full title · The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
author · Mark Twain (pseudonym for Samuel Clemens)
type of work · Novel
genre · Picaresque novel (episodic, colorful story often in the form of a quest or journey); satire of popular adventure and romance novels; bildungsroman (novel of education or moral development)
language · English; frequently makes use of Southern and black dialects of the time
time and place written · 1876–1883; Hartford, Connecticut, and Elmira, New York
date of first publication · 1884
publisher · Charles L. Webster & Co.
narrator · Huckleberry Finn
point of view · Huck’s point of view, although Twain occasionally indulges in digressions in which he shows off his own ironic wit
tone · Frequently ironic or mocking, particularly concerning adventure novels and romances; also contemplative, as Huck seeks to decipher the world around him; sometimes boyish and exuberant
tense · Immediate past
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 Mississippi River town of St. Petersburg, Missouri; various locations along the river through Arkansas
protagonist · Huck Finn
major conflict · At the beginning of the novel, Huck struggles against society and its attempts to civilize him, represented by the Widow Douglas, Miss Watson, and other adults. Later, this conflict gains greater focus in Huck’s dealings with Jim, as Huck must decide whether to turn Jim in, as society demands, or to protect and help his friend instead.
rising action · Miss Watson and the Widow Douglas attempt to civilize Huck until Pap reappears in town, demands Huck’s money, and kidnaps Huck. Huck escapes society by faking his own death and retreating to Jackson’s Island, where he meets Jim and sets out on the river with him. Huck gradually begins to question the rules society has taught him, as when, in order to protect Jim, he lies and makes up a story to scare off some men searching for escaped slaves. Although Huck and Jim live a relatively peaceful life on the raft, they are ultimately unable to escape the evils and hypocrisies of the outside world. The most notable representatives of these outside evils are the con men the duke and the dauphin, who engage in a series of increasingly serious scams that culminate in their sale of Jim, who ends up at the Phelps farm.
climax · Huck considers but then decides against writing Miss Watson to tell her the Phelps family is holding Jim, following his conscience rather than the prevailing morality of the day. Instead, Tom and Huck try to free Jim, and Tom is shot in the leg during the attempt.
falling action · When Aunt Polly arrives at the Phelps farm and correctly identifies Tom and Huck, Tom reveals that Miss Watson died two months earlier and freed Jim in her will. Afterward, Tom recovers from his wound, while Huck decides he is done with civilized society and makes plans to travel to the West.
themes · Racism and slavery; intellectual and moral education; the hypocrisy of “civilized” society
motifs · Childhood; lies and cons; superstitions and folk beliefs; parodies of popular romance novels
symbols · The Mississippi River; floods; shipwrecks; the natural world
foreshadowing · Twain uses parallels and juxtapositions more so than explicit foreshadowing, especially in his frequent comparisons between Huck’s plight and eventual escape and Jim’s plight and eventual escape.