of Work . .......The
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel that does not fit neatly
into a single genre. However, it does contain elements of the apprenticeship
novel, or bildungsroman, because it presents
the experiences of a boy as he learns important values and lessons about
life. It also contains elements of the picaresque
novel, a type of fiction that presents the episodic adventures (each
a story in itself) of a person as he travels from place to place and meets
a variety of other characters, some of them also travelers.
and Publication Dates
Twain wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn between1876
and 1883. Charles Webster and Company published the novel in New York in
the time that Mark Twain completed The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,
the U.S. Congress had amended the Constitution to do the following:
Abolish slavery (Thirteenth
Guarantee citizenship rights
to every person born in the U.S. (Fourteenth Amendment, 1868)
Grant all citizens the right
to vote regardless of "race, color, or previous condition of servitude"
(Fifteenth Amendment, 1870).
However, beginning in 1877,
some state legislatures began passing segregation laws that limited or
denied blacks access to white-controlled schools, restaurants, restrooms,
cemeteries, theaters, parks, and other facilities. Consequently, Twain's
theme of racism in Huckleberry Finn remained current when the book
was published. It remains current today because, even though segregation
laws have been struck down, racism persists as a serious problem.
own experiences during his boyhood in Hannibal, Mo., provided him most
of the background material for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
His knowledge of the Mississippi River, gained in large part through his
four-year career as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi, provided additional
background, as did the recollections of boyhood adventures contributed
by his childhood friends.
action takes place in St. Petersburg, Missouri, and at various locations
along the banks of the Mississippi River in Missouri, Arkansas, and Illinois.
The time is the middle of the 19th Century, before the Civil War.
Characters . Protagonist: Huckleberry
and Its Rules and Laws
cheerful, fair-minded Missouri boy. Because his father abuses him, he runs
away and teams with an escaped slave during many adventures on a raft ride
on the Mississippi River. Huck is the narrator of the novel.
slave who joins Huck. He is a simple, loyal, and trusting man whose common
sense helps guide Huck. In a way, he serves as a surrogate father for Huck.
drunken, greedy, abusive father, who is nearing age fifty. His racism is
symptomatic of the racism that infected society as a whole in nineteenth-century
Widow Douglas: Kindly
but straitlaced woman who takes Huck into her home.
Miss Watson:The widow~ez_rsquo~s sister and owner of Jim.
friend. He likes to stage mock adventures of the kind he reads about in
Ben Rogers, Tommy Barnes: Members of Tom Sawyer's gang.
Tom Sawyer's aunt.
Judge who looks out for Huck~ez_rsquo~s welfare.
Bessie: Judge Thatcher's
Mrs. Judith Loftus:
Woman who provides Huck valuable information when he and Jim are on the
Head of a family of wealthy aristocrats who take Huck in and treat him
cordially after he becomes separated from Jim.
Wife of Col. Grangerford.
Bob, Sophia, and Charlotte: Living children of Mr. and
child of Mr. and Mrs. Grangerford.
Slaves Shepherdsons: Clan
of wealthy aristocrats consisting of five or six families. The Shepherdsons
and Grangerfords are involved in a long and deadly feud, but neither family
can remember what started the feud.
Member of the Shepherdson clan who elopes with Sophia Grangerford.
The Duke and the King:
Con men who join Huck and Jim on their trip on the Mississippi River.
Loafer in an Arkansas town where Huck and Jim stop with the duke and the
Joe, Andy: Buck's fellow loafers.
Boggs: Man who lives
outside the Arkansas town. Once a month, he gets drunk and comes to town
to raise a ruckus and threaten people, although he is harmless.
Resident of the Arkansas town. When Boggs enters town on his monthly drunk,
he harasses and curses Sherburn, claiming the latter swindled him.. Sherburn
kills him with a pistol.
Joanna, Mary Jane, Susan
of a deceased man. When the duke and the king make them pawns in a scheme
to obtain the dead man~ez_rsquo~s bequest, Huck, feeling sorry for the sisters,
helps to expose the scheme.
Friend of the Wilks sisters. He tells them the duke and the king are frauds.
Friend of the Wilks sisters. He introduces Doctor Robinson to the duke
and the king.
Rev. Mr. Hobson, Attorney
Levi Bell, Deacon Lot Hovey, Ben Rucker, Widow Bartley:
Other Friends of the Wilks sisters.
Slave Servants of the
Wilks Sally Phelps (Aunt Sally):
Tom Sawyer~ez_rsquo~s aunt.
who treats Tom~ez_rsquo~s leg wound.
of a camp meeting that Huck, Jim, the duke, and the king observe on their
Old Hank Bunker:
Man who died two years after looking over his left shoulder at a new moon.
Finn tells the story in first-person point of view. His narration, including
his accounts of conversations, contains regionalisms, grammatical errors,
pronunciation errors, and other characteristics of the speech or writing
of a nineteenth-century Missouri boy with limited education. The use of
patois bolsters the verisimilitude of the novel.
. Themes .. Freedom . All human beings are free,
independent, and equal members of society. The novel celebrates the spirit
of freedom and independence through Huck and Jim, escapees from oppression. . The Primacy of the Moral
Law . The moral law supersedes
government law. By protecting the black slave Jim, Huck breaks man-made
law and feels guilty. But he refuses to turn Jim in because his moral instincts
tell him he is doing the right thing. . Intuitive Wisdom . Wisdom comes from the heart,
not the head. The educated characters in the novel are often deeply flawed
in some way~ez_mdash~self-righteous, prejudiced, quixotic,
bound to tradition. However, the uneducated~ez_mdash~namely,
Huck and Jim~ez_mdash~exhibit a natural, intuitive
understanding of the world. Though ignorant in many ways, they are wise
in the ways that count, relying on conscience, common sense, and compassion
to guide them. . A Child Shall Lead . A little child shall lead
them. Twain probably did not have this Bible quotation (Isaiah: Chapter
11, Verses 6-9) in mind when he portrayed Huck as a boy who had a better
grasp of morality than the often corrupt civilization around him~ez_mdash~a
boy worth imitating for his virtues. But the quotation aptly summarizes
one of Twain~ez_rsquo~s themes nonetheless. . Love of Money . The love of money is the
root of all evil. This Bible quotation (First Epistle of Paul to Timothy:
Chapter 6, Verse 10) also sums up a major theme in the novel. It is the
love of money, Huck~ez_rsquo~s, that prompts Pap Finn to gain custody of Huck. It
is the love of money that motivates the Duke and the King to work their
scams. And, most important of all, it is the love of money that makes southerners
retain the institution of slavery.
Climax . .......The
climax occurs when Tom and Huck free Jim, and Tom~ez_mdash~who
has suffered a bullet wound in the leg~ez_mdash~tells
Huck that a provision in Miss Watson's will has freed Jim. . Structure
and Style . .......Like
the Mississippi River itself, the plot flows around bends, through darkness
and fog, and into bright sunlight. The story is full of surprises, moving
through many episodes that are little stories in themselves. These episodes
form a unified whole that illumines the characters and their values. The
mood is sometimes light and buoyant, sometimes deadly serious. The writing
(that is, Huck~ez_rsquo~s storytelling and the characters~ez_rsquo~ conversations) is a delight~ez_mdash~richly
descriptive, humorous, and suspenseful. .......But
it is not true, as some have observed, that Huck~ez_rsquo~s first-person narration
and the conversation of the strange mixture of characters represent authentic
regional dialects. And thank goodness for that. Were they truly authentic,
the novel would be a tedious agglomeration of mispronunciations, backwoods
neologisms, and weird grammar. Rather than bogging the novel down with
language problems, Twain flavors the writing with just enough local patois
to give it bite~ez_mdash~but not so much that the novel
becomes unpalatable. .......Twain
learned to write this way from writers of "local color," an American literary
movement of the last half of the nineteenth century. Besides presenting
narratives in a regional dialect, local-color writers, or "local colorists,"
attempted to portray life in the various sections of burgeoning America.
However, rather than writing soberly realistic stories, they tended to
write stories infused with "eccentrics as characters" and "whimsical plotting,"
according to William Flint Thrall and Addison Hibbard, authors of A
Handbook to Literature (266). Thrall and Hibbard also note that
local colorists "emphasized verisimilitude of detail without being concerned
often enough about truth to the larger aspects of life or human nature"
(266). One of the most famous of the local colorists was Bret Harte, who
met and befriended Twain in San Francisco in the 1860's.
Thrall, William Flint and
Addison Hibbard. A Handbook to Literature. Revised and enlarged
by C. Hugh Holman. New York: The Odyssey Press, 1960.
The Raft: Freedom
The Mississippi River:
Life, with all of its delights and dangers. However, it, too, can be thought
of as a symbol for freedom.
Huck's Windfall, $6,000,
and the Wilks Bequest:
Material values that lure human beings from the righteous path.
The Fog: Complex
problems that sometimes make it difficult to achieve life's goals.
its publication in 1884, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has
been a target of censors in high schools, colleges, libraries, and religious
institutions. One reason people have banned, or attempted to ban, the book
is its characterization of Huckleberry Finn as a wayward child who defies
his elders and society in general. Another reason, cited by some black
Americans, is that the book seems to depict Jim as a negative stereotype
that racists use to reinforce their prejudice.
objectionable to many critics of the novel is the frequent use of the word
in Huckleberry Finn's narration. However, Twain's intent was to present
a realistic portrait of a child seeking freedom from an abusive alcoholic
father and from a society with overly rigid or fraudulent moral principles.
His intent was also to expose the cruelty and injustice of racism, not
to buttress it. The use of the word nigger~ez_mdash~a
deeply offensive corruption of the word Negro (the Spanish and Portuguese
word for black person, derived from the Latin word niger, meaning
part of Twain's effort to present realistically southern English as it
was spoken or written, not as it should have been spoken or written.
Twain (1835-1910) was the pen name of Samuel Langhorne Clemens, one of
six children of John and Jane Clemens. He was born in Florida, Mo., in
1835, but spent his childhood in Hannibal, Mo., where his father practiced
law and operated a general store.
an early age, Twain learned to set type for a printer, then worked for
a Hannibal newspaper operated by his older brother. After working for other
newspapers, he traveled widely, worked as a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi
River, moved to the Nevada Territory, and eventually became a full-time
writer. In time, he achieved worldwide fame.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (considered his greatest novel), his
novels include include The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876),
Prince and the Pauper (1881), A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's
Court (1889), The American Claimant (1892), Personal Recollections
of Joan of Arc (1895), and The Mysterious Stranger (incomplete,
published posthumously in 1916).
also wrote short stories, sketches, essays, and newspaper articles and
was in great demand as a public speaker. Twain died in Redding, Conn.,
in 1910, and was buried Woodlawn Cemetery in Elmira, N.Y. Twain lived at
Quarry Farm, near Elmira, beginning in 1870 and wrote some of his literary
works there, including part of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,
in a small study on the grounds. The study, which contains an old typewriter
and other effects of Twain, is preserved on the campus of Elmira College.
Questions and Essay Topics
Who is the most admirable character
in the novel?
Who is the least admirable character?
When protecting Jim, Huck violates
the law of the land. Clearly, however, he did the right thing. In your
view, are there current laws at the local, state, or federal level that
you believe are unjust? Do you believe any person has a right to break
a man-made law that goes counter to his or her conscience and moral beliefs?
Write an essay explaining the
views that southern plantation owners used in their attempts to justify
Write an essay demonstrating
that Jim is morally superior to white men in the novel.
To what extent is Huckleberry
Finn a product of the environment in which he grew up?
What was the most important
lesson Huck learned during his journey toward manhood?