1. The Author and His Times
Mark Twain, the pen name of Samuel Clemens, was born in Florida,
Missouri in 1835. When he was four, his family moved to Hannibal,
Missouri, the setting for many of his books. His father died when
he was 12. After his father died, he went to work as a printer’s
apprentice and eventually as a printer in Missouri, St. Louis, and New
York often writing a few works himself for periodicals.
He worked as a printer and a reporter selling much of his work to newspapers. He continually moved from town to town. In 1857, he decided to move to South America to make a fortune there. He boarded a riverboat and headed for New Orleans where he would arrange the rest of his trip. However, he never made it past New Orleans and never into South America. He begged the riverboat to teach him how to pilot the riverboat. The riverboat pilot agreed to teach him for $500.
Mark Twain went west during the civil war and established himself as a writer during this time. He wrote humorous stories about his experiences which lead to a job as a newspaper reporter in 1862. The following year he began signing his work “Mark Twain,” a riverboat term meaning two fathoms deep.
Mark Twain went to Hawaii in 1866. This trip was the beginning of his career as a travel correspondent. The next year he went to Europe and wrote a successful book there titled, The Innocent Abroad. In 1876, he published The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. This book was such a success that he decided immediately to write a sequel. The sequel, which became much more complex than the original was published seven years later in 1883 and titled, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. After Huckleberry Finn, Twain wrote nearly a dozen more books but none were as successful.
By 1939, Twain had lost all of his money investing in various schemes and inventions, almost all of which were failures. After this, he went on a world lecture tour and was able to pay his debts by 1896. While on the tour, one of his daughters died. His wife later in 1904. In 1909 his daughter died leaving him unhappy.
2. Form, Structure, and Plot
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn consists of 43 chapters and
is told in the first person with Huck Finn telling the story. The
book divides into three sections. The first sections has Huck living
his Miss Watson and her sister in civilization. During the second
section, Huck travels down the river with Jim. In the last section,
Huck returns to civilization and lives with Tom in Uncle Silas’ farm.
An organizational object in the book is the river which serves as a timeline
for the book.
The first section introduces Huck and his current life living with Miss Watson and Later with his father. This section ends were Huck fakes his death and flees to Jackson Island.
In the second section, Huck meets Jim at the island and starts down the river when they find out that Jim is being searched for. Huck runs from civilization and Jim runs from slavery. This section ends when both Jim and Huck make it to Uncle Silas’ farm.
The third sections takes place at the farm and continues to the end of the book.
Although the book divides itself into three sections, it does not divide itself to neatly into rising action, climax and conclusion since the book consists of several adventures with its own rising action, climax, and conclusion. It is difficult to label a single point as the climax.
The book clearly starts with the exposition where Huck introduced himself as a character from Tom Sawyer and the son of a town drunk. He lived with Widow Douglas and her sister, Miss Watson. However, Huck did not like the civilized life and would rather live an easy going life. Huck’s father finds out that Huck has some money and kidnaps him into a shack by the river. Pap beats Huck and Huck decides that he must escape. Huck fakes his death and flees to Jackson Island. On the island, he meets Jim, Miss Watson’s runaway slave. This is the rising action.
When the find that there are men on the island searching for Jim, they decide to travel down the Mississippi river and up the Ohio river into the free states. On the river, they live an easy life as they travel during the night and hide during the day. Traveling down the river, the have many adventures, but they miss the turnoff into the Ohio River in the climax. Some of the adventures include the family feud between the Grangerford and Shephersons. Later they meet two con artists who call themselves the Duke and the King. They have several adventures with the Duke and the King. However, since they are low on money, the Duke and King sell Jim as a runaway slave to the Phelps. Huck goes to the Phelps and pretends he is Sid Sawyer, their nephew. Tom later comes and pretends he is Huck Finn. There, they try to rescue Jim but fails, only to have Tom tell them that Jim was already free. At the conclusion of the book, Huck decides to head off into new territory since he does not like the civilized society.
3. Point of View
Huckleberry Finn is written in the first person with Huck narrating. It is in the past tense as a recent perspective. The narrator, Huck Finn, is the protagonist and not simply the observer. Often, Twain uses the book and Huck’s character to voice his own ideas about society. For example, he denounces organized religion in the opening chapters with the raid on the Sunday school picnic. He exposes slavery and an evil and show blacks to have feelings just like others, especially in the episode where Jim tells Huck about his daughter. Twain also shows an aversion to royalty with the adventures with the duke and the king, and he tells his feelings on the government through the experiences of Pap and his run-ins with the law.
Twain’s characters are fairly complex and believable for the time the book was written. They are given feelings and emotions and have a measure of dimension. However, at times they seem to be less characters and more just a means to convey some of Twain’s ideas.
Huck Finn - Huck is a young boy in his adolescence. He is gullible, shrewd, and compassionate. During the different parts of the story, he appears differently. While living with Widow Douglas, he dressed nicely but lost this appearance after he went out on the river where he became less concerned with appearance and clothes. He shows a lot of compassion in the story. This is apparent in his dealings with Jim, the Wilks, and even with the duke and king. His function in the story is as the narrator. “... people will call me a low down abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum...”
Jim - Jim is a middle aged slave own by Widow Douglass who ran away near the beginning of the book. He is fatherly, protective, and unselfish. His clothes are tattered and his appearance is not very good since he is a runaway slave without many clothes. He is kind to Huck and acts as a father to him during the trip down the river. His purpose is to gauge the growth of Huck and to cause him to see slaves as people. “... [Jim] would steal his children -- children that belonged to a man ... a man that hadn’t ever done me no harm.”
Tom Sawyer - Tom is a friend of Huck. He is a little older than Huck. He is irresponsible, playful, and crude. His appearance is typical of the southern boy. He has the personality of a constant adventurer, and one that is typical of a young boy that always want to play and pretend. He does things for the sake of adventure and hardly thinks of practicality. His purpose is to contrast to Huck’s reasonability and cause the attempt to rescue Jim at the end of the book. Also contrasting with Huck is that he lives in society and enjoys it. Tom warns the Phelps that a “desperate gang of cutthroats from over in the Ingean Territory” is going to steal Jim that night when it was actually he that was going to steal Jim.
Huckleberry Finn takes place along a stretch of the Mississippi River. This is an area that Mark Twain knew well. It includes his home town of Hannibal (known as St. Petersburg in the book) and various other well known cities down the river such as New Orleans, and St. Louis. The river and the surrounding areas are revered and seen as a grand layout for some great adventures giving the mood of adventures to the story. The settings of the house of the widow Douglass and the Phelp house serve to symbolize society and life in society. During these passages, the mood of the story is somewhat cramped compared to the trip down the river.
1. There is an emphasis on the river as a haven from society
and a source for adventure. Huck travels down the river and is provided
tools such as the raft, and adventure from the river. It is seen
as separate from the surrounding areas and separate from civilization.
2. There is a theme of growth and rebirth in Huck throughout the story. After each adventure, Huck learns something new and become a new person.
3. Another theme in the story is that society is wrong. As Huck travels down the river, he learns and does many things that would be contrary to the beliefs of society such as helping the slave escape. He also learns the idea that black people are people, too, despite the teachings of society.
Twain’s style is simple and conveys his ideas in a boyish mood. The book is somewhat of an irony in itself because of this style. He gives his complex observations on society through the eyes and through the speech of a young boy out for adventure. He also pays close attention to detail in dealings with the different areas down the river, especially in speech and dialogue.
Twain tells the story through Huck Finn and his diction is typical of the southern speech of a young boy during that time and area. The diction is very informal. This makes the diction simple and easy to understand with humorous differences between this writing style and other more formal ones. Much of the descriptions and imagery is humorous in this way. Twain also uses a lot of irony. Twain’s also pays close attention to the diction of the speech of the various people from the various areas down the river. The writing style in this book is not flowery or poetic, but simply the speech of a young boy.
“By and by he rolled out and jumped up to his feet looking wild, and he see me and went for me. He chased me round and round the place with a clasp knife, calling me the Angel of death, and saying he would kill me, and then I couldn’t come for him no more. I begged, and told him I was only Huck; but he laughed such a screechy laugh, an roared and cussed, and kept on chasing me up.” This is a typical passage from out of Huck Finn. It is apparent that the writing style is simple and informal. This is easily believable as the speech of Huck.
“They tackled missionarying, and mesmerizing, and doctoring, and telling fortunes, and a little of everything; but they couldn’t seem to have no luck. So at last they got just about dead broke, and laid around the raft as she floated along, thinking and thinking, and never saying nothing, by the half a day at a time, and dreadful blue and desperate.” Twain’s writing is clear and simple. There is nothing too difficult about the passage and it is easy to understand. At the same time, it conveys a feeling of desperation.
“Jim had plenty of corncob pipes and tobacco; so we had a right down good sociable time, there we crawled out through the hole, and so home to bed, with hands that looked like the’d been cawed. Tom was in high spirits. He said it was the best fun he ever had in his life.” This passage is again simple and easy to understand. Here, Twain gives a sense of childish fun and adventure.
Twain’s syntax is simple and informal often breaking laws of grammar to do so. Huck’s narration is like normal speech so it is sometimes in fragments and incomplete sentences, but always simple. The dialogue in the book is similar. However, being more like speech than Huck’s narration, it gets sometimes difficult to understand. Occasionally, the characters ramble and string various phrases together; anything a person would normally do while speaking. In passage 2, Huck lists off some of the professions that the duke and king did while on the journey. Some of the professions are obviously wrongly put, such as missionarying, but still it is understandable. In passage 3, Huck uses the term, “right down good sociable time.” This phrase would not be used in formal writing, but Twain uses it here with good effect. Other characters, such as the Judge and Wilks brothers, speak fluently and correctly. While this differs from the rest of the book, their speech fits with their character.
Twain uses much imagery to create a certain mood in his story. The main image is that of the Mississippi River. The river is described as wild and free flowing, typifying the type of life Huck wants to live. It is often tranquil and relaxing, and sometimes mysterious. Also, it serves as a sort of time line as the readers go along the story.
A symbol that Twain uses throughout the book is that of the river. It symbolizes freedom, independence, and life in the wild. Huck flees civilization to life on the river to live freely and have an adventure. Huck escapes from everything on the river. Another symbol is Jim. He is more than a character in the book but symbolizes all the slaves in the south. Through him, we see the southern attitude toward slaves and blacks, and through him, we also see the humanity even in slaves. Also, Widow Douglass and her sister Miss Watson symbolized society and civilization. They tried to civilize Huck but Huck would have nothing to do with them and ran from them just as he did from civilization.
12. Figurative Language
In this book, Twain does not use much figurative language since
he is limited by the use of Huck as the narrator. Because Huck is
the narrator, it would not make sense to use too much figurative language
since that would be like expecting an uncivilized adolescent to use a lot
of figurative language in his speech. However, there are some cases
of figurative language.
Twain gives an example of a metaphor during one of Jim’s talks with Huck. Jim says, “... en trash is what people is dat puts dirt on de head or dey fren’s en makes ‘em ashamed.” Jim compares trash with the people who play tricks on their friends.
Twain does use many similes throughout the book, especially during descriptive passages. For example, he said of the duke and king that they “slept like dead people.”
Twain rarely uses personification in this work. But occasionally applies it to steam boats. Once saying that it was, “shining like red-hot teeth.”
There are many allusions to other works in Huck Finn. Early in the book, he alludes to the story of Moses and the Bullrushers. He also alludes to Twain’s earlier work, Tom Sawyer. Also during the plays of the duke and king, he alludes, to Hamlet and Romeo and Juliet.
13. Ironic Devices
Twain uses a lot of irony in this book to give it a little humor.
Most of the ironic situations stem out of Huck’s youth and gullibility.
An example of verbal irony is given when Tom tell Huck of his new gang.
Huck says, “But Tom Sawyer he hunted me up and said he was going to start
a band of robbers, and I might join if I would go back to the widow and
be respectable.” It is obvious to the readers that a band of robbers
are not generally considered respectable.
There is also an example of dramatic irony when Huck tells of the drunk horseman at the circus. The readers know that the drunk was a trained acrobat but Huck does not see that.
Twain’s tone in the story gives a humorous and informal mood but in much of the observations he makes on society, he is often critical. For example, during the raid on the Sunday school picnic, he shows a distaste for organized religion. He also shows a slight disrespect to the government during the incidents were Pap gets arrested. During the conversation with Jim and Huck, Twain also reveals his dislike of slavery.
15. Memorable quotes
“I thought it all out, and reckoned I would belong to the widow if he wanted me, though I couldn’t make out how he was a-going to be any better off then than what he was before, seeing I was so ignorant, and so kind of low-down and ornery.” Huck talks about Pap with some disgust and disregard. While Huck is not completely afraid of him in this quote as he later becomes, he still does not show respect for his father.
“...[Jim] would steal his children -- children that belonged to a man... a man that hadn’t ever done me no harm.” This quote shows that Huck is still troubled by helping Jim and that he still does not yet understand that Jim is just as human as those people who own his children. This shows a stage in his growth in understanding about slavery and Jim.
“Human beings can be awful cruel to one another.” Huck begins to realize the true nature of humans being the polite exterior of society. This shows a belief of Twain and can even be considered and general truth in any society.
“Well, if ever I struck anything like it, I’m a nigger. It was enough to make a body ashamed of the human race.” Huck says this about the duke and king and is discouraged by their rough manners and attitudes to make him ashamed of his own race.
“... and at least I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so greatful, and said I was a best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he’s got now...” This shows how much Huck has grown attached to Jim. Huck feels that Jim is more human than he thought at the beginning of the novel and begins to think that Jim’s life is worth saving.
16. Additional comments
While Huck Finn was rather humorous and fun to read, it is said to have contained much of Twain’s philosophy on society and culture. While I did see much of Twain’s idea about society, because of the nature of the book, it remains hard for me to see it as more than a children’s adventure story.