Huckleberry Finn was written by Samuel Clemons using his pen name, “Mark Twain” and has been named one of the great American novels
The work is among the first in major American literature to be written throughout in vernacular English, characterized by local color regionalism. It is told in the first person by Huckleberry “Huck” Finn, a friend of Tom Sawyer It is a direct sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
The book is noted for its colorful description of people and places along the Mississippi River. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is often a scathing satire on entrenched attitudes, particularly racism.
It was criticized upon release because of its coarse language and became even more controversial in the 20th century because of its perceived use of racial stereotypes and because of its frequent use of the racial slur, There are strong arguments that the story, and the tenor of the book, are anti-racist.
The novel challenges the reader’s preconceived notions by setting up several contrasts and parodies. Huck struggles not only with the challenges of his strenuous journey, but also with the 19th century social climate and the role it forces on him regarding Jim. Throughout the story, Huck is in moral conflict between the values and prejudices of the society around him, and his personal conscious which strains to refute those attitudes.
Huck makes a moral choice based on his own experience of Jim’s friendship and human worth, which results in a making a decision that is in direct opposition to the things he has been taught. Mark Twain, in his lecture notes, proposes that “a sound heart is a surer guide than an ill-trained conscience”.
Mark Twain grew up in Missouri not far from the Mississippi River. He worked for awhile in a printing house as a typesetter. He later pursued obtaining a River Boat captain license and became one of the most accomplished captains in the area.
Twain is also considered the greatest humorist and satirists in American literature. His stories, essasys and commentaries often took aim at politics, current beliefs, status quos, and the hypocrisy evident in the society of his day. He was particularly critical of some of the social conventions of his day – and does parody them in his writing. Later on, another American would be considered to have these same qualities through his astute insights and clever writing. That person was Will Rogers. Living and writing at a time that was linked to Transcendentalism, Twain’s belief in the personal conscience and willingness to challenge everyday standards was a natural outcome of his time.
When he began writing, he chose the nom de plume, or pen name, of “Mark Twain.” “Mark Twain” is a riverboat term measuring two fathoms (12 feet) in depth: mark (measure) twain (two).
Huckleberry Finn parodies adventure novels, politics, religion, the Hatfields and the McCoys, and even Hamlet’s soliloquy. But most memorable may be Emmeline Grangerford, the 15-year-old poet. Emmeline is a parody of Julia A. Moore, the “Sweet Singer of Michigan,” who wrote bad poetry about death. So does Emmeline, according to Huck: “Every time a man died, or a woman died, or a child died, she would be on hand with her “tribute” before he was cold.
Huckleberry Finn lives in Missouri before the Civil War, near the Mississippi River.
Huck is young and uneducated. With an alcoholic and unreliable father, he has grown up mostly on his own.
Not long before the novel begins, however, Huck has been taken to live with the Widow Douglas and her sister.
But Huck thinks life with the two sisters is too civilized.
He prefers living in the open and having adventures with his friend Tom Sawyer.
Huck and Tom like to plan great adventures and play pranks on people.
On one of their adventures, the two boys found a lot of money in a cave (described in the novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer).
One day, Huck’s father, Pap, returns to town.
Pap wants Huck’s money—and kidnaps him to get it.
After a miserable time with his father, Huck escapes.
While he is running away, he meets Jim—a slave of Widow Douglas’s sister—who has escaped too.
The two set off together on a raft on the Mississippi River—and on one of the most famous journeys in American literature.
Mark Twain, the pen name of Samuel Clemens, is one of the United States’ best-known authors.
In novels such as Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain vividly depicts the lives and dialects of southern people from long ago.
Twain also uses humor and satire both to entertain and to comment on society.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn takes place in the years before the Civil War.
In the South at that time, a slave was considered property. Stealing a hunted slave was seen as a great crime—and morally wrong.
When Twain wrote the novel, in the 1880s, the Civil War had been fought and the slaves had been freed.
However, conditions for African Americans were still very difficult in many parts of the United States.
When Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published, critics hated the novel, accusing it of “coarse fun” and “gutter realism.”
Louisa May Alcott, author of Little Women, wrote “If Mr. Clemens cannot think of something better to tell our pure-minded lads and lasses, he had best stop writing for them.”
Twain welcomed the controversy, however, hoping that it would bring more sales.
The book sold fifty thousand copies in the first few months.
Today, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn remains controversial.
Although it’s accepted as a classic of American literature, some critics still accuse it of being racist, and its use in schools has been challenged.
Twain does use terms now considered racist.
However, he creates a powerful argument against slavery as well. Also, in a way perhaps surprising for the time, he allows Jim to speak for himself, revealing truths that even Twain may have found uncomfortable.
Innocent Abroad, Life on the Mississippi
the prince and the Pauper, the Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court
The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras Country
Mark Twain described the major theme of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as
“A sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision, and conscience suffers defeat.”
Satiric Novel (Fiction)
A work that uses humor, irony, and
extreme exaggeration to ridicule society in
order to bring about change
Narrator & Protagonist
Huck Finn: literal, realistic, practical
Before the Civil War; roughly 1835-1845
The Mississippi River town of St. Petersburg, Missouri
The adventure continues down the Mississippi into Arkansas
Racism & Slavery
Intellectual and Moral Education
The Hypocrisy of “Civilized” Society
Huck’s youth is an important factor in his moral education; only a child is open-minded enough to undergo the kind of development that Huck does.
Lies and Cons
Huckleberry Finn is full of malicious lies and scams; the lies are bad and hurt a number of innocent people.
Superstitions and Folk Beliefs
Jim believes in a wide range of superstitions and folktales; although Huck is reluctant to believe at first, many of the beliefs indeed have some basis in reality.
Parodies of Popular Romance Novels
The story is full of people who base their lives on romantic literary models and stereotypes of various kinds
Tom Sawyer, for example, bases his life and actions on adventure novels
Conflict and Climax
Major Conflict: Huck’s internal struggle with his “deformed conscience.”
Climax: The point in the story where the protagonist’s conflict is resolved, leading to the resolution of the story.
The climax of Huckleberry Finn is when Huck decides to steal Jim out of slavery from the Phelps farm (his own moral code) despite the fact that he believes he will suffer in hell for it (society’s teachings)
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been a controversial book since it was first published in 1885 – mostly because of its inappropriate language and racial slurs.
The following slides will represent four different points of views of Twain’s most famous novel.
Written by William E. Henley of the Athenaeum
“In Huckleberry Finn Twain returns to his right mind”
“The book is Mark Twain at his best”
“It is meant for boys”
“Huckleberry . . . is the hero of such scrapes and experiences as to make your mouth water”
“Jim and Huckleberry are real creations”
Statements made by the Concord Library Committee after they excluded the book for the public library
“absolutely immoral in its tone”
“very little humor”
“If not for the author’s reputation, the book would undoubtedly meet with severe criticism.”
“the veriest trash”
“a low grade of morality”
“language of a rough, ignorant dialect”
“systematic use of bad grammar and an employment of rough, inelegant expressions.”
Comments by John H. Wallace of The Washington Post
“Huckleberry Finn uses the pejorative [insulting] term ****** profusely.”
“It speaks of black Americans with implications that they are not honest, they are not intelligent as whites, and they are not human.”
“It constitutes mental cruelty, harassment, and outright racial intimidation to force black students to sit in a classroom to read this kind of literature . . .”
Written by Clarence Page of the Des Moines Register
“Huckleberry Finn may have been black . . . No, not Huck himself, but his voice.”
“The news that ol’ Huck might have been a soul brother is ironic considering how many blacks have tried to keep Huckleberry Finn out of the hands of school children every year, despite its strong anti-slavery, pro-brotherhood message, because it happens to mention the word ‘******’ about 200 times.
“Twain exposed the lunacy and hypocrisy of American racism by showing it through the eyes of a boy who finds himself . . . helping a slave to escape.”
Twain’s View on Slavery
As a schoolboy, Twain had no aversion to slavery
He was not aware there was anything wrong with it
The papers said nothing against it
Churches taught that God approved it
He took a strong liking to blacks when they worked on his family’s fam.
He and his family were friends with many blacks in his home town of Hannibal
Twain’s family owned a slave that he deeply admired
Twain called him “Uncle Dan’l”
The character of Jim in Huck Finn is said to be modeled after this man
He is also mentioned in several other Twain stories under his real name