I really should open this commentary with the notice that Mark Twain posts at the beginning of the story: Persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banish; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot. - By Order of the Author.
Okay, with that out of the way I get an impression that pretty much every English Teacher and University lecture that has gone on to study this book in detail and to discuss this with their students should be either prosecuted, banished, or shot. Okay, I haven't actually attempted to find a motive, moral, or plot, and I have not actually studied this book in any form of educational institution, so I guess I am safe there, but then again being a student is probably somewhat safer in this context than being a teacher.
Therefore, I think I should open this commentary by saying: anybody thinking that this commentary is about a motive will be prosecuted, anybody thinking this is about a moral will be banished, and anybody thinking this is about a plot will be shot (okay, let us leave out the shooting part). By order of myself. However, I hope that I am actually allowed to talk about what I have gathered from this book, despite the fact that I highly doubt Mark Twain was serious when he wrote the foreword.
This is a story about a boy and an escaped slave who travel down the Mississippi in search of adventure and freedom. As with the other story I have read of Twain's, I don't think he wanted people to read it from an academic standpoint, because as we all know, when we are forced to study a book in school and then forced to write an essay on that particular book, we lose all enjoyment out of that book. That is probably why I read a lot of fantasy novels in High School and stayed away from the classics, namely because of the fact that we had to read them indepth, and find morals and meanings rather than simply enjoying the adventure.
This story, though, I believe, is about freedom. Jim and Huck travel down the river on a raft searching for freedom, which in many cases is elusive. Jim is a Negro, which in those times generally meant that he was a slave. Even though this book was written after the abolition of slavery, Negroes in America found, and still find, that freedom is elusive. While they may not be slaves in name, many are still slaves to backward racist attitudes and, in many cases, poverty. Take the civil rights movement in the United States which was sparked by a Negro woman who refused to move to the back of the bus (though as a high school student, we loved the back of the bus).
Huck is a different story, in that it is not because he is black, but rather because he did not grow up in the same way that his friend Tom Sawyer grew up. As far as we know he has no mother, and his father was the town drunk that would beat him and use him for his own purposes. This story begins after Tom Sawyer ends (which basically makes it a sequel), with the widow trying to civilise Huck, but he hates it, and even though Tom tries to free him by creating an imaginary world of pirates and robbers, Huck knows that this is not true freedom. However, his father returns to the town, and Huck's freedom is curtailed even more, at which point he flees, meets Jim, and travels down the river.
Even then this quest for freedom is elusive. At one point he meets a family that is at war with another family, and in a way we see how the cycle of anger and hate seems to keep these people enslaved. They are forever fighting each other, over generations, until the whole reason behind this war is forgotten and all they know is that they hate each other, and this war continues because they have forgotten why it even started and it has become the status quo. In many cases we can see this today, where the reason behind a war is forgotten, and people fight just because (take the idea of the French and the English, who traditionally hate each other, but there is no reason or memory as to why they hate each other except for the fact that they are neighbours).
Then there is the Duke and the King, a couple of con artists who are travelling from town to town stealing from people through lies and deceit. At first Huck and Jim rescue them because they believe they are helping them out, but then it becomes obvious that these two are not all that nice and innocent. In fact we learn that in some cases they are a reflection of Huck's father. Even when Huck attempts to escape from them after they anger a whole town with one of their confidence tricks, they both seem to escape but they catch up with Huck again, at which point Huck needs to pull a fast one himself.
It is funny how the confidence trickster can be connected with the slave owner, and I have seen it myself in my own life. They use find sounding arguments, and offers of friendship to slip themselves into your life, and they begin to leech off of you to support their own habits, but you never seem to be able to get away from them. It is like the drug user enslaved to their habit who cannot get away from the habit not because of his own desire, but because all of his friends are enslaved as well. So it is with the confidence trickster, who becomes your friend and slowly alienates you from all your other friends to the point where the only friend you have is the trickster.
While many of you already know how the book ends, I am loathe to make a comment on it anyway. The question we may ask though is whether the main characters have found their freedom. That is not a question that I am going to answer but rather let you decide that for yourself.