Protest Against Social Evils through Literature

Article Posted in: Research Articles

A study of “protest against social evils through literature” with reference to Mark Twain’s The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn as a protest novel.

by – Neha Purohit, Vol.II, Issue.XXII, November 2016

Introduction to the Author:

Neha Purohit is anad-hoc faculty in KV no.2 in Bhopal. She has completer her masters in English Literature in 2011 from Govt. DB Girls College, Raipur. Further, she got her B.Ed from Savoiur College. She has been writing research artilces and got them published in various magazines and journals.



This paper reveals about the word “PROTEST”with taking certain important writers into consideration.Each writer expresses his thought with a motif. We can say that “Protest is perhaps as old as the human race itself”. Right from the time when Adam and Eve defiantly turned their back on the authority of God and walked out of heaven, hand in hand, protest has come to man more naturally than accommodation. Protest here depicts the daily suffering of the people under a force.The force may be political,emotional,social or psychological or economical.Its main concern are classes, clashes,oppression and segregation.As literature is basically the product of social forces, a writer cannot help projecting his experience into his writing. The history of the Negroes in America has been a history of slavery, cruelty, oppression, lynching, racial discrimination . Jim Crowism, meted out to them by the whites. These hurts are deep-rooted in the Negro psyche. So the “black writer, partly because of his own hurt consciousness and partly because he is in some way supposed to be the spokesman of his race, has often tried to raise the voice of protest in his writing. The urge to protest has been basic to the Negro novel since its inception. But the Negro novelist, or that matter, the Negro writer, is often branded as a propagandist by white critics or sometimes by the black critics also. It is true that the confusion between the realms of arts and propaganda plagued the early black literature. Yet there have been two streams of protest tradition among the black writers.Those who follow the first stream refuse find any difference between art and propaganda. Most of the writers of the Harlem Renaissance and before that come in this category. W.E.B.DuBo is believed that art has a primary political function. He said:

“All art is propaganda and ever must be, despite the wailing of the purists, I stand in utter shamelessness and say that whatever art I have for writing has been used always for propaganda, for gaining the right of the black folk to love and enjoy.” (DuBois ,W.E.B.10)

By the apex of the Harlem Renaissance, then, certain latent assumptions about the relationship between “art” and life had become prescriptive cannon. Some writers outlined what they called :

“the social compulsion of black literature, built as it was on the sorrow and strain inherent in .American slavery, on the difficulties that sprang from emancipation, on the feelings of revenge, despair, aspiration and hatred which arose as the Negro struggled and fought his way upward.”( Fisher.13).

        The other stream of protest literature came into being with the publication of Richard Wright’s novel, Native Son. But whereas DuBois considered art to be propaganda and did not mind being branded a propagandist of the black cause, Richard Wright and the others of his school believe that their work should not be called propaganda as it was only the expression to the feelings of the blacks and their position in the white society.

Robert Bone thinks that for the Wright School, literature is an emotional catharsis — a means of dispelling the inner tensions of race.

        In these novels, we find a lot of violence which is used as a weapon of protest. When a black person kills a white person in these novels, it is in largely, the fulfillment of desire long repressed. An attack upon a white person or his “black representative is an attack upon a symbol of racism and oppression. Ann Petry’s Lutie Johnson in ‘The Streetbludgeons’ a black man to death when he tries to rape her in preparation for turning her over to the rich white Harlem gangster who employs him. But in killing that “black man, she is only killing “the white world which thrust “black people into a walled enclosure from which there was no escape.”

        Closest to unalleviated racial protest is Chester Himes’ novel “If He Hollers Let Him Go “(1945), a novel whose neurotic, race conscious protagonist Bob Jones makes Wright’ s Bigger Thomas seem well adjusted by comparison. This story of racial discrimination in a wartime California shipyard has a kind of political sequel in Himes’s second novel Lonely Crusade (1947) Here the protagonist, a labor organizer by profession, struggles against discrimination in the unions and exposes the wartime betrayal of the Negro by the Communist party. Baldwin’s essay “Everybody’s Protest Novel,” published when he was only 24, initiates a lifelong battle to overcome his own vulnerability as well as his society’s fantasies and prejudices. His main objection to “Native Son” was that it confirmed the damning judgment on African-Americans delivered by their longstanding tormentors. Damaged by hatred and fear, Bigger Thomas tries to redeem his manhood through murder and rape. But this vengeful cruelty only validates “those brutal criteria bequeathed him at his birth,” reinforcing old degrading notions about black men. This is why the “protest novel,” far from being disturbing, had become a “comforting aspect of the American scene,” cherished by white liberals.

To accept, then, that violence and degradation were “the everlasting potential, or temptation, of the human race” was to disclaim moral immunity for any individual or collective; it was to break the simple opposition between virtue and guilt. The protest novel, however, soldered to a Manichaean notion of good and evil, ended up denying the “disquieting complexity” of the human being: the fact that, black or white, he is “something resolutely indefinable, unpredictable,” trapped eternally within a “web of ambiguity” and “paradox.”

 To conclude, Robert Bone has said about the element of protest in black literature:

“To succeed aesthetically, a novel must develop a theme of universal significance from an otherwise isolated segment of human life.”(Bone,Robert.25)

This paper focuses on Mark twain an american writer who wrote a novel The adventure of huckleberry finn which dealt with this issue but in satirical tone, denouncing the slavery issue,brutality ,racism and hypocrisy of society.

 “The Adventure of Hucklebery Finn” as a protest novel

The central idea of Huck Finn is “man’s inhumanity toward man”. Mark Twain depicted it under various forms, notably slavery and violence. These were the first targets of his satire, and the main cause of his pessimism and disappointment. Other minor targets were the frequent vices that had become part of frontier culture and life. These were drunkenness and materialism. Mark Twain confronted his here with all those evils one by one, and made him overcome them. Some of them were supported by social and religious institutions, and Huck’s victory over them confirmed Twain’s intention to change society. In short, Huck Finn was aimed at pointing out the ugliness, falseness, dishonesty and hypocrisy of society. As his contemporary writers did, Mark Twain too used the image of the shore being an awful place, and the river a safer and freer one. Two more themes explored include racism and slavery in the South. In Huckleberry Finn, Twain, by exposing the hypocrisy of slavery, demonstrates how racism distorts the oppressors as much as it does those who are oppressed.The protesting aspect of Huck Finn and author’s opinions about his times has been focused. Firstly, concentrating on Huck’s protest on all the targeted social evils, notably slavery, drunkenness, racial discrimination, religious hypocrisy and materialism will be analysed one by one. Finally, the slavery issue and religious hypocrisy will be tackled from different angles, namely the slave’s non-human status, the relationship between Huck and Jim, religion’s support for slavery and so on. It is believed by many scholars and critics that the first thing that led Mark twain to write the adventure of huckleberry finn was’man’s inhumanity towards man’. In Huck Finn we find many scenes of inhumanity under various forms.In addition, Mark Twain used Huck Finn, to attack with all his might religion, which he accused of having corrupted Huck’s innocent heart.Huck was about to be “a slave” of his conscience by denouncing Jim. His conscience had been corrupted by the slave-holding society and its hypocritical religion.The victory of instinct over conscience is highly moral and makes religion appear ridiculous in the mind of the readers. It was also an overwhelming victory of Huck who stands for the right, over society and religion which supported that immoral practice – slavery. As far as morality is concerned, Brander Matthews said that some of the qualities of Huck Finn are :Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is to be classified among protest novels. Its main aim was to protest against some evil practices that were frequent in mid-19th century America frontier society. To make it more attractive to the readers and more affective to change society, Mark Twain used satire, which is a literary manner of denouncing, criticising and laughing at the foibles, crimes or vices of a person or society, with the aim of correcting them. Usually, humour plays a great role and makes people laugh, which makes it easier for satire to reach its targets. This exactly applies to Huck Finn, for it attacked the vices of the 19th Century American society, with the intention of correcting them. Many of those vices had been witnessed by the author, who was sometimes victim of them. His life and experience provided him with much material. This proves that Mark Twain dealt with a situation that really existed and which he knew very well. He had lived in many areas, in many conditions, bad and good, had chanced his luck in printing, steamboat piloting, the army, mining, journalism, novel and essay writing,…All this rich background and experience allowed him to scorn and ridicule his contemporaries’ misdeeds. Also, Mark Twain chose his characters according to what he wanted to denounce, and all contributed to the success of his work. His satire was so severe toward society that the latter considered it to be outrageous, rough, coarse, immoral and inelegant. It was banned from libraries for years. This proves how deeply Huck Finn had reached its targets, namely corrupt society and institutions.

“the morality of it, the essentially ethical doctrine, the natural sense that underlies it…”( McMichael George.53)

Mark Twain also attacked religion which was the major supporter of slavery. In Huck’s action and reflection, Twain ridiculed religious principles that encouraged immorality. He always made Huck choose the right and moral side and disobey religious norms. Through Huck’s hesitations and choices, Twain encouraged people to listen to their instinct rather that to their conscience. He proved that the latter may easily be corrupted by society and religion. Huck – used his inventiveness, his quickness, his morality, his innocence and his love of adventure to ridicule not only the above mentioned vices, but also social, cultural and religious institutions.

Violence was one of the first evils Mark Twain satirized. He first presented the most frequent forms of it through Pap Finn’s brutality, the bloodshed resulting from a feud opposing two aristocratic families and Lynch Law. Then he ridiculed them. This violence had been on Mark Twain’s mind since his childhood, and its different forms in Huck Finn are strikingly similar to what he himself had witnessed. He found no other means to fight it but through satire, which is a much more efficient weapon than any other means in terms of ridding society of vices and other mischievous practices.

The other major evil that Mark Twain wanted to denounce with all his might was slavery. In the mid-19th century, life on the frontier was based on slavery. A slave was not a man, could be sold any how and at any time, and had no way to show his worth and claim his rights. Certainly, one of Twain’s goals was proving to the entire universe that a slave too, was a man, that blacks were not different from whites since the latter too were subjects to the same follies as blacks. Besides, in some cases, Mark Twain presented a black as being kinder, more loyal and more moral than whites.

To reach his goal, he used various means among which one may cite allowing Jim to achieve positive things, allowing him to display his human sentiments as well as good-naturedness, his kind-heartedness and his loyalty. Satire and humour played a great role in Twain’s success, because they served as a vehicle of his disgust and hatred against the frontier’s evil practices.

Mark Twain also attacked religion which was the major supporter of slavery. In Huck’s action and reflection, Twain ridiculed religious principles that encouraged immorality. He always made Huck choose the right and moral side and disobey religious norms. Through Huck’s hesitations and choices, Twain encouraged people to listen to their instinct rather that to their conscience. He proved that the latter may easily be corrupted by society and religion.One may even be tempted to assert that the only fictitious things in that novel are the characters’ names.


      Through above example we have explored how not only black writers but also american writer have tried to exteriorize the daily struggle of people with the force of society. Twain chose characters who exactly gave a clear idea of mid-19th century frontiersmen and their way of living, thinking and acting. Huck Finn is a fictitious work which took inspiration from those times’ day-to-day life, and which is not far from reality and now it became an inspiration for us to deal with the social evils in our society.

In the mordern age, brutality, slavery, racism is still seen in our society. No one from the community crowd came forward to help poor or needy people.The term “human trafficking” is a term most people have heard is actually just a modern term for slavery.Human trafficking does not refer to illegal immigrants being smuggled across borders who are then free to go their own way.The vast majority of slaves are held in collateralized herediatary debt bondage which means that a son or daughter can be born into slavery is the payment.There is no end to his debt .It spans generations with no end to this payment. At last we can say that Global slavery and brutality is growing ,rather than shrinking.

Like in, Huck Finn appears to be simultaneously a literary, sociological and anthropological document. It dealt with a real situation of life and social evils practised in the society, in every part of the world . Mark Twain’ s attitude towards’ evil practices which was appearing in almost all over the world,is a path for a human being to work aginst such social evils..

Protest novels came to rescue the voices of many oppressed,to protest against tranny.Thanks to protest novel that the world came to knew about the social evils and problems faced by the people but ,still it is just decided to ignore.



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Claybaugh, Amanda. The Novel of Purpose: Literature and Social Reform in the Anglo-American World. Ithaca, NY: Cornell UP, 2007.

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