The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Study Guide

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel by Mark Twain about Huck, a mischievous boy, who runs away from his drunken father. Huck meets up with Jim, a runaway slave and they travel down the Mississippi on a raft. The two escape through various misadventures, including the family feud between the Grangerfofrds and Shepherdsons and the conning "duke and king." Finally, Jim is captured on the Phelps' farm, Huck plans an escape and, finally, it is revealed that Jim is now a freeman and Huck's father has died.


Samuel Langhorne Clemens was born in Florida, Missouri on November 30, 1835, the son of a lawyer. When he was four years old, his family moved Hannibal, Missouri, on the banks of the Mississippi River, where he lived until he was 18 years old. His life in Hannibal inspired his depictions of small town life, especially as one sees in his novels The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn . His father died in 1847, which left his family with little money, and as a result, he became a printer's apprentice. He started traveling in 1853 and worked as a journey-man printer until 1857, when he began an apprenticeship to become a steam-boat pilot on the Mississippi River. His work on river boats influenced much of his writing and gave him his pseudonym, "Mark Twain." "By the mark, twain," was the signal that the water was two fathoms, or twelve feet, which was just deep enough for a riverboat to pass through.

At the outbreak of the Civil War, he left the Mississippi. After a very limited foray in a Confederate Calvary division, Clemens worked in several capacities over the following few years, including silver prospecting in the West, before beginning his career in journalism, signing his articles with his new pen name starting in 1863. His first book, Jumping Frog was published in 1865. Having worked as a traveling reporter, he published the wildly popular Innocents Abroad in 1869, based on his experiences in the Mediterranean and the Middle East. Soon after, he married Olivia Langdon and moved to a mansion in Hartford, Connecticut. He lived there for 17 years, writing his most famous works, including The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876), Life on the Mississippi (1883), and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884/5). During this time he became known as a humorist-philosopher-statesman, and he supplemented his writing with traveling and lecturing. He published two more extremely popular novels, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1889), and Pudd'nhead Wilson (1894), but the death of his wife and daughter, along with a growing frustration with society's injustices contributed to an increasingly depressive and cynical view of the world reflected in his writings. Though his later works never reached the popularity or esteem of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn , he continued to be a well-loved lecturer and respected writer until his death in 1910.

Historical Context

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was written towards the end of the nineteenth century, about a decade after the end of the Civil War. When Twain first began to write Huckleberry Finn , the nation was experiencing a prosperous time, which Twain dubbed "the gilded age." He planned the novel to build on the astounding success of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer , the novel soon began to focus more and more on the institution of slavery, something that did not fit the optimism of the time in which he was writing. As the efforts to reintegrate the Reconstruction began to fail, many people in positions of power in the South started taking advantage of the newly freed slaves, in an effort to re-exert control over them. The strict programs that were established by the North to rebuild the South brought out feelings of resentment and anger. The trappings of wealth and happiness began to fade, and the darker aspects of a post-war environment became apparent. It is in this environment that Huck's story was received, and it has been both intensely popular and the subject of controversy since its publication. Though Twain's prominent position within the tradition of American letters was firmly established upon his publication of Tom Sawyer , Huck Finn is considered his masterwork, and one of the finest examples of American fiction. When it was first published, it received popular acclaim, and sold fantastically well, often as a result of door-to-door sales.

In more recent times, it has been banned in the South on several occasions on the grounds that it points out the hypocrisies of slavery and is generally critical of the South. Others deem it as racist because of its use of the word "nigger," as well as because of what some believe is a cartoonish and insulting portrayal of runaway slave Jim. Though the use of the word "nigger" should be considered within the context of the time in which it was written, and in this way could not be thought to have been used with the intentional, intensely pejorative connotation which the word usually experiences in the present day. The debate over the way in which Jim is presented is an active and significant one; despite, or in fact, because of, the controversy surrounding the novel, it is apparent that it offers a significant look into the social environment at that time in the United States, and offers an exploration of issues of race then and now.

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