Mark Twain’s picaresque The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a mesmerizing tale of a runaway boy and a fugitive slave on a series of satirical escapades. Though it was written in post-Civil War America, the story is set in an earlier time. Slavery is still prominent among Southern states, and education is scarce. The protagonist, Huckleberry, is trying to escape the clutches of his abusive, alcoholic father. His companion Jim is fleeing from slavery, on a mission to become his own proprietor. While on their journey, they encounter many people who reveal their true colours.
Although some characters are exposed as gentle, patient, and caring, as in Jim’s case, the majority of others are shown to be selfish, disgusting and hostile. This novel was written in a light that prominently displays Twain’s opinion of society and cynical view of the human race. The characters that most noticeably demonstrate these beliefs are the Duke and Dauphin, Sherburn, and Pap Finn. The Duke and Dauphin are introduced into the narrative as conmen who are out for money and will stop at nothing to get it. Jim and Huckleberry are traveling down the river when they are bombarded by the two men, who claim to be of royal and noble descent.
Immediately, it becomes obvious to Huck that they are fraudulent, but he plays along, in order to keep the peace. Throughout the story, the so-called “Duke and King” devise several schemes to swindle people out of their money. Targeting the innocent and the trusting, their plots are carried out without a single hesitation or flickering conscience. They put on a “Shakespearean” play, print out counterfeit newspapers to sell, and worst of all, pretend to be the brothers of a dead man, in order to gain his inheritance.
Taking advantage of people in their most vulnerable moments, the two men pretend to be struck with grief. As described by Huck, “I never see anything so disgusting… all that kind of rot and slush, till it was just sickening. ” (165) Through the Duke and King, Twain is revealing the greed and apathy of society. It is understandable that people will stop at nothing to get what they need, but it is another situation to do the same for what you want. The reader is acquainted with the “mob mentality” most severely when Sherburn, a An inherent greed is what drives many of the characters in this novel.
Pap Finn, Huck’s biological father, has been absent from his life since he was a little boy. Leaving him with nothing but the memories of an abusive relationship and a fatherless life, Huckleberry lives without any clue if his father is even alive. When news travels that Huck has come into money, however, Pap decides it is time to return to his child. His motives are already obvious as he states “I’ve been in town two days, and I hain’t heard nothing but about you bein’ rich. I heard about it away down the river too. That’s why I come. You git me that money tomorrow—I want it. ” (20)