In the closing episode, however, we lose sight of Jim in the maze of farcical invention.” On the raft, Jim was in a new environment, where old rules need not apply—especially given its private nature.
But how quickly old ways kick back in, irrespective of whether you were a Huck or a Jim in that prior context.
As Leo Marx put it in a 1953 essay, when Tom enters the picture, Huck falls “almost completely under his sway once more, and we are asked to believe that the boy who felt pity for the rogues is now capable of making Jim’s capture the occasion for a game.
He becomes Tom’s helpless accomplice, submissive and gullible.” And to Marx, this regressive transformation is as unforgiveable as it is unbelievable.
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.The fact is that he has undergone a similar transformation.On the raft he was an individual, man enough to denounce Huck when Huck made him the victim of a practical joke.Peer pressure is an incredibly powerful force, no matter your age. Each one of these factors on its own is enough to complicate the situation immensely—and together, they create one big complicated mess, that makes it increasingly likely that Huck will act just as he does, by conforming to Tom’s wishes and reverting to their old group dynamic. As it turns out, even though peer pressure is ubiquitous and conformity, a powerful force, there are certain ages where the dynamic peaks.In general, we tend to care—and care desperately at that—what other people think of us. One classic set of studies from 1979 looked at over 500 children from the 3 grades and examined their tendency to conform to both peers and parents on a range of behaviors.Before we rush to judge Huck—and to criticize Twain for veering so seemingly off course—we’d do well to consider a few key elements of the situations.First, Huck is a thirteen (or thereabouts)-year-old boy. What’s more, he is a teenager from the antebellum South.And what’s more, the sharpest decline was in conformity to pro-social behaviors. Jim is an adult—and an adult who has become a whole lot like a parent to Huck throughout their adventures, protecting him and taking care of him (and later, of Tom as well) much as a parent would.And the behavior that he wants from Huck, when he wants anything at all, is prosocial in the extreme (an apology, to take the most famous example, for playing a trick on him in the fog; not much of an ask, it seems, unless you stop to consider that it’s a slave asking a white boy to acknowledge that he was in the wrong). And his demands are far closer to the anti-social side of the scale.And the trajectory is true of Jim just as much as it is of Huck.In the same essay where he laments Huck’s fall from heroic grace to Tom Sawyer’s old sidekick, Marx comments on Jim’s problematic decline as well: “It should be added at once that Jim doesn’t mind [the change in Huck] too much.