The return of this old dynamic between the boys and Jim clouds our view of the boys and of Huck’s development in particular. Indeed, it seems in many ways that Huck, in his decision to follow Tom’s plans, forgets many of the lessons he has learned with Jim on the raft. In a sense, Tom and Huck, in their manipulations of Jim, descend to the level of those who own or trade slaves. The boys’ thoughtlessness and callousness contrast with the behavior of Aunt Sally and Uncle Silas, who, though themselves slave owners, frequently visit and pray with Jim. At the same time, however, Sally and Silas plan to return Jim to a life of imprisonment and cruelty, while the boys, despite their toying with Jim, are nevertheless trying to free him. This moral confusion becomes even deeper when we see how the boys dupe and victimize Aunt Sally as much as Jim. In the end, the moral confusion evident in these characters’ interaction is so great that Twain leaves us with little basis upon which to make any substantive judgment.
World War II symbolizes many notions related to each other in the novel, from the arrival of adulthood to the triumph of the competitive spirit over innocent play. Most important, it symbolizes conflict and enmity, which the novel—or at least the narrator, Gene—sees as a fundamental aspect of adult human life. All people eventually find a private war and private enemy, the novel suggests, even in peacetime, and they spend their lives defending themselves against this enemy. Only Finny is immune to this spirit of enmity, which is why he denies that the war exists for so long—and why, in the end, Gene tells him that he would be no good as a soldier—because he doesn’t understand the concept of an enemy. It is significant that the war begins to encroach upon the lives of the students with any severity only after Finny’s crippling fall: the spirit of war can hold unchallenged influence over the school only after Finny’s death.