggest that the uncivilized way of life is better; civilization corrupts rather than improves human beings.
Maybe Mississippi River could be symbolismm of "natural life"-freedom, happiniess and peace as you state in your log.

Posted by: Hui Lin at October 25, 2004 12:48 AM


I am glad that you find my insights interesting. My personal opinion of this book would be that it is much more enjoyable than the Scarlet Letter. Personally, I like reading about adventures and how the characters go through obstacles to achieve their goal. When I was younger, I have read "Adventures of Tom Sawyer", and I enjoyed reading it. This book goes along with Tom Sawyer, because it's a different character, but same genre. The only thing I didn't like is the way Jim spoke in the book. Sometimes I understood what he has said and sometimes it's hard to interpret. I would say the author tends to use irony a bit in the story at some places, but it's not as visible. I think there is some satire involved in the story as well. It's really a mix of different literacy terms, and that's why this book is popular do to different approaches taken by the author. There is more than one way to look at the text.

It's amazing how Huck is only about 13 years old and how he makes his decisions like an adult. It's neat to compare how kids from the past acted like to the kids nowadays. Do you think children in the earlier generations worked harder than children of today? I would be interested to know your opinion.

-Nabila :)

Posted by: NabilaUddin at October 25, 2004 12:41 PM

Nabila and Hui,

I am so glad to see that my blog entry and presentation have sparked some interest in you both. I really appreciate your thoughts Hui on the river actually meaning natural-life. I had never even thought that might have been true. I was wondering though could you give me some more directly from the novel such as quotes that might show this is true. I know you gave me several examples and I thought that was fantastic. I just wondered if you could follow it up with some quotations.

In regards to your comment, Nabila, I really liked the question you brought up for me to answer. I think that children in the past did actually work harder than children today. I base this on my viewpoints and from working at the Seton Hill Child Services program that children are often given a lot in terms of objects and aspects of such things as freedom, justice, etc. What do you think in regards to this question? Do you think that children worked harder then or do they work harder today? I would really appreciate it if both of you would help to get the class discussion going with your comments. Thanks so much! Hope to hear from you both!!


Posted by: MelissaHagg at October 25, 2004 12:59 PM


In regards with your entry on the "River Symbolism", I would say that indeed the river is a major symbol that represents Huck's life. The river is his key to enjoy his freedom away from his pap, the widow, and Miss Watson. He wants to do want he wants, and no one will control his life. He wants to make his own decisions. And the best place is the river, where he and Jim are traveling by a raft.

In regards with your question whether children work harder today or back then, I would say that children worked harder back then. They have totally different views. They have to do almost everything on their own. You heard the expression, "I had to walk fifteen miles to school, when I was your age..." Well, it's true. They did have it tougher and nowadays, children have so much advantages, like technology to help them out. They have privilages to have so many resources to turn to, but children from the past didn't have as much. They had to work hard to achieve their goal and to discover life from their own perspective.


Posted by: NabilaUddin at October 25, 2004 2:14 PM


I know that we are the few bloggers that hear responses from each other, but it's alright. At least, we are learning each other's opinions about different topics and it's informative.

To tell you the truth, I didn't know about the symbolism. I really didn't notice the river as being an important concept. It was until I read your blog before your presenation and after your presentation, that I understood the symbols in the book. I didn't realize that there are so many in the book. Each one represents different views. Yes, the land and river are important.

I feel that the land is a symbol of not getting peace within one's self, because everytime Huck and Jim are on land, the get into trouble or they seek danger. They is a lot distrubance coming into play whenever they are in land, especially with the king and the duke. If they hadn't met with them on land, then they would have been free.

The river is more peaceful and Huck and Jim can express what they feel and they don't encounter as much problems as they did on land. There are a couple of incidents were the river is not calm, but more incidents happened when they were on land.

P.S. Also, my blog has the same response as I have written on your blog. If you want to comment on my blog, then it will be fine, because I tend to comment on both blogs for replys. II believe it's easier for discussion. Thanks.

-Nabila :)

Posted by: NabilaUddin at October 25, 2004 6:04 PM

I definately agree with you the river can be seen as a symbol of freedom for Huck and Jim to escape from their problems. I also think that the river can be seen in a negative aspect. So many of their probelems actually occur on the river such as their boat crashing and meeting with the king and the duke.
In response to your question about any other symbolism, I think Jim could be symbolizing a father figure towards Huck. Everyone sees them as friends, but Jim is that older male who kind of guides and helps Huck, .. what do you think?

Posted by: Erin Manko at October 25, 2004 6:21 PM


I do agree with the point that you have brought up about Huck and Jim being somewhat of a team. I also do believe to some respect that Jim is a father figure for Huck. However, I do not think that Huck would want to come out and ever admit that because of the constraints put upon him in society. I really believe that deep down this is true, but I think that Huck is too ashamed of what society would think of him if he actually admitted to Jim having a stronger role than just the friend figure because Huck has a problem actually admitting this aspect. Thanks for the question and I am glad you became interested in my question. It is great to get feedback on another aspect of symbolism in terms of the river and the relationship of Jim to Huck.


Posted by: MelissaHagg at October 25, 2004 6:51 PM


Sure, I'll be glad to elaborate on my thoughts about the land being symbolic. It seems to me that land has been a destruction to Huck and Jim, because that's where they have witnessed the most violence and death. Some examples, include the killing of the drunk by Shepburn, killing of the Grangerfords, Huck's feelings that he wished he was dead, etc. When Huck and Jim met the Duke and the king, it wasn't as bad, but still they were annoying Huck because he knew they were frauds. They were just harmless crooks, but still Huck couldn't stand him. He met him on land and sometimes the frauds went with Huck and Jim on their raft and sailed on the river. However, it wasn't the same satisfying feeling he had before. It changed when he met those two frauds. Huck didn't feel as negative when he was on the river. He felt more at peace within himself. The only incident that was distrubing on the river was when he and Jim went inside the shipwreck and saw a man that was shot in the back. Other than that, the river was the only place where he could turn to. Thanks for responding quickly. I appreciate it. I always enjoy viewing your insights of the texts.

-Nabila :)

Posted by: NabilaUddin at October 26, 2004 10:01 PM


I am curious, do you think the words "womb" and "home" are synonymous when it comes to the Ohio River in this book.

The river is such a safe haven and the people are so free on the river from the injustices of the land.

Your presentation was very thoughtful.


Posted by: Katie Aikins at October 27, 2004 10:06 PM


Yes, I do agree that according to the Ohio River that womb and home are essentially synonymous. I found that it is just like in my presentation and in your words that the river is essentially a home as well as a safe haven for the injustices that are found on the land.

I was wondering if you also have any theories or possibilities on the significance or symboslism of the land. Do you think that the land was essentially to be portrayed as cruel, dangerous, and greedy? Or do you think there is some other significance for the land than I have stated. I really would like to hear your opinion!!

Thanks for the comment on my presentation.. I really appreciate the compliment :)


Posted by: MelissaHagg at October 31, 2004 8:53 PM


Thanks, for also responding back to me so quickly. I really appreciate your opinion and now I believe that I understand your reasoning and basis of ideas. I now believe to understand both my own perceptions on the text but also yours as well!! Thanks a lot!!


Posted by: MelissaHagg at October 31, 2004 8:55 PM


Very good essay! I am in eleventh grade and I have to do a research on how the Mississippi River is a symbol in Huck Finn. I was just wondering where you got your sources from and which ones are the most helpful? I really appreciate it.

Posted by: Catherine at November 4, 2004 7:37 PM


I really enjoyed reading your essay. And I am debating between this and a couple of other topics for a topic I am writing. To me the river is an equilizer. On the river there is no slavery or classes. It is also a society free area. Society stays on the banks and land but doesn't dare come to the river. Here Jim can act as more of a father figure to Huck and a best friend.

Would love to hear more from you!

Posted by: Sonia at March 20, 2005 6:14 PM

I just wanted to thank you for posting this essay. Your insight greatly assisted me in a paper and I am writing and I just wanted to thank you.

Posted by: Tom K at March 20, 2005 6:30 PM

Awsome post!
You helped me ROCK my Presentation.

Posted by: Ishan at April 10, 2005 11:49 AM

I'm sure you are all citing Melissa's contribution when you submit your work for credit, right?

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at April 10, 2005 2:25 PM

Hey. Thanks. This helped me a lot on my research paper on the symbolism of Huck and the River. I think you just helped me pass junior english.
<3 Heather

Posted by: Heather Petty at May 12, 2005 9:17 PM

The symbolism in this book is amazing! I love how Twain uses his satire to create a serious but funny moment. However, the river was such an inspiration to freedom, and Jim representing all the southern slaves was a tremendous work of literary infamy. I think this book is by far better than the Scarlet Letter, but the Scarlet Letter had way more sybolim in it.

Posted by: Christine at November 22, 2005 12:35 PM

Your essay was very insightful. I'm actually writing a paper on the symbolic meanings of the River in Huck Finn, and i found your essay to be very helpful. Do you have any more information such as quotes, or just your input on the subject? if u could email me back i'd be appreciative. thanks


Posted by: Eden at December 6, 2005 12:14 PM

Ah, symbols! Not only is the river a strong symbol of the pair's freedom and the journey to it, but also their experiences on the raft. Huck and Jim are isolated and rather alone, keeping them seperate and distant from the traditions of the century they live in, and making the transition of changing values for the black community. If the river can be seen as a symbol of conformity, Huck and Jim, struggling to complete their journey, figuratively battle conformist ideals. Considering the time period on which Twain wrote The Adventures, (after the Civil War) this potential view of the raft and the river can both be seen as major milestones marking this important event in time.

Posted by: Alexandra at March 20, 2006 7:50 PM


I feel there is indeed plenty about the river that could be considered negative, and not just from the other men that travel it's waters. The river floods, creating shipwrecks. The river also becomes enveloped in a thick fog, which makes Huck and Jim miss the mouth of the Ohio River, and head in the direction of the South, certianly not the place you would wish to be if you were a runaway slave, or travelling with one.

Though the river remains a haven from civilization and it's corrupt ways even after they miss the Ohio river, they continue further and further into the Deep South, and further and further into slavery. The river starts as a symbol of freedom, but it could be considered more a symbol of escape as the story progresses further.

-Aaron (haw haw)

Posted by: Aaron May at March 27, 2006 11:08 PM

How is the steamer "Walter Scott" a symbol in this story?

Posted by: Sarah at April 19, 2006 8:15 PM

What are your sources. I'd really appreciate it.
Good Essay!

Posted by: Ethel at May 4, 2006 5:44 PM

First of all, I like this essay topic. You were asking whether or not anyone saw "any other areas of symbolism in regards to the river that is taken on throughout the novel." I would suggest that you take a paragraph to look into how the river serves as not only a haven from society, but also takes Huck deeper into the Southern society. As the river takes him closer to New Orleans, Huck learns more and more about society, and many of his actions are contrary to the beliefs of these societies. For instance, the freeing of a slave, saying he would rather go to Hell than see Jim a slave again, and realizing that black people are people too.

Posted by: Ben at May 15, 2006 1:02 AM


Posted by: JERICHO MAZA at June 1, 2006 11:56 PM

I liked this

Posted by: Lindsey at July 21, 2006 9:01 PM

In my opinion the cloud of racial controversy surrounding The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not justified. I believe this because this story was set and written in the 1800's and during that time it wasn't considered immoral or erroneous to consider black people nothing more than property. In chapter 15 when Huck plays a joke on Jim, Jim reacts in such a way that it shows that even slaves wanted to be treated like human beings. The way he reacts causes Huck to make what I think was the most meaningful and most moving statement in the book, " It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a @#$%; but I done it, and I warn't ever sorry for it afterward, neither. I didn't do him no more mean tricks, and I wouldn’t’a done that one if I'd 'a' knowed it would make him feel that way."
Again in a dialogue between Huck and Tom's Aunt Sally in chapter 32, (“Good gracious anybody hurt?” “No’m, killed a @#$%” “Well it's luck; because sometimes people do get hurt”), Twain shows the times Huck lived in. Huck’s lack of emotion in the above statement makes him seem like a racist, but I think that Twain is satirizing the southern culture. I think that over the past fifty years people have become more and more sensitive to anything that could possibly be considered racial. It has been in my mind that nobody in this book is racist, not even Tom Sawyer. I say this because in the end of the book Huck has a talk with Tom when they are going to save Jim. Huck tells Tom that he was raised proper and doesn’t need to risk getting caught. Tom says, “Don’t you reckon I know what I’m about? Don’t I generly know what I’m about?” Huck said, “Yes.” Tom, “Didn’t I say I was going to help steal a @#$%?” With that I know that this book was not meant to be racial.

Posted by: AJ Dimilta at July 30, 2006 1:18 PM

The cloud of racial controversy surrounding the The Adventures Of Huckleberyy Finn, are woven throughout the chapters of this book. Fromt eh beggining to the end .... Jim was referred to as nigger, which is common language considering the time in which the book was written. There was another comment made in the early chapters of the book, page 76, when Jim was said to be "right; he was most always right; he had an uncommon level head for a nigger. This just goes to show that during that time, niggers, or black people, weren't known to have much common sense. And if so, they were looked at to have no good sense. This was the norm. in this book and in this time.

Posted by: Jessica Grant at August 8, 2006 7:17 AM

ur my hero!!!!!!!!!!!!!! i luv u melissa. u helped me so much w/ huckleberry finn!! if only u could do the same w/ wuthering heights. keep up the good work!!!!

luv jimmy

Posted by: jimmy at August 8, 2006 4:36 PM

I am doing a research project on the archetype the river and I used your artical. It helped me a lot.

Posted by: Amy at October 29, 2006 9:36 PM

Amy, Melissa wrote an excellent blog entry on the symbolism of the river, but you should check with your instructor before using Melissa's homework as a source for your research paper.

Posted by: Dennis G. Jerz at October 29, 2006 10:15 PM

Wow, I didn't think of this many examples. Nice job! I love how this is helping people two years later.... thank you.

Posted by: Molly at November 1, 2006 10:15 PM

this was a lot of help..i'm in college..and i was trying to start my term paper on the symbolism of the river and the characters and their feelings. thanks..lots of help!

Posted by: Erin at July 12, 2007 6:12 PM

I agree on how it wasn't racial back then. Twain might of tried to show how the idea of a black person being inferior to a white person is just ridiculous. This could also be why it wasn't popular in this time; on the same note it gives us a view on how it was back then.

I think this books is better than The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, because it has more meaning to it. The first one was really a child's book ,but this one is deeper than that.

The river I do see as a sense of freedom , but there are more symbols than that one. Take the clothing for example: it shows how the people who wear them are restrained -this can be restrained from seeing black people to be equal as well as the clothes not being quite as comforable-.
-On a personal note its cool to see people really arguing over this-

Posted by: Ashley /munchkin at December 28, 2007 2:26 PM
Post a comment

Remember personal info?