The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

by: Mark Twain

Key Facts

full title · The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

author · Mark Twain (pseudonym for Samuel Clemens)

type of work · Novel

genre · Picaresque, Romance, Bildungsroman

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 · Huck’s conversation with the Widow about heaven and hell foreshadows his decision to risk going to hell in order to help Jim; Jim’s superstitions foreshadow the money he receives in the end; numerous references to drowned corpses foreshadow Huck’s pap’s fate.


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