"In Huckleberry Finn I have drawn Tom Blankenship (the real-life model for Huck) exactly as he was. He was ignorant, unwashed, insufficiently fed; but he had as good a heart as ever any boy had. His liberties were totally unrestricted. He was the only really independent person-boy or man-in the community, and by consequence he was tranquilly and continuously happy, and was envied by the rest of us. We liked him; we enjoyed his society. And as his society was forbidden us by our parents, the prohibition trebled and quadrupled its value, and therefore we sought and got more of his society than any other boy's. I heard, four years ago, that he was a justice of the peace in a remote village in Montana, and was a good citizen and greatly respected." (From Mark Twain's Autobiography, chapter II, 174-75)
Even as a boy, Samuel Clemens knew who the true American hero was, and he certainly was not a product of comfort and erudition. Especially while on the Mississippi, Huck Finn personifies the 'natural man', unspoiled by the corrupting authority of society. Although Huck is constantly exposed to people eager to make him think the way they do, his institutional distrust keeps society's virtues from penetrating him too deeply. He is determined to judge life for himself and come to his own conclusions. Free from being dictated morality by the culture of slavery, Huck is able to judge the virtue of acts using his logic and reflection, his only moral requirement being that his act must "do good." His purity, both in his age and in his intellectual freedom, make him the only character in Clemens' fictional St. Petersburg capable of not only helping Jim to run away (what was at the time an illegal and morally reprehensible act), but also pledging his loyalty to a piece of property, barely human in other people's eyes.

Growing up in Hannibal, Missouri, Clemens had an upbringing closer to that of Tom Sawyer than that of Huck Finn. Having a very structured and upright home, children like Clemens are drawn to characters like Tom Blankenship, whose freedom and satisfaction inspire jealousy in their 'civilized' admirers. The American virtue of 'freedom' is best represented in outcasts like Huck and Tom Blankenship. In a culture warped by racism and hypocrisy, these heroic spirits are the defenders of truth and righteousness.