Author: Mark Twain Date of Publication

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Title: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Author: Mark Twain

Date of Publication: December 1884

Genre: Satirical Fiction
Historical information about the period of publications:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was first published in December of 1884, but contrary to its time period, the novel actually depicted a setting common to the pre-Civil War South. Roughly two decades before, the Emancipation Proclamation of 1863 had granted freedom to African Americans in rebel states, and the Thirteenth Amendment passed in 1865 with the conclusion of the Civil War had offered freedom to all slaves residing in the United States. However despite the laws, this freedom was extremely restricted, as demonstrated by the “black codes” which were approved by southern state legislatures soon after the war to voice their discontent against the abolishment of slavery and their superiority over the African American race. Congress attempted Reconstruction of the South in order to define the non-slave society in which African Americans and whites were expected to coexist, failed against southern powers that deemed the Reconstruction humiliating. The fact that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn contains such a prominent idea of slavery reinforces the continued existence of racial prejudice in the United States even after the supposed African American emancipation.  
Biographical information about the author:

Born on November 30, 1835 in the village of Florida, Missouri, Samuel L. Clemens moved to the small frontier town of Hannibal, Missouri with his family at a young age. Since Missouri was a slave state at the time, Clemens was often exposed to African American slaves throughout his childhood. In fact, though his father only owned a single slave, his uncle owned several. As a boy, Clemens would spend his summers around his uncle’s slave quarters, where he listened to tall tales and slave spirituals. These experiences undoubtedly possessed a great influence over him, and would eventually become the basis of several novels such as The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. At the age of eleven, Clemens was forced to cope with the death of his father, and he left school soon after to work as a printer’s apprentice for a local newspaper. In the following years, he found some success at writing articles in New York and Philadelphia, but then returned home to pursue a riverboat pilot career that he was later quickly forced to abandon due to the start of the Civil War. From there, Clemens assumed numerous other jobs during which he first signed under his pen name, Mark Twain. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is said to have possibly been Twain’s most famous work of literature, because of the way in which he attacked the institution of slavery with satire. Twain passed away at the age of 74 on April 21, 1910, but he left behind a legacy through his novels, which continue to allow readers to draw connections between the late nineteenth century mindset and that of the modern day.

Characteristics of the genre:

Satire is essentially the utilization of humor and wit to criticize aspects of human institutions or sometimes humanity as a whole. The goal of this writing style is to portray a vice or folly in a laughable light and show that it is worthy of ridicule. Such a portrayal usually brings about social pressure upon those engaged in or advocating the wrongdoing. Thus, satire seeks to reform a particular behavior that is considered corrupt by the satirist, or simply to alert an audience to the existence of a flaw in society. Regardless of its targeted attacks, satire in literature is often implicit and addresses types rather than specific persons.

Plot Summary:

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn depicts the story of a young Missourian protagonist, named Huckleberry Finn, who is taken in and raised by the Widow Douglas and her sister, Miss Watson. Although both guardians are kind, under their watch Huck is forced to conform to a lifestyle which he considers to be stifling. Essentially, Huck’s two caretakers want him to become the image of a typical white Christian boy. Despite his discomfort at having to maintain his appearance and receive an education, Huck hangs on to these duties until his father shows up demanding the money that Huck has stashed away. In an attempt to obtain Huck’s fortune for the purpose of funding his alcoholic habits, Huck’s Pap decides to take legal actions against Judge Thatcher and the Widow Douglas, which ultimately culminates in Pap’s kidnapping Huck. Confined to a cabin in the woods, Huck stages his own death utilizing an elaborate plan, and retreats to Jackson’s Island in the middle of the Mississippi River. He witnesses search parties on the lookout for his drowned body just before he stumbles upon Jim, Miss Watson’s slave who had run away after hearing that he would be sold down to New Orleans. During a massive storm, a house floats by on the river, and while the two companions loot the house, Jim refuses to allow Huck to see the face of a man, whom we later find out is Pap, who has been shot in one of the rooms. Once Huck and Jim discover that men are coming to hunt Jim for a reward, they set out down the Mississippi in hopes of reaching the free states. Along the journey, the pair comes across a gang of robbers, trick unsuspecting individuals for help, and are entrapped by a thick fog that causes them to miss their entrance to the free states. The rising action centers around Huck’s making up excuses to protect Jim, and his subsequent admittance that he would accept going to hell if that was a means for freeing Jim from slavery is the climax of the novel. Separated from Jim after a steamboat crashes into their raft, Huck is welcomed into the home of the Grangerfords, whom he soon discovers are in a meaningless feud with another nearby family, the Shepherdsons. Put in a tight position by their families’ unfriendly relations, a Grangerford daughter and Shepherdson son decide to elope, and the ordeal terminates in a gun battle between the two clans. Huck confirms that the fight kills almost all members of each family, right before he flees back to his raft and continues on his journey. Next, Huck and Jim meet two con artists who claim to be a duke and a long-lost dauphin. Huck and Jim tag along on the two con men’s scamming of several towns through tactics such as shows and taking on false identities, as in the case of Peter Wilks. The two con artists fail to swindle Wilks’s three nieces of their inheritance once Huck reveals the plan to the oldest sister and the actual individuals that the Duke and Dauphin were impersonating show up. The worst of their crimes, however, was their selling Jim to a local farmer. When Huck finds the famer that Jim was sold to, he comes to the realization that the are none other than his best friend Tom Sawyer’s Aunt Sally and Uncle Silas Phelps. Because Aunt Sally mistakes Huck for Tom, Huck decides to stick with the name and convinces Tom to join in his plan. The two boys devise a plan to free Jim, and even though Tom adds numerous unnecessary obstacles, they free Jim in the end. Unfortunately while they are escaping, Tom is shot in the leg, and Jim sacrifices his freedom in order to ensure Tom’s safety. Once he is conscious, Tom reveals that Jim had already been set free in Miss Watson’s will about two months earlier. Not long after, Tom’s Aunt Polly shows up and assigns the boys their proper identities, and when Huck is offered a chance to be adopted by Aunt Sally, he refuses and announces his plan to continue traveling freely to the West.
Describe the author’s style:

           Since the narrator in this novel is a twelve-year-old boy, Mark Twain’s style is informal with a simple vocabulary. To accurately portray Huckleberry Finn, he talks with a colloquial Missouri accent, thus lending into the excessive use of apostrophes to shorten words and create certain sounds. He also uses racist words such as “nigger” because they were commonplace to that time period. The use of simple speech contrasts with and therefore emphasizes the insightful remarks Huck makes on society.

An example that demonstrates the style:

“Well, I did. I said I wouldn’t, and I’ll stick to it. Honest INJUN, I will. People would call me a low-down Abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum—but that don’t make no difference. I ain’t a-going to tell, and I ain’t a-going back there, anyways. So, now, le’s know all about it” (45).

Memorable Quotes

Quotation: “It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger; but I done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterwards, neither. I didn’t do him no more mean tricks, and I wouldn’t done that one if I’d a knowed it would make him feel that way” (89).

Significance: This quote depicts maturation in Huck’s character as he realizes that he recognizes Jim as a human being who has emotions. During the time period in which the book is set, African Americans were viewed as property in addition to being inferior to Caucasians and therefore needed their guidance. While he has “inherited racism”- a term that describes the generations of racism instilled in his mind, he shows a deviation from the normal southern actions and shifts toward forming his own opinions.
Quotation: “All right, then, I’ll go to hell” (217).

Significance: Possibly the climax of the novel, Huckleberry professes his huge decision to help Jim after taking into account the possible consequences. He thought about how Miss Watson had treated him well, people will look at him as a criminal for helping a slave attain freedom, and he would go to hell. However, he also recognizes Jim as being his friend and readily wants to help him acquire the same freedom he himself was looking for when leaving civilization. This quote is especially important because he shuns society’s implications to make a decision that he feels is truly moral.
Quotation: “Good gracious! anybody hurt?”

       “No’m. Killed a nigger.”

       “Well, it’s lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt” (223).

Significance: These lines reflect the mindset of Southerners during the 1800s because as Aunt Sally implies, African Americans were not considered to be people. In order for Huck to stay in his character, he says it didn’t kill anyone, just a “nigger” because his mission was to save Jim and it would allow any doubts about his character to be squashed. This also reflects on why Huck was so conflicted about Southern values before his revelation because Aunt Sally, as well as other characters in this book, is a seemingly good Christian people but she sees nothing wrong with the enslavement of other people.
Quotation: “Human beings can be awful cruel to one another” (233).

Significance: Throughout the novel, Huck is witness to human beings engaging in activities void to humanity, such as the duke and dauphin deceiving a family for their money, the feud between the Grangerfords and the Shepherdson, and Pap beating him almost to death. When he sees the duke and dauphin being tarred and feathered, he makes this proclamation and shows his sympathetic nature. Huck disagrees with the maltreatment of human beings as a whole, despite their background as the duke and dauphin were frauds who even mistreated Huck and Jim. Once again, Huck decides for himself what he believes is just, which differs from the accepted social norms.
Quotation: “But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I been there before”(295).

Significance: Huck sums up his experiences and what he learned throughout the course of his journey in these last lines. He explains how he prefers to head towards the unsettled west where he can be himself and where society wouldn’t impede on his ability to make decisions opposed to being adopted by Aunt Sally. He’s realized the institutions of religion and education in addition to his community’s morals would be useless in his upbringing as many tried to sway him to that way of thinking earlier in the novel and it didn’t work. He’s realized society corrupts the mind and without it he’d be able to make sound judgments.



Role in the story



Huckleberry Finn

Huck is the protagonist of the novel.

Even though he’s just a young boy, he sheds light upon the lack of humanity present in society through the wide range of experiences he has on his journey in addition to representing one who is uncorrupted by social implications. He ultimately rejects societal institutions as he’s seen their hypocrisy and failure.







Tom Sawyer

Huck’s friend and partner in adventure.

Tom Sawyer represents southern society as a good white educated Christian boy. He plays with Jim’s life and ability to attain freedom because similar to other Caucasians of that time, he didn’t consider African Americans as people. He also clouds Huck’s judgment, conveying the idea of society as being corrupt.






Miss Watson & The Widow

Huck’s caretakers in the beginning of the novel.

The two sisters establish the idea of a hypocritical white society in which being a good Christian accompanies owning slaves. They try to “sivilize” Huck, but he ultimately rejects these beliefs- especially when he says he’ll go to hell if that means helping Jim get his freedom.

-Stern (Miss Watson)

-Gentle (Widow)



Huck’s friend and companion on the journey down the Mississippi River, as well as Miss Watson’s runaway slave.

Jim serves as both a father figure and a friend to Huck throughout their adventures, taking it upon himself to make sure that Huck is safe and never abandoned. He aids in Huck’s realization of the equality between himself, an African American, and a Caucasian.

Additionally, he demonstrates to Huck that African Americans are just as human as Caucasians, capable of love and emotion.







The Duke & the Dauphin

Con artists that Huck and Jim rescue and bring along on their journey.

The Duke and the Dauphin represent Huck’s possibly immoral and conniving future if he chooses to continue his river-raft lifestyle. They also reveal a compassionate aspect of Huck as their ultimate fate evokes Huck’s sympathy.




Judge Thatcher

Huck’s local judge who is in charge of looking after Huck’s savings.

Judge Thatcher is a symbol of uprightness and respect since he is the one that Huck heads to once he finds out that his father is in town. With intent to protect Huck’s money rather than to covet it, Judge Thatcher reluctantly accepts Huck’s offering of his fortune.




The Grangerfords

The family that takes Huck in, after a steamboat destroys his raft and he was separated from Jim.

The Grangerfords are in a long-standing feud with another the Shepherdsons, another local family. The family is used to mock the idea of family honor and show how the families’ pointless feud gets many family members killed.





Silas and Sally Phelps

Tom Sawyer’s aunt and uncle who Huck finds by coincidence.

The Phelps are considered to be good people, even though they hold Jim custody and return him to his rightful owner, around this time. The Phelps are an average family unlike the Grangerfords but Huck realizes he can’t stay with and be “sivilized”





The Wilks Family

A family that were easily conned by the duke and the dauphin after the death of Peter Wilks, who has left behind a large estate, whom the dauphin and duke pretend to be.

The innocent and good-hearted Wilks sisters are conned by the dauphin and the duke, which helped to show how the cruel acts of the con men only increase. Huck also notices this and can’t help but feel the need and want to escape from them





Aunt Polly

Tom Sawyer’s aunt, Sally Phelps’ sister, and guardian.

Aunt Polly is the one who appears at the end of the novel and identifies Huck as an imposter and identifies Tom, who has been pretending to be his own younger brother Sid. Aunt Polly is the one that clears up the misunderstanding that has developed in the novel.






Huckleberry Finn’s journey mostly takes place along the Mississippi River, it starts in the town of St. Petersburg, Missouri and ends in Arkansas. The novel is set before the Civil War around 1835 to 1845; according to Twain it was set forty to fifty years before the novel’s publication. Huck’s story begins with him living with Ms. Watson and the Widow Mrs. Douglas, until Pap takes him away and stows him in a decaying shack by the river. Huck eventually finds a way to ran away from Pap and he is reunited with Jim in Jackson’s Island. Huck and Jim at this point start their journey and stop by various towns in search of Cairo, Illinois.


  • Mississippi River/The raft: Huck comes to realize that he is able to feel a sense of freedom when he’s with Jim on the raft floating along the river. Life on the raft and the river ultimately becomes a symbol of freedom for both Jim and Huck. At one point in the story, when Huck had just escaped from the Grangerford-Shepherdson feud he feels disgusted by the ways of society. Despite the luxuries that Huck experienced while staying with the Grangerfords he still felt that it couldn’t compare to the raft. The raft was their way of moving away from reality, or society. In Chapter 18 Huck says, “We said there warn’t no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don’t. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.”(117) The rules of society didn’t reach the raft; there was no need for it to affect Huck or Jim.

  • Jim: The character Jim is used majorly in the novel as a base to show the stereotypical views that most white southerners, if not all, had towards slaves at that time. The stereotypes that Jim embodies include superstitious and unintelligent, however, Jim is also used to counter certain stereotypes. Slaves were thought to have been uncaring and inhumane, but during the novel Jim shows acts of caring and even fatherly affection towards Huck. Jim is used many times in degrading and humiliating manner, but he also symbolizes the humane and caring side of slaves.

  • Tom: Towards the end of the novel when Huck and Tom are trying to gain Jim’s freedom, Huck appears to be reverting back to how he was in the beginning of the novel. Tom represents the white society in the novel, when he and Huck reunite Huck uses the word “nigger” more than any other time in the novel. Before Huck used to refer to Jim as a “nigger” and it wasn’t until after their journey together that Huck was able to see the humanity in Jim and called him by his name. Huck also follows Tom and seems to depend on him more now that they are together because according to him he knows how things are done because of the books he reads. This may also show how people in the South were able to follow others that owned slaves and treated Africans terribly because a that time that how things were done, “it’s in the books”.

  • The Grangerford-Shepherdson feud: The Grangerford and the Shepherdson both symbolize the typical white southern aristocracy of that time. Both the Grangerford and the Shepherdson grew up to be motivated by the notion of family honor, so much so that they are willing to kill each other to protect it. Buck’s death and Huck’s reaction towards the murder changes the tone of the novel to be very serious and show the lack of humanity. This scene in the story demonstrates how twisted society is and part of the reason why Huck has trouble to accept it.

Significance of opening scene:

From the first page Huck creates a conversational voice with the reader and he also is able to give the sense of independence from the author. When Huck alludes to “Mr. Mark Twain” he seems to disconnect himself from Twain when in reality Huck is Twain’s means of expressing ideas. The opening scene not only establishes the voice of novel but it also gives the characteristics of Huck’s personality, which is important to understand when reading the novel. Being able to understand the main characters personality allows the reader to connect or criticize him, they are able to form an opinion. The opening scene tells the reader how Huck isn’t like most white southern boys at this time, he deviates from social norms and questions the things around him. In the beginning, Huck describes how Widow Douglas and Ms.Watson try to “sivilize” him by teaching him about the story of Moses, and religious manners such as praying. Huck’s reactions towards these methods show how he is a pragmatic character and tries to see how useful the religious traditions are. Huck enjoys to test out things and see if what others say are true.

Significance of the ending/closing scene:

The ending scene reveals Tom to be a more manipulative character than once thought, and a connection from the beginning of the book is made when Huck is attempted to be “sivilized” again. Tom reveals that Ms.Watson has actually been dead for two months and that she had freed Jim in her will, this confession shows even more how Tom has been using Jim selfishly as a way to indulge in the feeling of a great adventure. At the end of the novel Aunt Sally offers to adopt Huck, and even though he likes Aunt Sally, Huck knows that they are still part of the society that he can’t accept. Huck thinks that he can find a better version of society for him to live in if he leaves. Huck at the end says “But I reckon I got to light out for the territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can’t stand it. I be there before.”(295) The parallel from the beginning of the book to the end shows how Huck is no longer willing to allow himself be “sivilized” as he was before.

Possible Themes-Topics of Discussion:

  • Racism/Slavery: As this is a story set in the South before the Civil War it made sense that most of the characters that made appearances in the novel have slaves, support slaves, or are connected to them in some way. Twain shows how many characters in the story dehumanize slaves so much so that they are simply property that can be used in anyway. This can be seen in Jim’s situation when the duke and the dauphin dressed him as a sick Arab humiliating him in so many ways. Another instants when this is shown is when Huck, pretending to be Tom, describes trouble that occurred on the steam engine to Aunt Sally, “[Aunt Sally] Good gracious! Anybody hurt? [Huck] No’m. Killed a nigger. [Aunt Sally] Well, it’s lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt” (223). Slaves weren’t considered people and this racist attitude towards slaves may not actually be from hatred but rather the status quo. Huck hasn’t said that he is against slavery, in fact at first when he was with Jim he was scared he would be called an abolitionist, but towards the end it can be seen that he at least has found companionship from Jim. A character that shows true hatred towards slaves or Africans is Pap, he ranted in one chapter how insane it was that a “nigger” can live a better life than him.

  • The N word: The word “nigger” is used many times throughout the original novel and it has caused many points of controversy especially in schools. The use of the word can certainly cause discomfort for some of those who read the book, but its a question of either keeping the word in the book or read a book that replaces the word with “slave”. The word “nigger” has been used in the past a degrading term towards slaves but it is still part of history that can’t be ignored, which is why many think the word should be kept in the book, something is lost when it is replaced. Through out the years the word “nigger” has changed to “nigga” which is a way to show affections towards another. However, many times it is felt that the meaning behind the word hasn’t really changed, when some hear “nigga” they can’t help but hear “nigger”.

  • Child malleability/Society influences: The story is completely told from the perspective of a twelve-year-old boy, Huck. A smart move by Twain, he made the main character a child, giving the possibility of change that readers hope happens to Huck. Huck is shown from the beginning to have been affected by society’s views. Even though Huck does appear to be different from the normal southern boy, he was still able to inherit the racist views from the world around him. Between Huck’s ability to change and societies affect on him he experiences great difficulty in understanding where he stands.

  • Morality/ Conscience: Huck constantly struggles from acting on what is practical and what he thinks is right. From the beginning it is described how Huck is a practical character that enjoys proving if things are handy or useful. The fact that Huck is a racist is expressed from the beginning of the story as well, he has a twisted attitude towards slaves as a result from his surroundings. Twain describes Huck to have “a sound heart and a deformed conscience.” The internal struggle that Huck experiences is what causes him to have outbreaks like when he decided to help Jim, even though it wasn’t the most practical, and said “All right, then, I’ll go to hell” (217).

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