Mareena George, Alison Mann, Jason Mills Title: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Author: Mark Twain
Date of Publication: February 1885
Genre: Satirical fiction
Biographical information about the author:
Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known by his pen name Mark Twain, was born on November 30th, 1835 in Hannibal, Missouri. His hometown served as the setting in two of his most famous works: The Adventures ofTom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the latter often referred to as “the Great American Novel.” Mark Twain apprenticed with a printer and worked as a typesetter. He also contributed articles to his older brother Orion’s newspaper. After working as a riverboat pilot and gold miner, he turned to journalism. Mark Twain’s works were a success; he was very famous for his satire and witty writing. Mark Twain died on April 21, 1910 and was revered as the “greatest American humorist of his age” and “the father of American literature.”
Characteristics of the Genre:
Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is a classic example of satire. Satirical fiction is a form of literature where certain aspects are brought up to be mocked, such as society and it’s ideals in Huck Finn. Certain characteristics of satire are witty expressions of irony, sarcasm, parodies, exaggerations, comparisons and analogies. Satires are often funny, but the main purpose is to criticize whatever the subject is, and hopefully to improve it.
Huck Finn was published in 1885. Twenty years before it’s publications, the American Civil War (1861-65) has just ended with the north’s victory and Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. Slavery was no longer legal in the United States. However, even with slavery illegal during this time period, racism was still a very prominent part of society. Huck Finn takes place in the states along the Missouri River, from Missouri all the way to the Deep South, where slavery was a part of life and racism was most pronounced.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is about a poor Missouri boy named Huck who lives with a rich widow in town after his drunken and abusive father left. He gets a very good education, though he lazy. When his father finds out the Huck had recently obtained a lot of money, he returns and tries to get custody of Huck again so he can get the money. After kidnapping Huck and locking him up in his house in the woods, Huck stages his death and runs away, planning to live his life on the Missouri River. While on the run, he encounters Jim, the runaway slave of the old widow’s sister. Jim ran away because his master, Miss Watson was going to sell him to people in New Orleans. Huck and Jim live on Jackson’s Island for a while, but leave after Huck finds out the news from town and that someone is hunting Jim. While sailing away on their row boat, they see a house floating away and Jim refuses to let Huck see the dead body in one of the rooms. We find out at the end of the story that this was Huck’s father. Huck and Jim go through numerous adventures and meet many different people. They plunder another boat while the passengers were still inside, two of them trying to kill the other. They meet the Grangerfords, who take Huck in as family, but who are mostly whipped out after a huge feud with another family, the Sheperdsons, after a Grangerford girl secretly elopes with a Sheperdson boy. They meet two men who claim to be an English Duke and the long-lost French Dauphin. These two men cause a lot of trouble for everyone. They survive through scheming others, traveling from town to town. They put on horrible shows, pretend to be other people, etc. One time, they pretend to be the two English uncles of 3 girls who had just lost their guardian, Peter Wilkes, so that they can steal their inheritance. The scheme goes badly when Huck tells the eldest sister the truth and their real uncles show up. Jim and Huck try to escape from them, but they end up selling Jim as a runaway slave behind Huck’s back. Throughout the book, Huck has been struggling between what society tells him he should feel towards Jim and the relationship he actually has with him. Huck finally decides to help Jim, a close friend, escape from the captors. He soon finds out that they are Tom Sawyer’s family. Tom soon is involved in the scheme to get Jim out, but only complicates it by created a useless plan. When they free Jim, he ends up being captured again to save Tom after he had been shot. Then Tom’s aunt from Missouri comes and reveals the truth to everyone: Huck’s identity to everyone, the fact that he is not in fact dead, that Miss Watson had died and freed Jim a long time ago. The book ends with Jim as a free man and Huck planning to go to the West because Tom’s aunt plans on civilizing him.
Describe the Author’s Style:
Mark Twain’s style consists of simple speech and a youthful tone. He has Huck speak in his colloquial Missouri dialect. Huck’s intricate observations on society are ironic because of the speech they’re expressed in.
An Example that Demonstrates the Style:
“By and by he rolled out and jumped up to his feet looking wild, and he see me and went for me. He chased me round and round the place with a clasp knife, calling me the Angel of death, and saying he would kill me, and then I couldn’t come for him no more. I begged, and told him I was only Huck; but he laughed such a screechy laugh, an roared and cussed, and kept on chasing me up.”
Here, the writing style is simple and informal; it represents the kind of easy speech Huck has and his way of explaining things.
Quotes: “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.” This quote is significant because it shows the beginning of change in Huck. Society has long established their ideals when it comes to slaves and racism. Huck, growing up in such a racist society, has become a racist himself. However, Huck is still a young boy and is just beginning to know who he is. Here we see him going against what society is telling him to do, and doing what he believes is the right thing.
"I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks does for their'n." This is another quote that shows Huck’s break fro, societal views. Society would not like him to consider Jim a real person, let alone anything like white folks. Huck is beginning to see Jim for who he is, a living, breathing person that is kind and loves his family, just like any other white person.
“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” Huck and Jim have just escaped the Grangerford’s bloodshed, separating themselves from society again. Both of them are comforted by the nature and by their freedom. It is at these times when Huck’s attitude and beliefs towards slaves and African Americans change. Her, Huck and Jim are equals. “Good gracious! Anybody hurt?”
“No’m. Killed a nigger”
“Well it’s lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt” This quote is significant because it shows us the racism that was still very prominent in the south and their attitude towards slaves. Even though Aunt Polly, who says this to Huck, is considered a nice woman, society has pounded their ideals into her brain, causing her to believe that slaves are not considered people.
“All right, then, I’ll GO to hell” Huck has finally broken from the restrains of society. Before, he was ambivalent when it came to Jim and his slave hood or freedom. But now, he has fully let go of the beliefs forced upon him by society and does what he believes is the right thing to do. Here, Huck says that he will risk whatever punishment he may face, even going to hell for eternity, to save Jim and help him escape.
Huckleberry Finn is the narrator and protagonist of the novel.
Jim is introduced as one of Miss Watson’s household slaves; but goes on to serve as Huck’s faithful companion throughout most of the novel.
Huck’s best friend.
Huck’s alcoholic and racist father.
She is Huck’s guardian.
The Widow Douglas’ sister and Huck’s tutor
Local judge who watches Huck’s money
Two con men rescued by Huck and Jim
The family conned by the duke and the dauphin after the death of Peter Wilks, who has left behind a large estate to his family.
The family that takes Huck in after his raft is destroyed and he has lost Jim.
Tom Sawyer’s uncle and aunt
Tom’s aunt and caretaker.
Huck is only 13 years old, but has gone experienced a lot in his short life. His drunkard father and snobby caretakers, Miss Watson and Widow Douglas, leave Huck confused about the kind of person he should be.
Jim serves as a father-figure throughout most of their adventures. Even though he is often forced into bad situations because of Huck or Huck’s acquaintances, his continuous loyalty to Huck throughout the novel shows Huck that race shouldn’t affect how he treats Jim.
Although absent throughout most of the novel, Tom Sawyer reappears towards the end of the story to help Huck “free” Jim. However, Tom allows Jim to suffer without notifying everyone that he has been freed. He reinstates the idea that Jim is property and that the educated whites of the South won’t respect Jim the way Huck does, society hasn’t changed.
Pap is the representation of the majority of the uneducated white south. He is disgusting; he drinks and has a bad reputation. He tries to take Huck’s money and doesn’t act like a father to Huck at all. He makes fun of Huck for being “civilized” and beats him.
The Widow Douglas represents an older, classier version of the white south. Even though the Widow Douglas owns slaves, she frees Jim instead of selling him when she dies, thus symbolizing some compassion towards Jim, a black man.
Miss Watson nags Huck a lot but teaches him things that stick with him throughout the novel. The things she teaches him also make him contemplate life on a deep, mature level.
When Pap comes back to town, Judge Thatcher helps Huck by “purchasing” Huck’s money; the Judge really has Huck’s best interests at heart.
The Duke and Dauphin are very important because their immoral activities show Huck what not to do. Also, their treatment of Jim inspires Huck to sympathize with Jim even more.
This family is significant because the duke and dauphin use them to sell Jim and gain the family’s inheritance
The Grangerfords are very kind and hospitable, but have had a perpetual feud with another aristocratic family, the Shepherdsons. The families are satirical representations of family living in the pre-Civil War South. Even the house the family lives in is gaudy; thus Twain is mocking this family and their lifestyle.
Coincidently, Jim was sold to Tom Sawyer’s aunt and uncle; Huck and Tom try to “free” Jim from their custody. Also, the Phelpses represent a very “civilized” family, which makes Huck want to escape that kind of environment.
Aunt Sally straightens out the entire end of the novel by revealing who Tom and Huck really are; she doesn’t fall for the boys’ lies or mischief.
Huckleberry Finn begins in St. Petersburg, Missouri during a Pre- war setting which occurs during the 1830s -1840s. Most of the novel takes place along the Mississippi River. The two protagonist of the novel are sailing down the Mississippi at first in search for Cairo, Illinois then they later end up in Arkansas. The book commences with Huck living with his well off Miss Watson and the Widow Mrs. Douglass. Then Huck goes to live in a dilapidated little shack by the river with his father. Eventually Huck escapes to Jackson’s Island.
The Journey to Cairo- the journey to Cairo is a symbol for the magnitude of the the expedition that Jim and Huck are about to undertake. It also aids in the idea that Huck serves as a Moses figure.
Mississippi River/ Life on the raft- For Huck and Jim the Mississippi and the raft represent freedom: “we said there warnt no home like a raft… you feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft (117).” On the raft the rules and boundaries of society do not affect Huck and Jim. They are free to live life unadulterated by societal demands and racists attitudes.
Jim- he symbolizes the human and compassionate side of slaves in general. He also serves as a base to show what the humiliation and degradation of superior figures has decreased a man to.
The Grangerford vs. Shepherdson Feud- These entities symbolize the white southern aristocracy. They are very rich slave- owning people who hate each other for seemingly no good reason. They symbolize the easily persuaded masses ability to hate another group based off pre distinguished norms.
Significance of the Opening scene:
In the opening scene of Huckleberry Finn, Huck narrates an incident in which the Widow Douglas tries to “sivilize” him by teaching him about the story of Moses. Huck is still very innocent but is distinguished early on as a character that is pragmatic. In the confines of his perfect Christian upbringings, he doesn’t see the need for all these stories and helping others and going to the “good place” rather than the bad. Huck is very hell bent on finding the use for all the religion that they teach him and he is uneasily swayed he even said in the opening passage that he was willing to go to hell.
Significance of the Last Scene :
In the last scene it is revealed that Jim was free along and that tom sawyer knew this, but withheld so that he could have an adventure. This scene is parallel to the first state of Huck in this book because now Aunt Sally is trying to “sivilize’ him, he is the home and he is in the home of well –to-do white folks trying to find a new adventure. This scene exemplifies the childish tone of the book as the serious and complex issue ended being a game and Jim appears to be in a state of inferiority in the end as well.
Possible Themes/ Topics of Discussion:
Racism/slavery- There is a common thread between the most of the acquaintances of Huck and that is the fact that all either own slaves or support slavery. Huck has never made a declaration against slavery but does support the freedom of one slave his friend, Jim. The evils of slavery and the normalcy of slavery are in direct conflict in this story. Even Huck does want to be seen as some abolitionist, yet he is not a supporter of it either. Racist attitude are not particularly hateful they just are the norms. There is one character Pap who spews hatred.
Morality/ Human conscience- Huck throughout the book constantly struggles between what is he thinks is convenient and what he genuinely considers to be right. Huck is one described as having a sound heart and deformed conscience (Twain). Twain juxtaposes Huck’s innocent outlook on life compared to his opinion formulated through the twisted view of life held by society. Huck wants Jim to be a free man but feels guilty for doing such a terrible thing to miss Watson.
Childhood Innocence- the entire novel is seen through the eyes of adolescence. Along with the complex themes, there is an ever-present childlike emotion. At the beginning of the book Twain introduces the scene where the boys have created the club to go about for an adventure. This book is centered around the desire for Huck to have and adventure and to discover his own moral compass. He finds himself debating whether he should not support Jim and further. This shows the powerful effect that the societal pressure can have on a young boy.