According to Merriam-Webster, a bildungsroman is “a novel about the moral and psychological growth of the main character. ” Huckleberry Finn is an ideal example for this type of character. Just from his simple changing perception of slaves, especially Jim considering that he lives in such a racist and restrictive society. Huckleberry Finn is an illustration of a bildungsroman because he overcomes many stereotypes and preconceived notions about slaves and blacks. His changing and growing personality is displayed throughout the novel and shapes the theme of tolerance that is shown.
Huckleberry Finn’s view of Jim at the beginning of the novel is very typical of what any perception would be of a slave during this time period. He thinks of Jim just as Miss Watson’s slave; not a person and definitely not a friend. However, when he and Jim find each other and go out to the island, this is when Huck begins to see Jim as a person, not just a slave. This was a major step because Huck grew up with the notion that slaves were less than him, and he reversed that stereotype within his mind.
When he must make the decision whether to reveal the whereabouts of Jim, Huck states, “It was a close place. I took . . . up [the letter I’d written to Miss Watson], and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: “All right then, I’ll go to hell”—and tore it up. It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming. He could have done what he was supposed to and make Jim return to Miss Watson, but instead he goes against what is considered ‘right’ in his society, and does what is right, which is a massive step and this displays how Huckleberry Finn is a bildungsroman. At the beginning of the novel, Tom Sawyer convinces Huck that in order to become one of the ‘robbers gang,’ he must also become “sivilized” by the Widow. Huck goes along with this situation for some time, until he decides that just because Tom and the Widow want him to, doesn’t mean this is right for him.
He goes against the grain of society and leaves, which was quite a bold move for a young boy to make. This is not only an example of bildungsroman, but also is a loss of innocence. Throughout the novel, Huck is constantly exposed to concepts and decisions way past what he should be able to handle. At the end of the novel, Aunt Sally makes an attempt to “sivilize” him, which Huck rejects after the attempts that the Widow and Miss Watson made. He says, “I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before. He instead decides to keep exploring, but instead go west. Huck defies everything that he knows about society of the time and does what he thinks is right for him, which is monumental for not only a young boy, but any person in general. Bildungsroman is one of the key aspects of Huckleberry Finn and it drives the novel as well as the character. Huck Finn develops and matures throughout the novel in his perception of Jim and his decision to go against the grain of society in the Southern 1830s and 1840s. Huck Finn is an exemplary piece of literature to display bildungsroman and its impact on a story and its characters.