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Hucleberry Finn Essay, Research Paper

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is a story about a young boy’s coming of age in the mid-1800’s. It uses the ongoing adventures of Huck Finn attempting to gain his freedom as a way of developing the story. The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn has been considered to be Mark Twains greatest book and a delighted world named it his masterpiece. To the many nations that it has been translated in, it was known as America’s masterpiece (Allen 259).

Though initially condemned as inappropriate material for young readers, it soon became prized for its recreation of the antebellum South, its depiction of adolescent life, and its insights into slavery. The book resumes Huck’s life from The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which ended with the adoption of Huck by the Widow Douglas. Into this book the world called his masterpiece, Mark Twain put his prime purpose, one that branched into all his writings: a plea for humanity, for the end of castes, and an end to its cruelties (Allen 260).

Mark Twain, whose real name was Samuel Langhorne Clemons, was born in Florida, Missouri, in 1835. During his childhood he lived in Hannibal, Missouri, a Mississippi river port that was to become a large influence on his future writing (McMichael 231). It was Twains nature to write about where he lived and to criticize it if he felt it necessary. In reference to story structure, Kaplan said, “In plotting a book his structural sense is weak; intoxicated by a hunch, he seldom saw far ahead, and too many of his stories peter out from the author’s fatigue or surfeit. His wayward techniques came close to free association. This method served him best after he had conjured up characters from long ago, who on coming to life wrote the narrative for him, passing from incident to incident with a grace their creator could never achieve in manipulating an artificial plot (Kaplan16).”

Mark Twain’s long time friend, William D. Howells, had this to say of the author’s work. “ So far as I know, Mr. Clemons is the first writer to use in extended writing the fashion we all use in thinking, and to set down the things that come into his mind without fear or flavor of the thing that went before or the thing that may be about to follow (Howells 186).”

“Through his work in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain shaped the world’s view of America and had a profound impact on the development of American writing. His presentation of native American material, his use of the vernacular idiom, his departures from the traditions of the nineteenth-century gentility, and his sense of alienation influenced numerous American writers of the twentieth-century, among the Ernest Hemingway, who acknowledged their common debt by writing, “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckle-berry Finn…it’s the best book we’ve had….There was nothing before. There has been nothing so good since.”(McMichael 232).”

Before the book begins, Huck Finn has led a life of absolute freedom. His drunken and often missing father has never paid much attention to him, his mother is dead and therefore, when the book begins Huck is not used to following any rules other then his own. As the story starts Huck is living with the Widow Douglas and her sister, Miss Watson. Both women are older and incapable of raising a rebellious boy like Huck Finn. However, they do attempt to make Huck into what they consider a better boy. “They Widow Douglas, she took me for her son, and allowed she would civilize me: but it rough living in the house all the time considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways (Twain 11).” This process includes making Huck go to school, teaching him various religious facts, and making him act in a manner that the women find socially acceptable.

Since Huck never has followed rules, he finds the demands placed on him by the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson to be constraining and life with them lonely. As a result, soon after he first moves in with them, he runs away. He soon returns and becomes more comfortable living with them as the months go by. He never is able to adapt fully to the life of manners, religion, and education that the sisters have imposed upon him. Huck believes he can regain some freedom from his friend Tom Sawyer.

Tom Sawyer is a boy of Huck’s age who promises Huck and other boys of the town a grand life of adventure. Huck is eager to join Tom’s gang because he feels that doing so will allow him to escape the boring life that he lives with the Widow Douglas. Unfortunately for Huck, such an escape never occurs. Tom Sawyer’s promises of stagecoach robbing, kidnapping beautiful women, murdering and ransoming people never come to pass. Huck finds out to late that all these adventures are imaginary and that raiding a caravan of Arabs really meant terrorizing young children on a Sunday school picnic and that stolen jewelry was nothing more than playing with rocks or turnips (Twain 22). Huck is disappointed that the adventures are not real and resigns from the gang along with several of the other boys.

Another person who influences Huckleberry Finn was his father, Pap. Pap is one of the most interesting characters in the story. He is antisocial and tries to remove from Huck the values that Widow Douglas and her sister had attempted to instill. Pap is unshaven and dirty. Huck is scared of his father because he is an abusive drunk who only wants Huck for the money he thinks Huck has. “I used to be scared of him all the time, he tanned me so much, I reckoned I was scared now too (Twain18).”

Pap kidnaps Huck several months after he starts to live with Widow Douglas and takes him to an isolated cabin deep in the woods. Here, Huck enjoys again the freedom that he knew once before. He can smoke, laze around, swear, and generally do exactly what he wants. Just as with everything else in his life Huck soon becomes bored and realizes that he must escape from Pap if he wishes to remain alive. Huck makes it appear that he is killed in the cabin while pap is away, and leaves to go to a remote island on the Mississippi River, Jackson Island.

It is on Jackson Island that Huck finds Jim, a runaway slave. Jim has run to the island for fear of being sold to someone in New Orleans. When he first finds Jim on the island, Huck is glad because Jim will provide him with companionship. As the two of them share the island Huck begins to regard Jim as a person and not a slave. He discovers that Jim has more talents then he has been aware of. Jim knows all kinds of things about the future, people’s personalities, and forecasting the weather, and Huck finds this information useful as they drift down the Mississippi on a raft. On the raft there are numerous conversations between Huck and Jim. A lot of boyhood wisdom passed between the two during these conversations. One night while drifting down the river Jim tells Huck in reference to the stars and their origination, “The moon could have laid them; well, that looked kind of reasonable…because I’ve seen a frog lay most as many (Twain 120).

Huck feels more comfortable with Jim than any other character in the story. Jim allows Huck security, but is not confining as was the Widow Douglas and her sister. Like Tom Sawyer, Jim is intelligent, but his intelligence is not intimidating or imaginary. Unlike Pap, Jim allows Huck freedom, but he does it in a loving and caring way. Jim although confined all of his life has a spirit similar to Huck’s. He like Huck is able to sense the beauty of the river. In an interpretation of a dream, Jim lets the river symbolize “the free State” or freedom. If The Enchanted Village might serve as a subtitle for the Adventure of Tom Sawyer, The Road to Freedom might serve as the same purpose for the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Bellamy 342).

A while later, fate decides to test Huck as they come across some slave hunters. He decides to turn Jim in, but at the last minute starts lying and saves Jim from being discovered. “They went off and I got aboard the raft, feeling bad and low, because I knowed very well I had done wrong (Twain 91).”

During a stop in a river town Huck and Jim pick up two men, named King and Duke, who claim to be royalty, but are really con-artist who make their living doing mean things to innocent people. Huck realizes this quickly, but says nothing about it to keep peace on the raft. Huck does not like these men and when they try to rob three sisters by pretending to be relative, he foils their plan. Huck develops a newer, stronger dislike for the two when they sell Jim back into slavery for forty dollars.

Huck is determined to free Jim and discovers that Jim is being kept on the farm of Tom Sawyer’s aunt and uncle. Huck meets them and presents himself as Tom Sawyer. When Tom actually arrives. He cooperates with Huck and presents himself as Sid. When they help Jim escape, a chase ensues and Tom is shot in the leg and Jim is recaptured. It is then discovered that Jim’s owner has died and in his will granted Jim his freedom. It is also learned that Huck’s father, Pap has also died. Because of this Tom’s Aunt Sally offers to adopt Huck, but Huck has to remain free and sets out for the new territory.

Throughout the story Huck changes from a selfish boy with a narrow-minded opinion of the world into a boy who viewed others with a new found respect. Huck is a very personable narrator. He tells the story in plain language. It is through his precise trusting eyes that we, as the reader, see the world created by the story. Because Huck is so literal in his descriptions, the reader is able to gain an understanding of the work that Mark Twain created, the reader is able to catch Twain’s jokes and hear his skepticism. The Grangerford’s furniture, much admired by Huck, is actually comically tacky. You can almost hear Mark Twain laughing over the parrot flanked clock and the curtains with the cows and castles painted on them even as Huck oohs and ahhs about their beauty. “Through the character of Huck, Mark Twain was licensed to let himself go…That Mark Twain was almost, if not quite conscious of his opportunity we can see from his introductory note to the book: “persons attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot will be shot.”(Branch 216).” Twain’s emotional-ties into the past found expression in his self-identification with his character of Huckleberry Finn, breathed life into Huck’s character and his experiences. This allows the kid in all of us to identify with the adventures of a youth gone by.


Allen, Jerry. The Adventures of Mark Twain. Boston: Little, 1954.

Bellamy, Gladys Carmen. Mark Twain: As A Literary Artist. Norman: UP of Oklahoma, 1950.

Branch, Edgar Marquess. The Literary Apprenticeship Of Mark Twain. New York: Russell, 1966.

Howells, W.D. My Mark Twain: Reminiscences and Criticisms. New York: Harper, 1910.

Kaplan, Justin, ed. Mark Twain: A Profile. New York: Hill, 1967.

McMichael, George, et al. “Mark Twain 1835-1910.” Anthology of American Literature. 7th. Biller. New

Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1999. 231-232.

Twain, Mark. Adventure Of Huckleberry Finn. New York: Penguin, 1959

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