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.