I’ll Go To Hell

Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) is considered one of America’s greatest writers. He had a brilliant mind and an unprecedented ability to express himself through words that still resonate today. In his book, Huckleberry Finn, young Huck (the narrator) recounts his adventures on the Mississippi River in the company of Jim—a slave who’s seeking freedom so he can work and buy his family’s freedom.

During the journey, Huck is bothered by the fact he’s helping Jim escape. He realizes by doing so he’s actually “stealing” someone’s property. At one point, his conscience gets the best of him and here’s what follows:

So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I’ll go and write the letter – and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:

Miss Watson, your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. Huck Finn.

I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time I had ever felt so in my life, and I knowed I could pray now. But I didn’t do it straight off, but laid the paper down and set there thinking – thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing.But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, ’stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and suchlike times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.

It was a close place. I took it up, 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.

Twain forces us to confront the reality of slavery head-on. When Huck reaches this moral crisis, he makes a decision. Was he right to violate the accepted social code and religious dogma he’d been raised to believe or should he have betrayed an innocent individual who needed and loved him… and someone whom he loved and needed, too? To most, this decision seems obvious. But like today’s moral dilemmas, it didn’t back then.

Going against tradition or society’s accepted norms isn’t easy… even when you’re doing what’s right. No doubt, many members of today’s society consider those who challenge the status quo to be wrong, guilty… or even dangerous. If you study history and reflect on your own life, you realize time has a way of shedding light on our choices. Right, wrong or indifferent, they are all exposed with time. We can justify them, but that won’t change them… we are each individually responsible for the choices we make. That said, if doing what’s right means doing what’s wrong, I concur with Huck Finn… “All right, then, I’ll go to hell.” What about you?

Comments

One Response to “I’ll Go To Hell”

  1. Kelly Abbott on July 25th, 2010 10:03 pm

    WAY COOL,ARTICLE Mike,
    With that being said I too , would probably be there “IF” not for the grace of GOD. As all us sinners ? I believe in doing what ones conscience considers” what it can bare ?” And do the write thing !
    Nice Article to think about !

    Thanks…..

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