Title of Work

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn


Mark Twain, born as Samuel Langhorne.

Nationality/Ethnic Background

Mark Twain, an American, was born in Florida, Missouri.

Genre and Sub-genres

The novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, written by Mark Twain, is a picaresque, bildungsroman, and satirical novel.

Pertinent Biographical Information

Mark Twain was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens on November 30, 1835, in the town of Florida, Missouri. Twain moved to the town of Hannibal on the Mississippi River (Mississippi River plays a big part in the novel). Twain worked on Mississippi steamboats as a pilot from 1857 to 1861. Many of Twain's works were influenced by his experiences in Mississippi, like The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Life on the Mississippi, and Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Twain died on April 21, 1910.

Literary Historical Period/Movement and Pertinent Background

As stated, Samuel Langhorne was born in 1835. Therefore, the dialect is different then how we speak now. As an example, the word "nigger" is used throughout the book. In addition, Jim is a slave. This shows that the setting of this book takes place before the Civil War. Furthermore, because of the time period, readers can expect to see some racism or stereotypes of people living in the South before the Civil War. However, although the setting of the novel is before the Civil War, the book was published after the Civil War in 1885. This places the novel in the Realist period of the late 19th century. Works from this period often aimed to remedy a specific social problem and contained dialects from around the country. Both of these are apparent in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Twain critiques slavery and uses numerous dialects from areas around the Mississippi River.

Major Characters, Their Relationships, Their Conflicts

  • Huckleberry Finn: Huckleberry, also called Huck, is the main character. Huckleberry's problems include: Mrs. Watson trying to civilize him; Pap kidnapping him; traveling down the Mississippi River with Jim, encountering slave hunters alone the way; the King and Duke, the con artists; and trying to free Jim, after Jim is sold back into slavery by the King and Duke.
  • Tom Sawyer: Tom Sawyer is Huckleberry's best friend. In the beginning of the novel, Tom organizes a gang. Later, at the conclusion of the novel, Tom organizes the escape of Jim. Tom is shot because his plan went wrong.
  • Jim: Jim is an African American who begins in the novel as a valuable slave of Mrs. Watson. Once he finds out Mrs. Watson is about to sell him due to financial problems, Jim flees and travels down to a small island where he later meets Huckleberry. Townsmen near the island come looking for Jim, thus starting their journey. Finally, in the end of the novel, when Jim is sick, he gets captured by family of Tom Sawyer. Therefore, being a slave presents Jim's biggest conflict. In the end, Mrs. Watson dies and sets Jim free.
  • Miss Watson: Miss Watson, along with her sister Widow Douglas, adopt Huckleberry and try to civilize him. Miss Watson is very religious, and is quite harsh on Huck. In addition, she owns the slave Jim.
  • Widow Douglas: The Widow Douglas is Miss Watson's sister, and is less harsh on Huckleberry than Miss Watson. She is also Huck's favorite between the two, and he listens to and respects her more than Miss Watson.
  • King: The King is the older con artist who joins Huck and Jim traveling down the Mississippi River. He plays the naked man in the Royal Nonesuch, and he sells Jim as a runaway slave. In addition, he is tarred and feathered in Pikesvile.
  • Duke: The Duke is the younger con artist who joins Huck and Jim traveling down the Mississippi River. In addition, the Duke creates the Royal Nonesuch. The Duke is later tarred and feathered in Pikesvile.
  • Pap: Huckleberry's father, Pap is an illiterate drunk. Pap shows up early in the novel and tries to win custody of Huck. Initially, he is allowed to take Huck, but after multiple run-ins with the law Pap is deemed too much of a drunk to be in charge of Huck. This, plus the fact that Huck has been attending school, angers Pap, and he decides to kidnap Huck. He takes Huck to a secluded cabin, and they live together for some while. One day while Pap is out, Huck cuts a hole in the side of the cabin, takes some things, and spreads pig blood around to make it look like robbers came and killed him. Later, Jim and Huck come across a dead body in a house that washes up during a flood. Jim won't let Huck the the face of the dead man, but near the end of the novel it is revealed that the dead body in the house is Pap.

Brief Plot Summary

Motifs (Recurring Images, Ideas, Figures of Speech, Symbols, Colors) & Their Thematic Significance

Lies and deceit: Throughout the novel multiple characters lie and act in deceitful ways. For example:
  • Huckleberry lies to protect Jim on the boat from the slave hunters.
  • The Duke and the King lie to multiple townspeople to make money.
  • Huckleberry and Tom lie to Tom's Aunt and Uncle.

The thematic significance is this shows that lying is sometimes the right course of action, like when Huckleberry kept Jim out of slavery by lying to the slave hunters.

  • Slaves, such as Jim, are continuously shown as inferior, even to Huckleberry who is just a boy.
  • The stereotype of the white slave owners, and whites in general, is shown mainly when there are situations regarding Jim.

The inequality between people and social classes in society then leads Huckleberry to question the common rules and social standards between people, because, from Huckleberry's point of view, there is nothing different between him and Jim except for skin, yet Jim is a slave.

  • Jim in particular is very superstitious, and he believes many wild things, like that "if a man owned a bee-hive, and that man died, the bees must be told about it before sun-up next morning, or else the bees would all weaken down and quit work and die" (Pg. 39).
  • Though they seem silly and oppose society's logic, Jim's superstitious predictions often come true.

Superstitions show the theme that society's rules and assumptions are often not always correct, and that sometimes the non-traditional views are the legitimate, correct, rules and assumptions.

Other Significant Thematic Elements (Significant Character's Names, Significant Quotations, Significant Actions/Events)

Page 179 (Chapter 31): "'All right, then, I'll go to hell'--and tore it up."
  • Huckleberry writes this in a letter to Mrs. Watson who would turn Jim in.
  • Huckleberry decides that he will go to hell if he doesn't turn Jim in, however, after some thought Huckleberry decides he would rather go to hell then turn his good friend Jim in.
  • Huckleberry is breaking societies rules regarding slaves, and instead decides that Jim should not return to slavery, thus relating to the theme that although people seem to be different, although people seem to be unequal, people are actually fundamentally the same.

Page 11 (Chapter 1, first page of the chapter): "The Widow Douglas she took me for her son, and allowed she would civilize me; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldn't stand it no longer I lit out."
  • Throughout the novel, other people are trying to manipulate Huck.
  • Widow Douglas and Mrs. Watson try to civilize Huck.
  • The King and Duke use him for their schemes.
  • Tom also uses Huck by not telling him that Jim is actually free when they plan the breakout.
  • Huck then decides to stop listening to everyone else, and he leaves.
  • The progression of Huck throughout the novel, from being lead to leading his own life, shows that this novel is a bilingualism.

Page 12 (Chapter 1): "Now she had got a start, and she went on and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do there was to go around all day long with a harp and sing, forever and ever. So I didn't think much of it. But I never said so. I asked her if she reckoned Tom Sawyer would go there, and she said not by a considerable sight. I was glad about that, because I wanted him and me to be together."
  • Mrs. Watson is speaking to Huck about Heaven, Hell, and the Bible in general.
  • Although we see Heaven as the place to strive for in the afterlife, Huck believes that friendship and loyalty are more important.
  • Huck would rather stay with Tom then go somewhere without him, thus showing his loyalty to stick with Tom, and how much Huck admires their friendship.
  • The display of loyalty shows that sometimes, even against popular religious or society's beliefs, that who you are friends with may be more important then what others want you to believe. In other words, it may be better to follow your own beliefs and values instead of someone else's.

Major Themes

Social Hypocrisy: When society creates rules, and then breaks those rules, they contradict themselves, thus forcing members of society to question all the previous common rules provided by society. As an example, Huckleberry becomes friends with Jim, a slave, and finds that except for Jim's skin color, Jim is no different from anyone else. Therefore, Huckleberry starts to question slavery and society's social status standards.

When we find that someone is different then what they appear to be, then what we believe them to be, it may cause us to rethink our beliefs about these people, and our view on society as a whole. As an example, Huckleberry does not give his letter that essentially reveals Jim's location and sends Jim back into slavery to Mrs. Watson.

Personal Morals Vs Social Morals: When we find ourselves in overwhelming situations, sometimes we are forced to step back and observe the situation from a different perspective. Afterwards, we then have a different viewpoint on the situation, and we may act differently or find a conclusion vastly different then from those who have not had the same experiences. Therefore, the theme that experiences and situations thrust upon us may give lead us to a decision contrary to society's belief on the subject is created. As an example, we can refer to Huckleberry not tearing up the letter for Mrs. Watson regarding Jim, and Huckleberry deciding to travel West in the end of the novel.