The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn takes place before the Civil War in the American South. As an “adventure,” Huck’s story is a defined by movement. Thus, the geographical setting of the book changes constantly, following Huck and Jim as they travel south. The book starts in the fictional small town of St. Petersburg, Missouri, which Twain based on his hometown, Hannibal, Missouri. After meeting up on Jackson’s Island (which really exists!), Huck and Jim set off along the Mississippi River and pass through Illinois, Kentucky, and Arkansas. The book ends in the fictional town of Pikesville, which is probably located in southeastern Arkansas, near where that state borders Mississippi and Louisiana. Although Huck and Jim spend a lot of time on land, the geographical feature that most significantly defines their journey is the Mississippi River. Huck frequently associates this great American river with a sense of freedom. This sense of freedom is mirrored geographically in the way the Mississippi weaves its way along the border between states, creating a kind of “no-man’s land.” And even though it takes Huck and Jim further south and hence into the greater danger of slave territory, the Mississippi also leads all the way to the “freedom” of the ocean.
Although Huck and Jim spend time in towns along the river during their journey, a large portion of the novel takes place in natural settings. Both Huck and Jim possess a great deal of knowledge about nature and the river, knowing the names of trees, the behavior of animals, patterns of weather, and so forth. Huck can be quite eloquent in describing his natural surroundings, as when he watches the sunrise, saying, “a pale place in the sky; then more paleness, spreading around; then the river softened up, away off, and warn’t black anymore, but gray... you see the mist curl up off the water, and the east reddens up… and next you’ve got the full day, and everything smiling in the sun, and the song-birds just going it!” (Chapter Fourteen.) Huck’s beautiful, easy, and optimistic language when describing natural settings enforces the sense he is more at home in nature than in civilization, and sets up his eventual decision to head out towards the uncivilized “Territory” at the end of the novel.