A moral dilemma

And then think of ME! It would get all around that Huck Finn helped a nigger to get his freedom; and if I was ever to see anybody from that town again I’d be ready to get down and lick his boots for shame. That’s just the way: a person does a low-down thing, and then he don’t want to take no consequences of it. Thinks as long as he can hide, it ain’t no disgrace. That was my fix exactly. The more I studied about this the more my conscience went to grinding me, and the more wicked and low-down and ornery I got to feeling. And at last, when it hit me all of a sudden that here was the  plain hand of Providence slapping me in the face and letting me know my wickedness was being watched all the time from up there in heaven,whilst I was stealing a poor old woman’s nigger that hadn’t ever done me no harm, and now was showing me there’s One that’s always on the lookout, and ain’t a-going to allow no such miserable doings to go only just so fur and no further, I most dropped in my tracks I was so scared. Well, I tried the best I could to kinder soften it up somehow for myself by saying I was brung up wicked, and so I warn’t so much to blame; but something inside of me kept saying, “There was the Sunday-school, you could a gone to it; and if you’d a done it they’d a learnt you there that people that acts as I’d been acting about that nigger goes to everlasting fire.”

I recently finished re-reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, that masterpiece of the satirist Mark Twain, for the first time since my boyhood, and the part that affected me the most was Huck’s moral dilemma over helping to free Jim, the runaway slave.  After resolving to change his ways, straighten up and turn in Jim,  and even going so far as to write a note to the owner betraying the runaway’s location,

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.

Of course in retrospect it’s easy to say that Huck made the right moral choice, that slavery was wrong, and that the society that taught its children otherwise was not following Christian biblical teaching on equality.

But I can’t help but wonder what choice I’d have made if I were in Huck’s place in that society.

One Response to “A moral dilemma”

  1. Toni says:

    It is an interesting lesson in how large numbers of apparently good people can also be persuaded that evil is good and good is evil. We might look around and ask ourselves if there are other areas where that has happened and is happening now. Using the bible as a reference point may also help bring clarity.