Huckleberry Finn has a very active conscience, especially for a boy raised by a drunken lout of a father and no mother. His “inner voices” start really acting up in Chapter 16, when he tries to decide if he has done the right thing by helping Jim to run away. He feels “bad and low” because he “knowed very well (he) had done wrong.” However, he reasons it out by passing the blame onto poor parenting (“a body that don’t get started right whn he’s little ain’t got no show”) and continues to silence the voices by reasoning that he would have felt just as bad if he had turned Jim in as he does now when protecting him.
What’s the use you learning to do right when it’s troublesome to do right and ain’t no trouble to do wrong, and the wages is just the same? I was stuck. I couldn’t answer that. So I reckoned I wouldn’t bother no more about it, but after this always do whichever come handiest at the time.
I guess that’s one way to live with yourself! Sort of a “damned if I do, damned if I don’t” philosophy.
Huck’s troubles continue in chapter 26. This time he feels sorry for the poor orphan girls that are getting fleeced by the duke and the king, and since he doesn’t really care for them anyway at this point, he steals their inheritance back and hides it, with the thought of returning it to them at a safer time. Here he steals for a “good” purpose, I guess.
The final blow to Huck’s overactive conscience occurs in Chapter 31. The duke and the king have just turned Jim in for $40.00. Huck goes back to the raft and spends a few pages wrestling with himself over the “right” course of action. “The more I studied about this the more my conscience went to grinding me, and the more wicked and low-down and ornery I got to feeling.” He even tries to pray, the way his Sunday School teacher in the past must have told him, but “the words wouldn’t come…because my heart warn’t right…you can’t pray a lie.” This time, he comes clean by writing a letter to Miss Watson, confessing the “sin” of stealing Jim and telling her Jim’s location, which makes him feel “washed clean,” but promptly remembers all the good things Jim had done for him on their journey and feels miserable about the letter. Between a rock and a hard place, Huck finally decides to sin boldly – or “go to hell,” as he puts it. He tears up the letter and resigns himself to a life of wickedness, beginning with rescuing Jim. “As long as I was in, and in for good, I might as well go the whole hog.” Ironically, his “wicked” choice is really the loving one – at least where Jim is concerned.
So, I can’t say I agree with the Doctrine of Huckleberry all the time, but there are a few gems I might save for future dilemmas:
1. Confession feels good.
2. Doing the “wrong” thing in the eyes of society, is sometimes exactly the “right” thing to do.
3. Faced with a difficult choice, debate, search your heart, seek wisdom from the right sources and then, just go for it! Follow your conscience. It was put there for a reason, I think.