Huck struggles not only with the challenges of his strenuous journey, but also with the 19th century social climate and the role it forces on him regarding Jim. Throughout the story, Huck is in moral conflict with the received values of the society in which he lives, and while he is unable to consciously refute those values even in his thoughts, he makes a moral choice based on his own valuation of Jim's friendship and human worth, a decision in direct opposition to the things he has been taught. Mark Twain, in his lecture notes, proposes that "a sound heart is a surer guide than an ill-trained conscience" and goes on to describe the novel as "...a book of mine where a sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision and conscience suffers defeat".
To highlight the hypocrisy required to condone slavery within an ostensibly moral system, Twain has Huck's father enslave his son, isolate him, and beat him. When Huck escapes – which anyone would agree was the right thing to do – he then immediately encounters Jim "illegally" doing the same thing.
Some scholars discuss Huck's own character, and the novel itself, in the context of its relation to African-American culture as a whole. John Alberti quotes Shelley Fisher Fishkin, who writes in her 1990s book Was Huck Black?: Mark Twain and African-American Voices, "by limiting their field of inquiry to the periphery," white scholars "have missed the ways in which African-American voices shaped Twain's creative imagination at its core." It is suggested that the character of Huckleberry Finn illustrates the correlation, and even interrelatedness, between white and black culture in the United States.
The novel begins with Huck Finn introducing himself and referencing The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. "You don't know about me," Huck narrates, "without you have read a book by the name of "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer," but that ain't no matter." He tells readers that, for the most part, Twain told the truth in Tom Sawyer but that everyone tells some lies, even people like Aunt Polly and the Widow Douglas.
Huck gives a brief summary of how he and Tom got six thousand dollars each at the end of Tom Sawyer. Judge Thatcher has taken Huck's money and invested it with a dollar of interest coming in each day, and Huck now lives with the Widow Douglas and her sister, Miss Watson. The sisters are, as Huck puts it, trying to "sivilize" him, and his frustration at living in a clean house and minding his manners starts to grow. Miss Watson tells Huck he will go to "the bad place" if he does not behave, and Huck thinks that will be okay as long as Miss Watson is not there.
During the evening, Huck accidentally kills a spider that was on his shoulder and worries that bad luck will follow. When the town clock strikes twelve midnight, Huck hears a noise outside his window and climbs out to find Tom Sawyer waiting for him.