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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain

Study Questions & Essay Topics

Key Facts

Quiz

Study Questions

1.

Huck Finn is a thirteen-year-old boy. Why does Twain use a child as the center of consciousness in this book?

In using a child protagonist, Twain is able to imply a comparison between the powerlessness and vulnerability of a child and the powerlessness and vulnerability of a black man in pre–Civil War America. Huck and Jim frequently find themselves in the same predicaments: each is abused, each faces the threat of losing his freedom, and each is constantly at the mercy of adult white men. As we see in Huck’s moral dilemmas, however, Jim is also vulnerable to Huck, who, although he occupies the lowest rung of the white social ladder, is white nonetheless. Twain also uses his child protagonist to dramatize the conflict between societal or received morality on the one hand and a different kind of morality based on intuition and experience on the other. As a boy, Huck is a character who can develop morally, whose mind is still open and being formed, who does not take his principles and values for granted. By tracing the education and experiences of a boy, Twain shows that conclusions about right and wrong that are based on logic and experience often stand at odds with the society’s rules and morals, which are often hypocritical rather than logical.

2.

Discuss Twain’s use of dialects in the novel. What effect does this usage have on the reader? Does it make the novel less of an artistic achievement?

Twain’s use of dialect, which has proved controversial over the years, lends to the overall realism and vividness of Huckleberry Finn. Because it is sometimes difficult to decipher the character’s speech while reading, we are almost forced to read aloud: at the very least, to read this novel, one has to be able to “hear” the voices in one’s own head. Performance is important in this novel, as Tom Sawyer’s follies and the duke and the dauphin’s cons demonstrate. Furthermore, in the world of the novel, the way in which a character speaks is closely tied to that character’s status in society. Huck, who was born in poverty and has lived on the margins of society ever since, speaks in a much rougher, more uneducated-sounding dialect than the speech Tom uses. Jim’s speech, meanwhile, which seems rough and uneducated, is frequently not all that different from Huck’s speech or the speech of other white characters. In this way, Twain implies that it is society, wealth, and upbringing, rather than any sort of innate ignorance or roughness, that determines an individual’s educational opportunities and manner of self-expression.

3.

Discuss the use of the river as a symbol in the novel.

At the beginning of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the river is a symbol of freedom and change. Huck and Jim flow with the water and never remain in one place long enough to be pinned down by a particular set of rules. Compared to the “civilized” towns along the banks of the Mississippi, the raft on the river represents an peaceful, alternative space where Huck and Jim, free of hassles and disapproving stares, can enjoy one another’s company and revel in the small pleasures of life, like smoking a pipe and watching the stars.

As the novel continues, however, the real world beyond the Mississippi’s banks quickly intrudes on the calm, protected space of the river. Huck and Jim come across wrecks and threatening snags, and bounty hunters, thieves, and con artists accost them. Although the river still provides refuge when things go wrong ashore, Huck and Jim’s relation to the river seems to change and become less friendly. After they miss the mouth of the Ohio River, the Mississippi ceases to carry them toward freedom. Instead, the current sweeps them toward the Deep South, which represents the ultimate threat to Jim and a dead end for Huck. Just as the Mississippi would inevitably carry Huck and Jim to New Orleans (where Miss Watson had wanted to send Jim anyway), escape from the evils inherent in humanity is never truly possible.

Suggested Essay Topics

1. Lying occurs frequently in this novel. Curiously, some lies, like those Huck tells to save Jim, seem to be “good” lies, while others, like the cons of the duke and the dauphin, seem to be “bad.” What is the difference? Are both “wrong”? Why does so much lying go on in Huckleberry Finn?

2. Describe some of the models for families that appear in the novel. What is the importance of family structures? What is their place in society? Do Huck and Jim constitute a family? What about Huck and Tom? When does society intervene in the family?

3. The revelation at the novel’s end that Tom has known all along that Jim is a free man is startling. Is Tom inexcusably cruel? Or is he just being a normal thirteen-year-old boy? Does Tom’s behavior comment on society in some larger way?

4. What techniques does Twain use to create sympathy for his characters, in particular, Jim? Are these techniques effective?

5. Discuss the place of morality in Huckleberry Finn. In the world of the novel, where do moral values come from? The community? The family? The church? One’s experiences? Which of these potential sources does Twain privilege over the others? Which does he mock, or describe disapprovingly?

6. Why might Twain have decided to set the novel in a time before the abolition of slavery, despite the fact that he published it in 1885, two decades after the end of the Civil War?

More Help

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Discussion question - Please help.

by jessiicerr, December 29, 2012

This book was really confusing, tbh. I have to write an essay about how each character was cruel to each and why? and the moral?

Would mean a lot of someone could help me with a brief synopsis.

Thanks!

7 Comments

23 out of 46 people found this helpful

Climax

by maddysherlock, January 30, 2013

the climax in this story is when Huck rips the letter to Miss Watson up

7 Comments

14 out of 40 people found this helpful

Description of Huckleberry Finn

by cadetrammirez0, February 07, 2013

Where in the novel does it describe Huck and say his age?

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43 out of 54 people found this helpful

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