Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) (1835-1910)
Clemens‘s father was a prosperous middle-class Virginian who died when his son was only twelve. A
severe, humorless man, incapable of showing affection and with a rigorous puritan conscience, his death gave young Samuel a shock which was to stay with him for life. Samuel had been born premature and was always in poor health. The family moved to Hannibal, on the Mississippi, when he was only four. The town provided him with all the characters and places we would later read about in his books. The young Clemens began his life in a fairly affluent family that owned a number of household slaves.
When his father died, Samuel was apprenticed to the job of printer. Having finished his apprenticeship, Clemens began to set type for his brother Orion's newspaper, the Hannibal Journal. He wrote humorous
sketches based on current journalistic models. His first The Dandy Frightening the Squatter was published in
the Carpet Bay at Boston. At the age of 18 he left home and went to the North-East where he wrote more sketches. Hannibal proved too small to hold Clemens, though; the young man soon became a sort of itinerant printer, finding work in numerous American cities, including New York and Philadelphia. While still in his early twenties, Clemens gave up his printing career in order to work on the Mississippi riverboats, and eventually became a riverboat pilot. Clemens picked up a great deal from his life on the river, most particularly the pen name Mark Twain, which was a cry used on steamboats to indicate a river depth of two fathoms. Life on the river also gave Twain material for several of his books, including the raft scenes of Huck Finn and all of the
material for his autobiographical Life on the Mississippi.
In 1861, the Civil War exploded across America, shutting down the Mississippi for travel or shipping. Twain joined a Confederate cavalry division. He joined an irregular command called the ‗Marion Rangers‘. He
described his experience in The Private History of a Campaign That Failed. Clemens, however, was no ardent
Confederate, and when his division deserted en masse, he did too, and made his way west with his brother, working first as a silver miner in Nevada and then stumbling into his true calling, journalism.
In 1863 he began signing articles with the name Mark Twain. Throughout the late 1860s and 1870s, Twain's articles, stories, memoirs, and novels, characterized by an immense and witty humor and a deft ear for language and dialect, garnered him an almost inconceivable celebrity.
Then he went to the West repudiating the historical past, not his personal past. In any case, the story of the past became his chief subject. He was capable of mordant realism and knew the truth about the steamboats (floating brothels and gambling cells). After meeting Artemus Ward, an extremely popular humorist, he improved his style and, as a result, published Those Blasted Children (1864) in the Mercury in New York.
He became very famous and began to give lectures, learning not only to write the tell but how to tell it. He was an actor, and knew, after his days as a reporter, how to tie his articles together and how to give them a distinct flavor and personality. Tired of living in the west he travel to Europe and the Holy Land in 1866, the same year he published The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras Country. After the voyage he had a liaison with
Elisha Bliss, who encouraged him to publish his letters in book form. The Innocents Abroad (1869) was a great
success, a frontier tale, made up from oral anecdote, casual and apparently improvised speech, full of turns and booby traps. A burlesque travel book.
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In 1870 he married Olivia Langdons, a woman of substance of the new American middle class. They settled in Buffalo but soon problems mounted up. His wife gave birth to a sickly baby who died, and she was ill a lot of the time. Samuel became depressed, hated the corruption of democracy, the social scramble and the greed and became obsessed with his boyhood in Hannibal. In 1871 they moved to Hartford, Connecticut and Twain settled down to life as a professional writer. He published Roughing it, and The Gilded Age. In 1874 Old
Times on the Mississippi was published on the Atlantic Monthly. These pieces and Life on the Mississippi
(1883) were a kind of preparation for Huckleberry Finn.
In 1875 he finished what he had called ‗simply a hymn put into prose to give it a wordily air‘, Tom
Sawyer. The cult of childhood and his own role affirming the national experience by having witnessed the changes that came with the war became Twain‘s subject. In 1876, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was
published to wild national acclaim, cementing Twain's position as a behemoth in American literary circles. As the nation prospered economically in the post-Civil War period—an era that came to be known as the Gilded
Age, an epithet that Twain coined. His books were sold door-to-door and he became wealthy enough to build a large house in Hartford, Connecticut.
That same year he began Huckleberry Finn, with the subtitle ‗Tom Sawyer‘s Comrade, a sequel to
Tom Sawyer, in an effort to capitalize on the popularity of the earlier book. It took him seven years to finish it. Reviewers found the book irreverent and vicious, and there was a vast body of criticism. The controversy it aroused helped to ensure its success as Twain expected. This new novel took on a much more serious character, however, as Twain focused increasingly on the institution of slavery and the South. Twain soon set the work aside, perhaps because its darker tone did not fit the optimistic tone of the time. In the early 1880s, the hopefulness of the post-Civil War years began to fade. Reconstruction, the political program designed to reintegrate the defeated South into the Union as non-slave states, began to fail. The South became embittered by the harsh measures imposed by the victorious North. Concerned about maintaining power in their own regions, Southern states and individuals began an effort to control and oppress the black men and women that the war had freed.
Meanwhile, Clemens's personal life began to collapse. His wife had long been sickly, and the couple lost their first son after just nineteen months. Clemens also made some bad financial decisions. What began in 1880 as a modest investment in a typesetting system spiraled out of control, and in 1891 Clemens found himself mired in debilitating debt. As his personal fortune dwindled, he continued to devote himself to writing. Drawing from his personal plight and the prevalent national troubles of the day, he finished a draft of Huck Finn
in 1883, and by 1884 had it ready for publication. Once again, the book met with great public and critical acclaim.
Over the next ten years, Clemens continued to write. Twain published The Prince and the Pauper
(1881) a children‘s book laid in Tudor England. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court criticizes the cult
of medievalism, which had a strongly marked class element because it was cultivated by people of aristocratic background or pretensions and uses this setting to give an ironical and satirical pessimistic view of the social and personal contexts of the moment. The main characters come to desperate collision with reality . The story also tells about the tension between an agrarian and industrial world. The despair reflected in the story appeared later in Twain‘s life in the form of bankruptcy.
Twain had invested a lot of money on a new typewriting machine which was not successful. He had to close his house at Hartford to economize and moved to Europe with his family undertaking a worldwide reading tour in order to pay back what he owed. Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894) In 1896 his daughter in England died of
meningitis before he could reach her and the following year his wife and youngest daughter became chronic invalids. By 1898 he was solvent again and return to America a hero. He embodied the American dream. People loved him, universities honored him, but his wife died and he took refuge in a massive autobiography .The Man That Corrupted Hadleyburg (1899) The Mysterious Stranger (1910, posthumous).
Clemens's writing from this period until the end of his life reflects a depression and a sort of righteous rage at the injustices of the world. Though he felt himself increasingly alienated from society, Twain, was enjoying his greatest literary reputation, and continued to be in demand as a public speaker until his death.His only living daughter died of an epileptic seizure and left him depressed and without hope in the nature or fate of man. He died the following year, always defending the American character , not submitting to European fashion.
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Novels: The Gilded Age, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Prince and the Pauper, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, The American Claimant, Tom Sawyer Abroad, The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson, Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc, Tom Sawyer Detective, The Mysterious Stranger.
Tales and Sketches: The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, Mark Twain’s Sketches: New and
Old, The Stolen White Elephant and Other Stories, The $1,000,000 Bank-note and Other New Stories, The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg and Other Stories and Sketches, A Double Barrelled Detective Story, The $30,000 Bequest and Other Stories.
Travel Sketches: The Innocents Abroad, A Tramp Abroad, Following Equator. Reminiscences: Roughing it,
Life on the Mississippi. Autobiography: Mark Twain’s Autobiography Philosophical Dialogue: What is Man?
Other Works: Mark Twain’s Burlesque Autobiography, How to Tell a Story and Other Essays, Extracts from Adam’s Diary, King Leopold’s Soliloquy, Eve’s Diary, Christian Science, Is Shakespeare Dead?, Extract from Captain Stormfield’s Visit to Heaven.
Huckleberry Finn is a tale told objectively but through the eyes of a child traveling on a raft. Both Huck and Jim are escaping from the forms imposed by society. The river provides not only a principle of structural continuity but also a principle of thematic continuity. The setting, the town of Hannibal, St Petersburg, Missouri, one of the southern slave states. Huck is the carrier of the meaning of the novel as Twain needed a hero sensitive enough to ask the right questions and demand the right answers, a 13-year-old. Twain did not want to use the third person. He wanted a language based on colloquial usage, carrying the local flavor, flexible, natural, fusing form with function, rejecting ‗British English‘ in favor of the rich dialects of the American South. However, Dickens‘s influence is decisive. Against Huck‘s innocent enthusiasm at setting off, Twain poses a
world where corruption and exploitation are rife. Twain explores the dilemma of the individual caught between his own desire for freedom and the demands of society. Huck revels. Tom Sawyer finally accepts society. This is the critical difference. Jim, Mrs Watson fugitive slave joins Huck in search of literal freedom. The boat, isolated in the middle of the river, symbolizes the detachment from a hostile society. The fight of Romanticism versus Rationalism. Huck is left to his own conscience, to help Jim, who is now his friend, or to bring him to the authorities. The result is a narrative apparently artless and plain, but with an ironic cutting edge.
Recent criticism has recognized the value of the book. Hemingway wrote: ‗all modern American
literature comes from one book by Mark Twain call Huck Finn. It is the best we‘ve had. All American writing
comes from that‘. Eliot said: ‗Huck Finn is one of the permanent symbolic figures of fiction not unworthy to take a place with Ulysses, Faust, Don Quixote, Don Juan, Hamlet and other discoveries which man has made about himself‘.
Through the twentieth century, Huck Finn has become famous not just as the crown jewel in the work
of one of America's preeminent writers, but also as a subject of intense controversy. The book has been banned by sensitive Southerners because of its steadfastly critical take on the South and the hypocrisies of slavery; it has been banned by those who have dismissed it as vulgar or racist because it uses the word "nigger," a term whose connotations obscure the book's deeper themes (which are certainly antislavery). That the historical context in which Clemens wrote made his use of the word insignificant and, indeed, part of the realism he wanted to create, offers little solace to many modern readers. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,
then, emerges not just as a novel that explores the racial and moral world of its time, but also, through the controversies that continue to surround it, as an artifact of those same moral and racial tensions as they have evolved into the present day.
Full Title - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Author - Mark Twain (pseudonym for Samuel Clemens)
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Type of Work - Novel
Genre - Picaresque (episodic, colorful, often has quest or journey structure); satire of popular adventure and romance novels; bildungsroman (novel of education or moral development)
Language - English (frequently makes use of Southern and black dialects)
Time and place written - Begun in 1876 as a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; Twain set it aside and
returned to it several times, finally finishing it in 1883; written mostly in Hartford, Connecticut, and Elmira, New York
Date of First Publication - 1885
Publisher - Charles L. Webster & Co.
Narrator - Huckleberry Finn
Climax - The major climax of the novel occurs when Huck and Tom try to free Jim and Tom is shot in the leg. Two moral climaxes: in Chapter XVI when Huck lies to some men who are out hunting fugitive slaves by saying that the man on the raft with him is his father, who has smallpox; in Chapter XXXI, when Huck is considering writing Miss Watson to tell her the Phelps family has Jim. In both instances Huck follows his conscience instead of the prevailing morality of the day.
Protagonist - Huck Finn, and to a lesser extent, Jim
Antagonist - Society in general, which may take the form of the Widow Douglas, Pap, the Duke and Dauphin, or a slave trader
Setting (time) - Before the Civil War; roughly 1835–1845; Twain said the novel was set forty to fifty years
before the time of its publication
Setting (place) - The novel opens in the Mississippi River town of St. Petersburg, Missouri, then Huck and Jim travel down the river through Arkansas
Point of View - Huck's point of view, although Twain occasionally indulges in a digression in which he shows off his ironic wit
Falling Action - Tom Sawyer's aunt Polly appears at the Phelpses, revealing that Jim has been set free by Miss Watson's will. Tom recovers from being shot, and Huck "lights out for the territory" in the West. Tense - Immediate past; that is, real-time narration
Foreshadowing - The novel relies more on parallels and juxtapositions than on foreshadowing: Huck's plight and eventual escape and Jim's plight and eventual escape are continually compared. For example, both are kept prisoner in a cabin and eventually escape through a hole in the floor or wall.
Tone - Frequently ironic or mocking, particularly concerning adventure novels and romances; always contemplative to some extent, as Huck seeks to decipher the world around him; sometimes boyish and exuberant.
Symbols - The river, storms, floods, shipwrecks, the natural world (snakes, rats, etc.). Huck Finn does not that
rely heavily on symbols.
Themes - Racism; the injustices and hypocrisy of society; social breakdown mirrored in family breakdown; education and intelligence; growing up and maturing; learning to think and reason morally for oneself; faith and received knowledge versus learning experience; deciphering the truth in the face of lies. Motifs - Light and dark, or black and white; drunkenness; ineffectual attempts at reform; spoofing of popular forms like romance novels; dialect and unique forms of speech; substitutes for parents; childhood and disillusionment; superstitions and folk beliefs.
Huckleberry Finn - The protagonist and narrator of the novel. Huck is son of the local drunk of St. Petersburg, Missouri, a town on the Mississippi River. Frequently forced to survive on his own wits and always a bit of an outcast, Huck is thoughtful, intelligent (though uneducated), and willing to come to his own conclusions about important matters, even if these conclusions frequently contradict society's norms. Nevertheless, Huck is still a boy, and is easily influenced by others, particularly by his imaginative friend, Tom. In this novel, Huck‘s age
and background are as important as his personality. Huck is a child—only about thirteen years old—who
comes from the lowest levels of white society: his drunken father is a ruffian who disappears for months on end. Huck himself is dirty and frequently homeless. Although he is being "reformed" by the Widow Douglas at
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the beginning of the novel, Huck remains a marginalized member of society. The community has failed to protect him from his father, and though he finally gets some of the schooling and religious training that he had missed, he has not been indoctrinated with social values in the same way a middle-class, mainstream boy like Tom Sawyer has been. Huck becomes skeptical of the world around him, and constantly looks to distance himself from it. Since he is a child, Huck is always vulnerable: any adult he encounters has power over him. This allows Twain to compare Huck to Jim, who, as a slave, is also vulnerable to whites, even to a poor white child such as Huck.
Huck's instinctual distrust and his experiences as he travels down the river force him to question the things he's been taught. According to the law, Jim is Miss Watson‘s property, but according to Huck's sense of
logic and fairness, it is not only acceptable but even morally good to help Jim. Huck's natural intelligence and his willingness to think through a situation on its own merits lead him to some conclusions that are right in their context but would shock society. For example, he discovers, when the two meet a group of slave-hunters, that telling a lie is sometimes the right course of action.
Because Huck is a child, the world seems new to him. Everything he encounters is an occasion for thought. Because of his background, however, he does more than just apply the rules that he has been taught; he creates his own rules. However, Huck is not necessarily a kind of independent moral genius. He must still struggle with some of the preconceptions about blacks that society has ingrained in him, and he shows himself all too willing to follow Tom Sawyer's lead. But even these failures are part of what makes Huck appealing and sympathetic. He is only a boy, after all, and therefore fallible. Imperfect as he is, Huck represents what anyone is capable of becoming: a thinking, feeling human being rather than a cog in the repressive machine of society.
Jim - One of Miss Watson‘s household slaves. Jim is superstitious and occasionally sentimental, but he is also intelligent, practical, and more of an adult than anyone else in the book. Twain uses Jim's thoughts of his family and his friendship with both Huck and Tom to demonstrate that humanity has nothing to do with race. Because he is a black man and a runaway slave, Jim is at the mercy of almost all the other characters in the book, and is often forced into ridiculous and degrading situations. Jim, is Huck‘s companion as he travels down
the river. He is a man of remarkable intelligence and compassion. At first glance, Jim seems to be superstitious to the point of idiocy, but a careful reading of the time that Huck and Jim spend on Jackson's Island reveals that Jim's superstitions conceal a deep knowledge of the natural world and represent an alternate form of "truth" or intelligence. Jim has one of the few functioning families we meet in the novel. Although he has been separated from his wife and children, he misses them terribly, and the thought of a permanent separation motivates his criminal act of running away from Miss Watson. Jim becomes a surrogate father, as well as a friend, to Huck, taking care of him without being intrusive or smothering. He cooks for the boy and shelters him from some of the worst horrors that they encounter, including the sight of Pap‘s corpse,
and, for a time, even the news of his father's passing. Some readers have criticized Jim as being too passive, but it is important to remember that he remains at the mercy of every other character in this book, including Huck, as the letter that Huck nearly sends to Miss Watson demonstrates. Like Huck, Jim must find ways of accomplishing his goals without incurring the wrath of those who could turn him in. Thus he is seldom able to act boldly or speak his mind. His excessive goodness, too, is somewhat of an illusion. In most ways he is merely a normal human being: he loves his family and is a loyal friend. It is mostly by contrast with the debased white characters in the novel that Jim appears overly sugary. In fact, Jim could be described as the only real adult in the book, and the one who provides a positive, respectable example for Huck to follow.
The Duke and Dauphin - A pair of con men whom Huck and Jim rescue as they are being run out of a river town. The older man, who appears to be about seventy, claims to be the "Dauphin," the son of Louis XVI and heir to the French throne. The younger man, who is about thirty, claims to be the usurped Duke of Bridgewater. Although Huck and Jim quickly realize the men are frauds, they remain at their mercy, as Huck is only a child and Jim is a runaway slave. The Duke and Dauphin carry out a number of increasingly disturbing swindles as they travel down the river on the raft. Their scams culminate with the sale of Jim to a local farmer for forty dollars. Finally they are tarred and feathered in the Phelps's town, after Jim tells the townspeople of the pair's nefarious history.
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Tom Sawyer serves as a foil to Huck: imaginative, dominating, and given to wild plans taken from the plots of adventure novels, he is everything that Huck is not. Tom's stubborn reliance on the "authorities" of romance novels leads him to acts of incredible stupidity and startling cruelty. His rigid adherence to outside conventions aligns him with the "sivilizing" forces that Huck learns to see through and from which he slowly becomes alienated. Tom is the same age as Huck, and is his good friend. Whereas Huck has always been marginalized by his birth and upbringing, Tom has been raised in relative comfort. As a result, his beliefs are an unfortunate combination of what he has learned from the adults around him and the fanciful notions he has gleaned from romance and adventure novels. Tom believes in sticking strictly to "rules," most of which have more to do with style than with morality or anyone's welfare. Tom is thus the perfect foil for Huck: his rigid adherence to precepts contrasts with Huck's willingness to think for himself. Tom also represents just how disturbingly and unthinkingly cruel society can be. He knows that Jim is free, yet he is willing to allow Jim to remain a captive while he entertains himself. Aunt Sally and Uncle Silas, too, are tortured by Tom's plotting. Although he too is just a boy, and is appealing in his zest for adventure and his unconscious wittiness, Tom embodies what a young well-to-do white man is raised to become in this society: self-centered with dominion over all.
Widow Douglas and Miss Watson - Two wealthy sisters who live together in a large house in St. Petersburg. Miss Watson, gaunt and severe-looking, is the most prominent representative of the hypocritical religious and ethical values of the dominant society. The Widow Douglas, meanwhile, is somewhat gentler in her beliefs and has more patience with the mischievous Huck. When Huck acts in a manner contrary to societal expectations, it is the Widow Douglas whom he fears disappointing.
Pap - Huck's father and the town drunk and ne'er-do-well. When he appears at the beginning of the novel, he is a wreck, with disgusting ghostlike white skin and hopelessly tattered clothes. Illiterate himself, he disapproves of his son's education. Pap represents both the general debasement of white society (most of the black characters in the book are morally and physically better than he) and the failure of family structures: a number of surrogates are forced to care for his son.
Judge Thatcher - Judge Thatcher shares responsibility for Huck with the Widow Douglas, and is in charge of safeguarding the money that Huck and Tom found at the end of Tom Sawyer. When Huck discovers that Pap
has returned to town, he wisely signs his fortune over to the Judge (who doesn't really accept the money, but tries to comfort Huck). Judge Thatcher has a daughter, Becky, who was Tom's girlfriend in the earlier novel, and whom Huck calls "Bessie" in this book.
Aunt Polly – Tom Sawyer‘s aunt and guardian, and Sally Phelp‘s sister. She appears at the end of Huck Finn
and properly identifies Huck, who has pretended to be Tom; and Tom, who has pretended to be his own younger brother, Sid.
The Grangerfords - Huck is taken in by the Grangerfords after his raft is hit by a steamboat and he is separated from Jim ; they offer him a place to stay in their tacky country home. The kind-hearted Grangerfords are locked in a longstanding feud with another family, the Shepherdsons. Twain uses the two families to engage in some rollicking humor and to mock a Tom Sawyer‘s like indulgence in romantic conceits: their
sensationalized feud gets them all killed.
The Wilks Family - The Duke and Dauphin hear of the death of Peter Wilks from a man on his way to a steamboat, who tells them that Wilks has left behind a rich estate. The man inadvertently gives the con men enough information to allow them to pretend to be Peter Wilks' two brothers from England, the preacher Harvey and the deaf-mute William. The conning of the good-hearted and vulnerable Wilks sisters is the first step in the Duke and Dauphin's increasingly cruel series of scams, which culminate in the sale of Jim.
The Phelps family – Tom Sawyer‘s aunt and uncle, whom Huck coincidentally encounters in his search for Jim.
Sally is the sister of Tom's aunt, Polly. Essentially good people, the Phelpses nevertheless hold Jim in custody, trying to return him to his rightful owner. They are the unknowing victims of many of Huck and Tom's
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"preparations" as they try to free Jim. The Phelpses are the only intact and functional family in this novel, yet they are too much for Huck, who longs to escape their "sivilizing" influence.
Sherburn - Sherburn is notable for the speech he gives when a mob of townspeople comes to lynch him: he lambastes them for their cowardice and skewed sense of justice. While Sherburn is a repulsive figure, his speech expresses some of the same truths about society that Huck has been forced to confront.
Themes, Motifs, and Symbols
Themes are the fundamental concepts addressed and explored in a literary work.
Racism and slavery - One may wonder why Mark Twain would choose to write an antislavery novel some twenty years after the end of the Civil War. By the early 1880s, Reconstruction, the plan to put the United States back together after the war and integrate freed slaves into society, had hit some shaky ground, although it had not yet failed outright (that wouldn't occur until 1887, three years after the publication of Huck
Finn). Still, as Twain worked on his novel, race relations, which seemed to be on a positive path in the years following the Civil War, once again became strained; Jim Crow laws, designed to limit the power of blacks in the South, began a new, insidious effort to oppress. Twain made a powerful decision when he chose to describe a system that no longer existed, when doing so could just lead the unsympathetic reader to claim that things had gotten much better for blacks. One way to analyze this decision is to read slavery as an allegorical representation of the condition of blacks in the United States even after the abolition of slavery. Just as slavery
places the noble and moral Jim under the control of the white man, no matter how degraded that white man may be, so too did the more insidious racism that arose near the end of Reconstruction oppress black men for illogical and hypocritical reasons. However, the new racism of the South, less institutionalized and monolithic, was also much less easy to critique. Slavery was a tough practice to justify; but when white Southerners enacted racist laws or policies under a professed motive of self-defense against newly freed blacks, far fewer people, Northern or Southern, saw the act as immoral. In exposing the hypocrisy of slavery, Twain demonstrated how racism distorts the oppressors as much as it does those who are oppressed. Just as the South has never entirely escaped the legacy of slavery, this theme, articulated so subtly by Twain at such an early time, has continued to animate Southern writing throughout the twentieth century, most particularly in the work of the great Southern writer William Faulkner.
Education, both intellectual and moral - By focusing on Huck's education, Huck Finn fits into the tradition of the
bildungsroman: a novel of maturation and development. An outcast, Huck distrusts the morals and precepts of the society that labels him a pariah and fails to protect him from abuse. This apprehension about society, and his growing relationship with Jim, lead Huck to question many of the teachings that he has received on race. Time and time again, the reader sees him choosing to "go to hell" rather than go along with what he's been taught. Huck bases these decisions on his experiences, his own sense of logic, and what his developing conscience tells him. On the raft, away from civilization, Huck represents a kind of natural man. Through deep introspection, he comes to his own conclusions, unaffected by the accepted, and often hypocritical, precepts of Southern culture. Early in this novel, Huck learns to read books—a skill that later serves him well in a literal
sense; by the novel's end, Huck has learned to "read" the world around him, to distinguish good, bad, right, wrong, menace, friend, and so on. His moral development is sharply contrasted to the character of Tom Sawyer who is influenced by a bizarre mix of adventure novels and Sunday-school teachings, which he combines to justify his outrageous and potentially harmful escapades.
Civilized society - When Huck plans to head west at the end of Huck Finn to escape further "sivilizing," he is
trying to avoid more than having to take baths regularly and going to school. Throughout the novel, Twain depicts society as a structure that has become little more than a collection of degraded rules and precepts that defy logic. This faulty logic manifests itself early, when the new judge in town allows Pap to keep custody of Huck. The judge privileges Pap‘s "rights" to his son over Huck's welfare. Clearly, this decision comments on a
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system that puts a white man's rights to his "property"—his slaves—over the welfare and freedom of a black
man. Whereas a reader in the 1880s might have overlooked the moral absurdity of giving a man custody of another man, however, the mirroring of this situation in the granting of rights to the immoral Pap over the lovable Huck forces the reader to think more closely about the meaning of slavery. In implicitly comparing the plight of slaves to the plight of Huck at the hands of Pap, Twain demonstrates how impossible it is for a society that owns slaves to be just, no matter how "civilized" that society believes and proclaims itself to be. Again and again Huck encounters individuals who seem good (Sally Phelps for example), but Twain takes care to show us that person as a prejudiced slave-owner. The shakiness of the justice systems that Huck encounters lies at the heart of society's problems: terrible acts go unpunished, yet frivolous crimes, such as drunkenly shouting insults, lead to executions. Sherburn's speech to the mob that has come to lynch him accurately summarizes the view of society given in this book: rather than maintaining collective welfare, society is marked by cowardice, a lack of logic, and profound selfishness.
Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, or literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text's major themes.
Childhood - Childhood is an important factor in the theme of moral education: only a child is open-minded enough to undergo the kind of development that Huck does. Since Huck and Tom are young, their age lends a sense of play to their actions, which excuses them in certain ways and also heightens the profundity of the novel's commentary on slavery and society. Huck and Tom know better than the adults around them, but they lack the guidance that a proper family and community should have offered them. Huck as a child is also frequently contrasted to Jim as a black man: both are vulnerable, yet Huck, because he is white, has power over Jim. Finally, the silliness, pure joy, and naïveté‚ of childhood offer Huck Finn a profound humor and sense
of fun. Though its themes are quite weighty, the novel itself feels light in tone. The child's rambunctious excitement flowing through the novel enlivens the story, making Huck Finn not only an important read, but a
fun one as well.
Lies and cons - Like the motif of childhood, the motif of lies and cons is linked to the larger theme of moral development. Huck Finn is full of malicious lies and scams, many of them coming from the Duke and Dauphin. It is clear that these lies are bad: they hurt innocent people. Yet Huck tells a number of lies himself, and even cons a few people, most notably the slave-hunters, to whom he makes up a story about a smallpox outbreak in order to protect Jim. As Huck realizes, it seems that telling a lie can actually be a good thing, depending on its purpose. This insight is part of Huck's learning process, as he finds that some of the things that he's been taught contradict what seems to be "right." At other points, the lines between a con, legitimate entertainment, and approved social structures like religion are very fine indeed. Lies and cons become an effective way for Twain to highlight moral ambiguity.Is it moral ambiguity or bad behavior?
Superstition - Jim is a wonderful repository of superstitions and folktales. Curiously, many of his beliefs seem to have some basis in reality, or to presage events to come. While Huck initially dismisses most of Jim's superstitions as silly, he comes to appreciate Jim's deep knowledge of the world. Superstition thus serves as an alternative to accepted social mores, and is a reminder that mainstream conventions are not always right. Conceits taken from other kinds of literature or art - Huck Finn is full of people who base their lives on a
romantic literary model. Tom Sawyer bases his life on adventure novels, Emmeline Grangerford painted weepy maidens and wrote poems about dead children, the Shepherdson and Grangerford families kill one another out of some bizarre conception of family honor. The inclusion of these peculiarities of character allows Twain to indulge in some fun, and sections that deal with this subject are among the funniest in the book. However, there is also a real message here: literature tends to represent the codified and stylized values of a society, and Twain shows how a strict adherence to these ideals of chivalrous Southern nobility is ultimately dangerous: Tom is shot, Emmeline dies, and the Shepherdsons and Grangerfords all end up dead.
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Symbols are objects, characters, figures, or colors used to represent abstract ideas or concepts.
The Mississippi River - For Huck and Jim, the Mississippi River is the ultimate symbol of freedom. Alone on their raft, they don't have to answer to anyone, and the river carries them toward freedom: for Jim, toward the free states; for Huck, away from his abusive father and the restrictive "sivilizing" of St. Petersburg. The fluid, fast-moving river reflects the characters at this point: free from society, Huck and Jim are in flux, willing to change their attitudes about one another with little prompting. As rivers must be, however, the Mississippi is sandwiched between two banks, upon which lie the towns and villages that represent that which Huck and Jim are trying to escape. Even early on, the real world intrudes on the paradise of the raft: the river floods, bringing Huck and Jim into contact with criminals, wrecks, and stolen goods. Most importantly, a thick fog causes them to miss the mouth of the Ohio River, which was to be their route to freedom. In other words, the river becomes something other than the inherently benevolent place Huck had thought it was. As they move further south, and the Duke and Dauphin invade the raft, Huck and Jim must spend more time ashore. Though it continues to offer a refuge from all of the trouble that the quartet encounters, the river merely effects the exchange of one bad situation for another. Each escape exists in the larger context of a continual drift southward, toward the deep South and entrenched slavery. In this transition from idyllic retreat to source of peril, the river comes to mirror the complicated state of the South. As their journey progresses, the river, which once seemed an Eden, a source of freedom, becomes merely a short-term means of escape that nonetheless pushes Huck and Jim ever further toward danger and destruction.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn opens by familiarizing the reader with the events of the book that
preceded it, Tom Sawyer. In the town of St. Petersburg, which lies along the Mississippi River, Huckleberry Finn, a poor boy with a drunken bum for a father, and his friend Tom Sawyer, a middle-class boy with an imagination a little too active for his own good, found a robber's stash of gold at the end of the earlier book. As a result of his adventure, Huck gains quite a bit of money (held in a sort of trust for him at the bank) and is adopted by the Widow Douglas a kind but stifling woman who lives with her sister, the self-righteous Miss Watson. Huck is none too thrilled with his new life of cleanliness, manners, church, and school, but he sticks it out at the bequest of Tom, who tells him that in order to take part in his new "robbers' gang" Huck must stay "respectable." All is well and good until Huck's brutish father, Pap, reappears and demands Huck's money. Judge Thacher and the Widow try to get legal custody of Huck, but the well-intentioned new judge in town believes in the rights of Huck's natural father and even takes the old drunk into his own home in an attempt to reform him. This effort fails miserably, and Pap soon returns to his old ways. He hangs around town for several months, harassing his son, who in the meantime has learned to read and to tolerate the Widow's attempts to improve him. Finally, outraged when the Widow Douglas warns him to stay away from her house, Pap kidnaps the boy, holding him in a cabin across the river from St. Petersburg.
Whenever he goes out, Pap locks Huck in the cabin, and when he returns home drunk, he beats the boy. Tired of his confinement, and fearing the beatings will worsen, Huck escapes from Pap by faking his own death. Hiding on Jackson's Island out in the middle of the Mississippi River, he watches the townspeople search the river for his body. After a few days on the island, he encounters Jim, one of Miss Watson's slaves. Jim has run away from Miss Watson after hearing her talk about selling him to a plantation down the river, where he will be treated horribly and separated from his wife and children. Huck and Jim team up, despite Huck's uncertainty about the legality or morality of helping a runaway slave. While they camp out on the island, a great storm causes the Mississippi to flood. Huck and Jim spy a log raft and an uprooted house floating past the island. They capture the raft and loot the house, finding in it the body of a man who has been shot. Jim won't let Huck see the man's face. Although the island is blissful, they are forced to leave after Huck learns from a woman onshore that her husband has seen smoke coming from the island and believes that Jim is hiding out there. Huck also learns that a reward has been offered for Jim's capture.
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Huck and Jim start downriver on the raft, intending to leave it at the mouth of the Ohio River and proceed up that river by steamboat to the free states, where slavery is prohibited. Several days' travel takes them past St. Louis, and they have a close encounter with a gang of robbers on a wrecked steamboat. They manage to escape with the robbers' loot.
During a night of thick fog, Huck and Jim miss the mouth of the Ohio, and encounter a group of men looking for escaped slaves. Huck has a brief moral crisis over concealing stolen "property" (Jim, after all, belongs to Miss Watson), but then lies to the men and tells them that his father is on the raft suffering from smallpox. Terrified of the disease, the men give Huck money and hurry away. Unable to backtrack to the Ohio, the two runaways continue downriver. The next night the raft is rammed by a steamboat and Huck and Jim are separated.
Huck ends up in the home of the kindly Grangerfords, a family of Southern aristocrats locked in a bitter and silly feud with the Sheperdsons. The elopement of a Grangerford daughter with a Shepherdson son leads to a gun battle in which everyone is killed. While Huck is caught up in this affair, Jim shows up with the repaired raft. Huck hurries to Jim's hiding place and they take off down the river.
A few days later they rescue a pair of men being pursued by armed bandits. The men, clearly con artists, claim to be a displaced English Duke (the Duke) and the long-lost heir to the French throne (the Dauphin). Powerless to tell two white adults to leave, Huck and Jim continue down the river with the pair of "aristocrats." The Duke and Dauphin pull several scams in the small towns along the river. Coming into one town, they hear the story of a man, Meter Wilks, who has recently died and left everything to his two brothers, who should be arriving from England any day. The Duke and Dauphin enter the town claiming to be Wilks's brothers. Wilks's three daughters welcome them and quickly set about liquidating the estate. A few townspeople become skeptical, and Huck, who now admires the Wilks sisters, decides to thwart the con. He steals the dead man's gold from the Duke and Dauphin but is forced to stash it in the dead man's coffin. He then reveals all to the eldest Wilks sister. Huck's plan for exposing the Duke and Dauphin is about to unfold when Wilks's real brothers arrive from England. The angry townspeople hold both sets of Wilks claimants, and the Duke and Dauphin just barely escape in the melee. Fortunately for the sisters, the gold is found. Unfortunately for Huck and Jim, the Duke and Dauphin make it back to the raft just as Huck and Jim are pushing off.
After a few more small scams, the Duke and Dauphin commit their worst crime yet: they sell Jim to a local farmer, telling him Jim is a runaway for whom a large reward is being offered. Huck finds out where Jim is being held and resolves to free him. At the house where Jim is a prisoner, a woman greets Huck excitedly and calls him "Tom." As Huck quickly discovers, the people holding Jim are Tom Sawyer's aunt and uncle, Silas and Rally Phelps. The Phelpses mistake him for Tom, who is due to arrive for a visit, and Huck goes along with their mistake. He intercepts Tom between the Phelps house and the steamboat dock, and Tom pretends to be his own younger brother, Sid. Tom hatches a wild plan to free Jim, adding all sorts of unnecessary obstacles even though Jim is only lightly secured. Huck is sure Tom's plan will get them all killed, but he complies. After an eternity of preparation, during which they have ransacked the Phelps's house and made Aunt Sally miserable, they put the plan into action. Jim is freed, but Tom is shot in the leg by a pursuer. Huck is forced to get a doctor, and Jim sacrifices his freedom to nurse Tom. All are returned to the Phelps's house, and Jim ends up in chains. When he wakes the next morning, Tom reveals that Jim has actually been a free man all along, as Miss Watson, who had made a provision in her will to free him, had died two months earlier. Tom had planned this all as a game and had intended to pay Jim for his troubles. Tom's Aunt Polly then shows up, identifying "Tom" and "Sid" as "Huck" and "Tom." Jim tells Huck, who fears for his future, particularly that his father might reappear, that the body they found on the floating house off Jackson's Island had been Pap's. Aunt Sally then steps in and offers to adopt Huck, but Huck, who has had enough "sivilizing," announces his plan to set out for the West.
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