Themes in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain



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Themes in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
A theme is a main idea of a literary work. Novels and plays often have a number of themes because they explore many different issues and questions about life. Themes are developed through a literary work’s characters, plot, setting, point of view and symbols. It’s important to keep the following in mind when you explore theme:


  1. Subject and theme are not the same. For example, superstition is a subject that is explored in Huck Finn; however, the theme is what the work says about the subject. Thus, a theme is expressed in a complete sentence.

  2. Avoid clichés. Clichés are shortcuts that ignore the complexity of the literary work.

  3. The theme must be supported by the major details of the work. It also cannot be contradicted by any of the details of the work. For example, it would be wrong to say that a theme of Huck Finn is that slavery is acceptable. Although the overall society in Huck Finn thinks slavery is acceptable, it is clear through Huck’s friendship with Jim and the nobility of Jim’s character that a theme of the novel is that slavery is destructive and that no human being should be enslaved.

  4. A theme is not a moral. Sometimes people want to find the “moral of the story.” However, not all themes give instructions on how to live ones life. Writers of literature are usually more indirect and sometimes they just make observations about life without necessarily judging.

  5. A literary work usually has more than one theme. This is because a literary work often explores many issues and topics.

  6. Themes can be questions. Some works just present an intellectual or moral dilemma without necessarily providing an answer to the dilemma.


Below are some themes from The Adventures of Hucklebery Finn. For each theme, identify which of the major topics that we analyzed relates to the theme (education, nature, religion, superstition, freedom, Huck, Jim), and list some of the details from the novel that support the theme.


Theme

Supporting details

The tension between freedom and conformity can cause inner conflict.

Topic:

Supporting details:




Society’s values and laws can conflict with higher moral values or personal morals and values.

Topic:

Supporting details:




Society’s laws and values need to be examined, questioned and changed if necessary.

Topic:

Supporting details:




People tend to behave irrationally and even cruelly in large groups.

Topic:

Supporting details:




The life of every person has value.

Topic:

Supporting details:




Belief in superstition is often strong in people who have little control over their own lives.

Topic:

Supporting details:




Greed can destroy lives.

Topic:

Supporting details:




Freedom means different things to different people.

Topic:

Supporting details:




People must live outside society to truly be free.

Topic:

Supporting details:




Gullible people are partially responsible for their own deception.

Topic:

Supporting details:




Superstition can be used to manipulate people.

Topic:

Supporting details:






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