Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an important part of the American literary canon. Its importance, in part, derives from its tale of the development of a new nation, a development in both space and culture. Huckleberry Finn’s journey into the developing landscape of the South has some very striking commonalities with that of Odysseus’s journey in The Odyssey. With the characters, journeys and story structures being so similar between the two epics, it is imperative that analysis be given. Huck Finn and Odysseus are surprisingly similar given the time period in which they were conceived. They are both cultural heroes, embodying the ideals of their country. Huck is the epitome of the American rugged individualism.
Throughout his journeys, he does whatever he wants while living on the fringes of society. Odysseus’s role in the Illiad gave him the status of a Greek hero because he outsmarted the Trojan army with his famous horse. He is known for being a clever and resourceful character, much like Huck. They are both skilled liars and trickster figures, and they use intelligence and their sly ways to get out of trouble. This is seen in the scene in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn where Huck escapes his father using intelligence not commonly found in a twelve-year old.
There is a parallel to be found in Odysseus’s tricking Polyphemus to escape the cave. It is worth remarking that both encounters involve a much weaker person deceiving a drunken entity that is larger and stronger. There is one obvious similarity between the journeys of the two heroes: they take place on water. Although Huck’s journey takes place on the Mississippi while Odysseus’s takes place in the much more dangerous ocean, both journeys have a similar goal. Both heroes are searching for freedom. Huck wishes to free himself from society and Jim of enslavement, and Odysseus strives to free his beloved wife from the suitors swarming Ithaca. There are also similarities between what happens to the vessels the heroes travel with.
Huck’s raft is destroyed by a “bulged out, big and scary” riverboat with “red-hot teeth” while Odysseus’s ship is destroyed by a wrathful Poseidon (115). Both scenarios show the heroes at the mercy of a more powerful entity that does not care of their well-being. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Odyssey have their own unique, individual structure, yet are still similar in this regard as well. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a highly episodic novel due to its publication in serials.
The Odyssey is a Greek epic with a non-linear plot that gives it an episodic nature. Every two to four books in The Odyssey serve as new adventures of Odysseus. For The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, each chapter provides new exploits for the young hero. Such a similar structure would not be lost on readers of Twain who were acquainted with The Odyssey. The similarities in the epic journeys of Huckleberry Finn and Odysseus do not necessarily denote that Twain consciously attempted to recreate The Odyssey.
There is not always a parallel between each scene of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Odyssey. It would not do to say that it is just a happy coincidence that both epics are so similar. Rather, it could be said that the similarities derive from a participation in what Joseph Campbell called the “monomyth.” An analysis between the two epics is an important exercise in intertextuality that allows for the audience to become a part of a larger literary tradition: that of the archetypal hero journey.