Select five characters that Twain does not admire in Huck Finn. Name and describe the specific traits that each possesses that makes him or her not an admirable person.
Select five characters that Twain does admire. Name and discuss the specific traits that each possesses that makes him or her admirable.
Violence and greed are motivations of much of the action in this book. Discuss, giving at least three examples of each.
Mark Twain was able to find humor in situations that most people would regard as serious. Discuss and provide specific references from the novel.
Some critics claim that Jim is Huck's "true father." Defend or refute this statement.
Discuss the qualities Huck posesses which are necessary for survival on the frontier. Give specific examples from the novel.
What is the symbolic importance of the setting of the novel (land vs. river)?
What does the reader infer about Twain's attitude towared slavery and racism?
Discuss how the river provides freedom for Huck.
What is "civilization" in the mind of Huck?
Discuss how Huck grows as a person; what life lessons does he learn from his encounters on the river?
Although Mark Twain, in his introductory "notice" to the novel, denies that there is a moral or motive in the story, the work itself contradicts its author. How?
Discuss the role of religion in the novel.
Discuss Huck as an archetype hero.
What does Twain admire in a man and what is he contemptuous of?
This novel is also a satire on human weaknesses. What human traits does he satirize? Give examples for each.
What evidence do you find of Twain's cynicism?
Discuss three recurring motifs (any idea, object, feeling, color, pattern, etc. which repeats itself) in the novel. Give specifics.
Discuss the role of superstition in the novel. Explain how Twain criticizes superstitious beliefs and give specific examples.
Appearance versus reality is a major theme in Huckleberry Finn. Using specifics from the book, discuss this very prevalent theme.
How does Huck search for a family? What does he find and what does he learn?
How is Huck's trip down the river actually a passage into manhood?
How would you defend Huckleberry Finn against charges of being a racist novel?
Huckleberry Finn has been called the "Great American Novel." However, it is the sixth most frequently banned book in the United States. Discuss why this masterpiece is banned mostly in Christian academies and in all black institutions.
Explain how the American Dream is or is not achieved by three characters in this novel. Begin by explaining what each character holds as his or her American Dream.
Discuss how Huck displays several textbook characteristics of the child of an alcoholic.
Analyze and trace the moral maturation of Huck Finn. Discuss the events that disgusted and depressed him, the coping skills that he learned, and his actions and the circumstances for such.
"Picaresque" is a word used to describe a character who comes from a low class of society, is poor, lives by his/her wits, travels, and has eposodic adventures. Using specific examples and quotes from the novel, explain how Huck is a picaresque figure.
A persona is an alternate name and personality uses for many different reasons. Discuss the many personas used in the novel.
Discuss the similarities and differences between Jim and Pap, as parents.
If you had to name a modern day Huck Finn who would it be?
Explain how Huck's loss of innocence as a boy is symbolic of America as the country moves towards the Civil War.
Compare and contrast Realism and Romanticism in the novel.
Select two of the social institutions (i.e. democracy) at which Twain pokes fun. Use specific references to show how he accomplishes this.
What do you think makes this novel an important record of American culture?
Point out the weak and strong character traits in Huck. How do his character and personality compare with those of Tom Sawyer?
Lionel Trilling says that Huck possesses a sense of humor. Do you think this is so? Site examples for a yes or no answer.
A major unifying element in the novel is illusion (pretense) vs. reality. Find examples. Explain their significance to Twain's overall themes.
Identify the literary techniques used by Mark Twain in Huckleberry Finn. Consider techniques such as: figures of speech, language, narrative techniques, sentence structure, diction, organization, syntax, detail, structure, imagery, irony, and tone.
How does Mark Twain create a humorous effect (exaggeration, irony, satire, understatement)?
How does Twain use satire to expose and criticize human failings?
Discuss Jim as a Christ figure.
As a way of illustrating his theme, Twain deliberately sets certain events with Huck and Jim on the river and others on the shore. Compare and contrast the major events on the river with those on the shore and develop a supportable thesis for why you think he makes the choices he does. How do these choices subtly reinforce his theme? Back up your thesis with specific quotes and detailed explanations.
Discuss how Twain criticises the values of Southern society by showing the difference between Huck's acquired values and his own innate sense of goodness.
Discuss the theme of individual conscience verses society and how it relates to the theme of freedom in the novel.
Authors often use dramatic irony to define something. Describe how Mark Twain uses dramatic irony to define "freedom."
In some ways Huck's story is mythical but it is also an anti-myth -- a challenge to the deceits which individuals and cultures use to disguise their true natures from themselves. In the midst of this deceitful culture, Huck stands as a peculiarly honest individual. Discuss, referencing the novel.
Discuss the Civilized, Primitive, and Natural Man in Huck Finn.
Huck is born into nature, but is morally influenced by society.How does the book show Huck's development into trusting his natural morals again?
Discuss historical revisionism and whether Huck Finn should be part of a high school curriculm.
The overall American critical reaction to the publishing of The Adventures of Huck Finn in 1885 was summed up in one word: "trash". Louisa May Alcott (author of Little Women and Little Men) said, "If Mr. Clemens cannot think of anything better to tell our pure-minded lads and lassies, he had better stop writing for them." The Public Library Committee of Concord, Massachusetts excluded the book as "a dangerous moral influence on the young." Defend or refute the position that the novel is indeed "trash" with evidence from the text to support your claim.
Compare and contrast Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks with Huckleberry Finn.
Twain's writings were directly affected by him growing up in Hannibal. How did Twain write about himself through the characters Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer as well as through many others?
Themes are the fundamental and often universal ideas explored in a literary work.
Racism and Slavery
Although Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn two decades after the Emancipation Proclamation and the end of the Civil War, America—and especially the South—was still struggling with racism and the aftereffects of slavery. By the early 1880s, Reconstruction, the plan to put the United States back together after the war and integrate freed slaves into society, had hit shaky ground, although it had not yet failed outright. As Twain worked on his novel, race relations, which seemed to be on a positive path in the years following the Civil War, once again became strained. The imposition of Jim Crow laws, designed to limit the power of blacks in the South in a variety of indirect ways, brought the beginning of a new, insidious effort to oppress. The new racism of the South, less institutionalized and monolithic, was also more difficult to combat. Slavery could be outlawed, but when white Southerners enacted racist laws or policies under a professed motive of self-defense against newly freed blacks, far fewer people, Northern or Southern, saw the act as immoral and rushed to combat it.
Although Twain wrote the novel after slavery was abolished, he set it several decades earlier, when slavery was still a fact of life. But even by Twain’s time, things had not necessarily gotten much better for blacks in the South. In this light, we might read Twain’s depiction of slavery as an allegorical representation of the condition of blacks in the United States even after the abolition of slavery. Just as slavery places the noble and moral Jim under the control of white society, no matter how degraded that white society may be, so too did the insidious racism that arose near the end of Reconstruction oppress black men for illogical and hypocritical reasons. In Huckleberry Finn, Twain, by exposing the hypocrisy of slavery, demonstrates how racism distorts the oppressors as much as it does those who are oppressed. The result is a world of moral confusion, in which seemingly “good” white people such as Miss Watson and Sally Phelps express no concern about the injustice of slavery or the cruelty of separating Jim from his family.
Intellectual and Moral Education
By focusing on Huck’s education, Huckleberry Finn fits into the tradition of the bildungsroman: a novel depicting an individual’s maturation and development. As a poor, uneducated boy, for all intents and purposes an orphan, Huck distrusts the morals and precepts of the society that treats him as an outcast and fails to protect him from abuse. This apprehension about society, and his growing relationship with Jim, lead Huck to question many of the teachings that he has received, especially regarding race and slavery. More than once, we see Huck choose to “go to hell” rather than go along with the rules and follow what he has been taught. Huck bases these decisions on his experiences, his own sense of logic, and what his developing conscience tells him. On the raft, away from civilization, Huck is especially free from society’s rules, able to make his own decisions without restriction. Through deep introspection, he comes to his own conclusions, unaffected by the accepted—and often hypocritical—rules and values of Southern culture. By the novel’s end, Huck has learned to “read” the world around him, to distinguish good, bad, right, wrong, menace, friend, and so on. His moral development is sharply contrasted to the character of Tom Sawyer, who is influenced by a bizarre mix of adventure novels and Sunday-school teachings, which he combines to justify his outrageous and potentially harmful escapades.
The Hypocrisy of “Civilized” Society
When Huck plans to head west at the end of the novel in order to escape further “sivilizing,” he is trying to avoid more than regular baths and mandatory school attendance. Throughout the novel, Twain depicts the society that surrounds Huck as little more than a collection of degraded rules and precepts that defy logic. This faulty logic appears early in the novel, when the new judge in town allows Pap to keep custody of Huck. The judge privileges Pap’s “rights” to his son as his natural father over Huck’s welfare. At the same time, this decision comments on a system that puts a white man’s rights to his “property”—his slaves—over the welfare and freedom of a black man. In implicitly comparing the plight of slaves to the plight of Huck at the hands of Pap, Twain implies that it is impossible for a society that owns slaves to be just, no matter how “civilized” that society believes and proclaims itself to be. Again and again, Huck encounters individuals who seem good—Sally Phelps, for example—but who Twain takes care to show are prejudiced slave-owners. This shaky sense of justice that Huck repeatedly encounters lies at the heart of society’s problems: terrible acts go unpunished, yet frivolous crimes, such as drunkenly shouting insults, lead to executions. Sherburn’s speech to the mob that has come to lynch him accurately summarizes the view of society Twain gives in Huckleberry Finn: rather than maintain collective welfare, society instead is marked by cowardice, a lack of logic, and profound selfishness.
More main ideas from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn