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Smiley takes her criticism on this point a step further: there is a chasm, she points out, between Huck’s stated affection for Jim and his willingness to then act on it, especially in these final episodes. But wouldn’t it be more correct to blame Huck’s only too real humanity?
Add to that the disparity between his social standing and education and Tom Sawyer’s, and you get a picture of someone who is quite different from a righteous fifty-something (or even thirty-something) literary critic who is writing in the twentieth century for a literary audience.
And that someone has to be judged appropriately for his age, background, and social context—and his creator, evaluated accordingly. And slavery is not a bunch of lines projected on a screen.
He doesn’t seem much affected when he discovers, at last, that Jim is alive after all.
And that’s not to mention the worst offence of all: Huck’s behavior once he reunites with his old partner in crime, Tom Sawyer.
Is it so surprising, then, that Huck sides with his old mate?
The behavior becomes even understandable when we add in a few more variables.
Another crucial caveat to Huck’s apparent metamorphosis: we tend to behave differently in private versus public spheres. A closed-door us is not the same as the us that faces the world in a social setting.
As psychologists from George Kelly on have argued, behavior is highly contextual—especially when it comes to behaviors that may not be as socially acceptable as one might hope. It is just them, alone on the river, social context flowing away. The moment that he returns to a social environment, when he joins the Grangerfords in their family feud.
Twain might have offended on other accounts, but there is one thing he got right: not only do so if he were a flesh-and-blood twelve year old fresh off a rafting adventure.
What is it exactly that critics of the novel’s final chapters object to?