Religious Hypocrisy and Racism in Huckleberry Finn
In Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, a very powerful and potent message lies behind the lighthearted and humorous storyline. Twain uses wit and humor in Huckleberry Finn to satirize and expose elements of society that he believed needed reform, namely religious hypocrisy and racial prejudice.
Throughout the novel, religious hypocrisy is very prevalent as Twain illustrates that many people do not apply their religion to their everyday lives. The Widow Douglas forces Huck to go to church, teaches him Bible verses, and tries to get him to clean up his act. She condemns him for smoking, although "she took snuff too; of course that was all right, because she done it herself (6). This humorous statement has a purpose behind it. Twain shows what a hypocrite the Widow is. She teaches Huck about living to go to the "good place," but owns slaves, which is condemned in the Bible. She not realize that what she is advising Huck to do, she does not do herself. Huck also experiences religious hypocrisy when he stays with the Grangerfords. When they all go to church on Sunday, "the men [take] their guns along . . . and [keep] them between their knees or [stand] them handy against the wall" while they listen to a sermon on brotherly love (154). After the sermon, they all discuss what a great message it has. This ironic situation is almost humorous, as the Grangerfords and Sheperdsons sit in the pews listening to the sermon while they may be polishing their guns. They think that no wrongs subsist in killing each other as long as they go to church every Sunday. The fact that the Grangerfords and Sheperdsons bring guns to church shows that they do not apply what they learn on Sunday to their everyday lives, making them religious hypocrites. Uncle Silas is also guilty of religious hypocrisy as he "come[s] in every day or two to pray with [Jim]" (311). The wit and irony in this situation is not as appar