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Huckleberry Finn

Term Definition
Huckleberry Finn

Huckleberry Finn is a novel by Mark Twain, first published in the United Kingdom in December 1884 and in the United States in February 1885.

Written by Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published first in the United Kingdom in December of 1884 and then later in February 1885 in the United States. The book can be found on countless lists of great American novels (click here to read more about the American Civil War) and is the first major American novel to be written completely in vernacular English.  The book is a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, about the life of Huck’s friend Tom, though Huck is the narrator for both novels.

Huckleberry Finn is the son of the torn drunk. At about thirteen years old, he has trouble fitting into society. Finn is sometimes taken care of by his kindly neighbor, Widow Douglas, who believes it is her Christian duty to civilize Huck. Her sister, Miss Watson, is a mean woman who is cruel to Huck and her mild-mannered slave Jim. When Jim flees the harsh treatment by Miss Watson, Huck spots him while he is running away from his father. The two decide to travel down the Mississippi together in search of a better life for both of them.

Exploring the theme of racism

The main theme explored in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is racism. Many argue about the intricacy of the character Jim. Some say that Jim is an exaggerated caricature of a black man with his embellished ignorance and fervent superstition. Still, others argue that he is kind, moral, and not entirely unintelligent. 

During their journey, Huck has difficulty with the role imposed on him by society in relation to Jim. He knows that he is supposed to treat Jim as his inferior, but he values Jim both as a friend and as a human being and decides to treat him as such, regardless of societal expectations. Huck is constantly bombarded with the hypocrisy concerning the races. When Huck’s father beats, isolates, and enslaves him, it is never questioned that he does not deserve such treatment and should be set free. But when he escapes, he witnesses Jim doing the same thing; but for Jim, it is illegal. Huck does not understand the double standard involved in the treatment of human beings.

Social mockery of racist stereotypes

The story is well-known for its vivid descriptions of characters and settings. Set in the mid-nineteenth century Southern antebellum society, it offers a contemptuous satire of racism and similar deep-rooted mind-sets.  Continually popular with readers, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is not without its critics. When it was originally published, many took issue with the book’s rough and abrasive language. Now, many criticize the book for its supposed racist stereotypes and use of racial slurs.

When first published, though there was controversy surrounding Twain’s language choices, the book was not totally unpopular. It was banned from the Concord Public Library during the 1880s because of its crude language. However, many scholars had, and continue to have, misgivings about, not just the language, but the racial connotations and civil rights issues. 

As stated above, the brash language used in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has created some controversy. The language can be undeniably vulgar and its use of racial slurs has had its value to school curriculums called into question. Some editions have been printed replacing the n-word with ‘slave’ or even ‘hipster’. Some say that Twain plays on offensive racial stereotypes and plays out like a sort of minstrel show, providing laughs at Jim’s expense. Conversely, many argue that the book is a staunch criticism of racism. The book, they say, humanizes Jim, and, in turn, the rest of his race. It exposes the hypocrisy of racism, making it seem to be against is.

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Synonyms: huckleberry-finn

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