Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (or, in more recent editions, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) is a novel by Mark Twain, first published in England in December 1884 and in the United States in February 1885. Commonly named among the Great American Novels, the work is among the first in major American literature to be written throughout in vernacular English, characterized by local color regionalism. It is told in the first person by Huckleberry "Huck" Finn, a friend of Tom Sawyer and narrator of two other Twain novels (Tom Sawyer Abroad and Tom Sawyer, Detective). It is a direct sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
The book is noted for its colorful description of people and places along the Mississippi River. Satirizing a Southern antebellum society that had ceased to exist about twenty years before the work was published, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is an often scathing look at entrenched attitudes, particularly racism.
Perennially popular with readers, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has also been the continued object of study by literary critics since its publication. It was criticized upon release because of its coarse language and became even more controversial in the 20th century because of its perceived use of racial stereotypes and because of its frequent use of the racial slur "nigger", despite strong arguments that the protagonist, and the tenor of the book, is anti-racist.
In order of appearance:
Huckleberry Finn is a boy about thirteen or fourteen. He has been brought up by his father, the town drunk, and has a hard time fitting into society. Tom Sawyer and his friends occasionally call him "Huck Finn".
Widow Douglas is the kind old lady who has taken Huck in after he and Tom come into some money. She tries her best to civilize Huck, believing it is her Christian duty.
Miss Watson is the widow’s sister, a tough old spinster who also lives with them. She is fairly hard on Huck, causing him to resent her a good deal. Samuel Clemens may have drawn inspiration for her from several people he knew in his life.
Jim is Miss Watson's big, mild-mannered slave to whom Huck becomes very close in the novel, when they reunite after Jim flees Miss Watson to seek refuge from slavery, and Huck and Jim become fellow travelers on the Mississippi River.
Tom Sawyer is Huck’s friend and peer, the main character of other Twain novels and the leader of the town boys in adventures, is "the best fighter and the smartest kid in town".
"Pap" Finn, Huck’s father, is the town drunk. He is often angry at Huck and resents him getting any kind of education. He also returns to Huck whenever he needs more money for alcohol.
Judith Loftus plays a small part in the novel — being the kind and perceptive woman whom Huck talks to in order to find out about the search for Jim — but many critics believe her to be the best female character in the novel.
The Grangerfords, an aristocratic Kentuckian family headed by the sextagenarian Colonel Saul Grangerford, take Huck in after he is separated from Jim on the Mississippi. Huck becomes close friends with the youngest male of the family, Buck Grangerford, who is Huck's age. By the time Huck meets them, the Grangerfords have been engaged in an age-old blood feud with another local family, the Shepherdsons.
The duke and the king are two otherwise unnamed con artists whom Huck and Jim take aboard their raft just before the start of their Arkansas adventures. They are featured prominently throughout the novel, duping many local townspeople with their various get-rich-quick schemes. The middle-aged "duke" claims to be the long-lost Duke of Bridgewater (though he mistakenly says "Bilgewater" and is sometimes called this by the king), while the elderly "king" claims to be the long-lost Dauphin of France, and so is sometimes called "Capet" by the duke.
Mary Jane, Joanna, and Susan Wilks are the three young nieces of their wealthy guardian, Peter Wilks, who has recently died. The duke and the king try to steal the inheritance left by Peter Wilks, by posing as Peter's estranged brothers from England.
Aunt Sally and Uncle Silas Phelps, are the two people whose nephew Huck poses as, after he abandons the duke and king. She is a loving, but high-strung lady, and he a plodding old man, both farmer and preacher.
Many other characters play important but minimal roles in the many episodes that make up the novel. They include slaves owned by the various families they meet, supporting townspeople, rafts-men, a doctor and a steamboat captain.
The story begins in fictional St. Petersburg, Missouri (based on the actual town of Hannibal, Missouri), on the shore of the Mississippi River, sometime between 1835 (when the first steamboat sailed down the Mississippi) and 1845. Huckleberry "Huck" Finn (the protagonist and first-person narrator) and his friend, Thomas "Tom" Sawyer, have each come into a considerable sum of money as a result of their earlier adventures (detailed in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer). Huck explains how he is placed under the guardianship of the Widow Douglas, who, together with her stringent sister, Miss Watson, are attempting to civilize him and teach him religion. Finding civilized life confining, his spirits are raised somewhat when Tom Sawyer helps him to escape one night past Miss Watson's slave Jim, to meet up with Tom's gang of self-proclaimed "robbers." Just as the gang's activities begin to bore Huck, he is suddenly interrupted by the reappearance of his shiftless father, "Pap", an abusive alcoholic. Although Huck is successful in preventing Pap from acquiring his fortune, knowing that Pap would only spend the money on alcohol, Pap still gains custody of Huck and leaves town with him.
Pap forcibly moves Huck to his isolated cabin in the woods on the Illinois shoreline. Due to Pap's drunken violence and habit of keeping Huck locked inside the cabin, Huck, during one of his father's absences, saws a hole in the cabin wall, elaborately fakes his own murder, and sets off down river; settling, quite comfortably, on Jackson's Island, in the Mississippi. Here, Huck reunites with Jim, Miss Watson's slave. Jim has also run away after he overheard Miss Watson planning to sell him "down the river" (to one of the states further South where the treatment of slaves is far more brutal). Jim plans to make his way to the town of Cairo in Illinois, a free state, so that he can later buy the rest of his enslaved family's freedom. At first, Huck is conflicted about the sin of supporting a runaway slave, but as the two talk in depth and bond over their mutually held superstitions, Huck emotionally connects with Jim, who increasingly becomes Huck's close friend and guardian. After heavy flooding on the river, the two find a raft (which they keep) as well as an entire house floating on the river. Entering the house to seek loot, Jim finds the naked body of a dead man lying on the floor, shot in the back. He quietly prevents Huck from seeing the corpse.
To find out the latest news, Huck dresses as a girl and goes into town. He enters the house of Judith Loftus, a woman new to the area, thinking she will not recognize him as a boy. Huck learns from her about the news of his own supposed murder; Pap was initially blamed, but since Jim ran away he is also a suspect. A reward for Jim's capture has initiated a manhunt: Mrs Loftus herself has a feeling about Jackson's Island. Mrs. Loftus is actually very shrewd, and she becomes increasingly suspicious that Huck is a boy, finally proving it by tests, such as seeing how he catches something in his lap, and how he throws a chunk of lead at a rat. Once he is exposed, she nevertheless allows him to leave her home without commotion, not realizing that he is the allegedly murdered boy they have just been discussing. Huck returns to Jim to tell him the news - they are obviously no longer safe from discovery on the island, so the two hastily load up the raft and depart.
After a while they come across a grounded steamship. Searching it, Huck and Jim stumble upon two thieves discussing murdering a third, and they flee before being noticed. They are later separated in a fog, making Jim intensely anxious, and when they reunite, Huck tricks Jim into thinking he dreamed the entire incident. Jim is not deceived for long, and is deeply hurt that his friend should have teased him so mercilessly. Huck becomes remorseful and apologizes to Jim, though his conscience troubles him about humbling himself before a black man.
Travelling onward, Huck and Jim's raft is struck by a passing steamship, separating the two. Huck is given shelter on the Kentucky side of the river by the Grangerfords, an aristocratic family. He befriends Buck Grangerford, a boy about his age, and learns that the Grangerfords are engaged in a 30-year blood feud against another family, the Shepherdsons. The Grangerfords and Shepherdsons go to the same church and act peaceably inside, though both families bring guns, despite the church's preachings on brotherly love. The vendetta finally comes to a head when Buck's older sister elopes with a member of the Shepherdson clan. In the resulting conflict, all the Grangerford males from this branch of the family are shot and killed, including Buck. Huck is particularly devastated by the brutality of Buck's murder, which he witnesses, but declines to describe. He is immensely relieved to be reunited with Jim, who has rescued and repaired the raft.
Near the Arkansas-Missouri-Tennessee border, Jim and Huck take two on-the-run grifters aboard the raft. The younger man, who is about thirty, introduces himself as the long-lost son of an English duke (the Duke of Bridgewater). The older one, about seventy, then trumps this outrageous claim by alleging that he himself is the Lost Dauphin, the son of Louis XVI and rightful King of France. The "duke" and "king" then become permanent passengers on Jim and Huck's raft, committing a series of confidence schemes upon unsuspecting locals all along their journey. To allow for Jim's presence, they first print fake bills for an escaped slave, but later paint him up entirely blue and call him the "Sick Arab" so that he can move about the raft without being tied up.
On one occasion, they advertise a three-night engagement of a play called "The Royal Nonesuch". The play turns out to be only a couple of minutes' worth of an absurd, bawdy sham. On the afternoon of the first performance, a drunk called Boggs is shot dead by a gentleman named Colonel Sherburn; a lynch mob forms to retaliate against Sherburn; and Sherburn, surrounded at his home, disperses the mob by making a defiant speech describing how true lynching should be done. By the third night of "The Royal Nonesuch", the townspeople prepare for their revenge on the duke and king for their money-making scam, but the two cleverly skip town together with Huck and Jim just before the performance begins.
In the next town, the two swindlers then impersonate two brothers of Peter Wilks, a recently deceased man of property. To match accounts of Wilks's brothers, the king attempts an English accent and the duke pretends to be a deaf-mute, while starting to collect Wilks's inheritance. Huck decides that Wilks's three orphaned nieces, who treat Huck with kindness, do not deserve to be cheated and so he tries to retrieve the nieces' stolen inheritance. In a desperate moment, Huck is forced to hide the money in Wilks's coffin, which is buried the next morning. The arrival of two new men who seem to be the real brothers throws everything into confusion, so the townspeople decide to dig up the coffin in order to determine who are the true brothers, but Huck leaves for the raft in the ensuing commotion. Just as Huck and Jim believe they have escaped, the two villains turn up and take charge, to Huck's despair. When Huck is finally able to get away and return to his raft to flee with Jim, he finds to his horror that Jim has been sold to a family that intends to return the slave to his proper owner for the reward. Defying his conscience and accepting the negative religious consequences he expects for his actions—"All right, then, I'll go to hell!"—Huck resolves to free Jim once and for all.
Huck learns that Jim is being held at the plantation of Silas and Sally Phelps. The family's nephew, Tom, is expected for a visit at the same time of Huck's arrival, so Huck is luckily mistaken for Tom and welcomed into their home. He plays along, hoping to find Jim's location and free him; in a surprising plot twist, it is revealed that the expected nephew is in fact Tom Sawyer. When Huck intercepts Tom on the road and tells him everything, Tom decides to join Huck's scheme, pretending to be his own younger half-brother Sid, while Huck continues to pretend that he is himself Tom Sawyer. In the meantime, Jim has told the family about the two grifters and the new plan for "The Royal Nonesuch," and so the people of town capture the duke and king, who are then tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail.
Rather than simply sneaking Jim out of the shed where he is being held, Tom develops an elaborate plan to free him, involving secret messages, a hidden tunnel, a rope ladder sent in Jim's food, and other elements from adventure books he has read, including an anonymous note to the Phelpses warning them of the whole scheme. During the resulting pursuit, Tom is shot in the leg and Jim remains by his side, risking recapture rather than completing his escape alone. Although a local doctor admires Jim's decency, he has Jim captured while asleep and returned to the Phelpses. After this event, events quickly resolve themselves. Tom's Aunt Polly arrives and reveals Huck and Tom's true identities to the Phelps family. Jim is revealed to be a free man; Miss Watson died two months earlier and freed Jim in her will, but Tom chose not to reveal this information so that he could come up with an elaborate plan to rescue Jim. Jim tells Huck that Huck's father has been dead for some time (he was the dead man they found in the floating house; Jim sensitively hid his identity from Huck until now) so that Huck may return safely to St. Petersburg. Huck declares that he is quite glad to be done writing his story, and despite Sally's plans to adopt and civilize him, he intends to flee west to Indian Territory.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn explores notions of race and identity. An obvious complexity exists concerning Jim’s character. While some scholars point out that Jim is good-hearted, moral, and not unintelligent, others have criticized the novel as racist, citing the use of the word "nigger" and emphasising the stereotypically "comic" treatment of Jim's superstition and ignorance.
Huck struggles not only with the challenges of his strenuous journey, but also with the 19th century social climate and the role it forces on him regarding Jim. Throughout the story, Huck is in moral conflict with the received values of the society in which he lives, and while he is unable to consciously refute those values even in his thoughts, he makes a moral choice based on his own valuation of Jim's friendship and human worth, a decision in direct opposition to the things he has been taught. Mark Twain in his lecture notes proposes that "a sound heart is a surer guide than an ill-trained conscience", and goes on to describe the novel as "...a book of mine where a sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision and conscience suffers defeat".
To highlight the hypocrisy required to condone slavery within an ostensibly moral system, Twain has Huck's father enslave him, isolate him, and beat him. When Huck escapes – which anyone would agree was the right thing to do – he then immediately encounters Jim "illegally" doing the same thing.
Some scholars discuss Huck’s own character, and the novel itself, in the context of its relation to African-American culture as a whole. John Alberti quotes Shelley Fisher Fishkin who writes in her 1990’s book Was Huck Black?: Mark Twain and African-American Voices, "by limiting their field of inquiry to the periphery," white scholars "have missed the ways in which African-American voices shaped Twain's creative imagination at its core." It is suggested that the character of Huckleberry Finn illustrates the correlation, and even interrelatedness, between white and black culture in the United States.
The original illustrations were done by Edward W. Kemble (more often known as E.W. Kemble), at the time a young artist working for Life magazine. Kemble was hand-picked by Twain, who admired his work. Hearn suggests that Twain and Kemble had a similar skill, writing that:
Whatever he may have lacked in technical grace...Kemble shared with the greatest illustrators the ability to give even the minor individual in a text his own distinct visual personality; just as Twain so deftly defined a full-rounded character in a few phrases, so too did Kemble depict with a few strokes of his pen that same entire personage.
As Kemble could only afford one model, most of his illustrations produced for the book were done by guesswork. When the novel was published, the illustrations were praised even as the novel was harshly criticized. E.W. Kemble also produced another set of illustrations for Harper’s and the American Publishing Company in 1898 and 1899 after Twain lost the copyright.
Twain initially conceived of the work as a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer that would follow Huckleberry Finn through adulthood. Beginning with a few pages he had removed from the earlier novel, Twain began work on a manuscript he originally titled Huckleberry Finn's Autobiography. Twain worked on the manuscript off and on for the next several years, ultimately abandoning his original plan of following Huck's development into adulthood. He appeared to have lost interest in the manuscript while it was in progress, and set it aside for several years. After making a trip down the Hudson river, Twain returned to his work on the novel. Upon completion, the novel's title closely paralleled its predecessor's: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Tom Sawyer's Comrade).
As it relates to the actual body of text during the time of publication, Mark Twain composed the story in pen on notepaper between 1876 and 1883. Paul Needham, who supervised the authentication of the manuscript for Sotheby's books and manuscripts department in New York in 1991, stated, "What you see is [Clemens'] attempt to move away from pure literary writing to dialect writing". For example, Twain revised the opening line of Huck Finn three times. He initially wrote, "You will not know about me", which he changed to, "You do not know about me", before settling on the final version, "You don't know about me, without you have read a book by the name of 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer'; but that ain't no matter." The revisions also show how Twain reworked his material to strengthen the characters of Huck and Jim, as well as his sensitivity to the then-current debate over literacy and voting.
A later version was the first typewritten manuscript delivered to a printer.
Demand for the book would spread outside of the United States. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was eventually published on December 10, 1884, in Canada and England, and on February 18, 1885, in the United States. The illustration on page 283 became a point of issue after an engraver, whose identity was never discovered, made a last-minute addition to the printing plate of Kemble’s picture of old Silas Phelps, which drew attention to Phelps’ groin. Thirty thousand copies of the book had been printed before the obscenity was discovered. A new plate was made to correct the illustration and repair the existing copies.
In 1885, the Buffalo Public Library's curator, James Fraser Gluck, approached Twain to donate the manuscript to the library. Twain did so. Later it was believed that half of the pages had been misplaced by the printer. In 1991, the missing half turned up in a steamer trunk owned by descendants of Gluck. The library successfully proved possession and, in 1994, opened the Mark Twain Room to showcase the treasure.
In relation to the literary climate at the time of the book’s publication in 1885, Henry Nash Smith describes the importance of Mark Twain’s already established reputation as a “professional humorist,” having already published over a dozen other works. Smith suggests that while the “dismantling of the decadent Romanticism of the later nineteenth century was a necessary operation,” Adventures of Huckleberry Finn illustrated “previously inaccessible resources of imaginative power, but also made vernacular language, with its new sources of pleasure and new energy, available for American prose and poetry in the twentieth century.”
While it was clear that the publication of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was controversial from the outset, Norman Mailer of The New York Times concluded in 1984 that Twain’s novel was not initially “too unpleasantly regarded.” In fact, Mailer writes that “the critical climate could hardly anticipate T. S. Eliot and Ernest Hemingway's encomiums 50 years later,” reviews that would remain longstanding in the American consciousness.
Alberti suggests that the academic establishment responded to the book’s challenges both dismissively and with confusion. During Twain’s time, and today, defenders of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn "lump all nonacademic critics of the book together as extremists and ‘censors’ thus equating the complaints about the book's ‘coarseness’ from the genteel bourgeois trustees of the Concord Public Library in the 1880s with more recent objections based on race and civil rights.”
Upon issue of the American edition in 1885 several libraries banned it from their shelves. The early criticism focused on what was perceived as the book's crudeness. One incident was recounted in the newspaper, the Boston Transcript:
The Concord (Mass.) Public Library committee has decided to exclude Mark Twain's latest book from the library. One member of the committee says that, while he does not wish to call it immoral, he thinks it contains but little humor, and that of a very coarse type. He regards it as the veriest trash. The library and the other members of the committee entertain similar views, characterizing it as rough, coarse, and inelegant, dealing with a series of experiences not elevating, the whole book being more suited to the slums than to intelligent, respectable people.
Twain later remarked to his editor, "Apparently, the Concord library has condemned Huck as 'trash and only suitable for the slums.' This will sell us another twenty-five thousand copies for sure!"
In 1905, New York’s Brooklyn Public Library also banned the book due to bad word choice and Huck's having “not only itched but scratched” within the novel, which was considered obscene. When asked by a Brooklyn librarian about the situation, Twain replied:
I am greatly troubled by what you say. I wrote 'Tom Sawyer' & 'Huck Finn' for adults exclusively, & it always distressed me when I find that boys and girls have been allowed access to them. The mind that becomes soiled in youth can never again be washed clean. I know this by my own experience, & to this day I cherish an unappeased bitterness against the unfaithful guardians of my young life, who not only permitted but compelled me to read an unexpurgated Bible through before I was 15 years old. None can do that and ever draw a clean sweet breath again on this side of the grave.
Many subsequent critics, Ernest Hemingway among them, have deprecated the final chapters, claiming the book "devolves into little more than minstrel-show satire and broad comedy" after Jim is detained. Hemingway declared, "All modern American literature comes from" Huck Finn, and hailed it as "the best book we've had". He cautioned, "If you must read it you must stop where the Nigger Jim is stolen from the boys sic. That is the real end. The rest is just cheating." Pulitzer Prize winner Ron Powers states in his Twain biography (Mark Twain: A Life) that "Huckleberry Finn endures as a consensus masterpiece despite these final chapters", in which Tom Sawyer leads Huck through elaborate machinations to rescue Jim.
The words "nigger" and "Jim" appear side-by-side once in the novel, in Chapter XXXI, in a letter Huck writes to Mrs. Watson, but they are not used as a name. After "nigger Jim" appears in Albert Bigelow Paine's 1912 Clemens biography, it continued to be used by twentieth century critics, including Leslie Fiedler, Norman Mailer, and Russell Baker.
Writer Louisa May Alcott criticized the book’s publication as well, saying that if Twain "[could not] think of something better to tell our pure-minded lads and lasses he had best stop writing for them".
The language of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn made for its controversial condition during its first year on the shelves and into the modern world of literature. In his introduction to The Annotated Huckleberry Finn, Michael Patrick Hearn writes that Twain “could be uninhibitedly vulgar,” and quotes William Dean Howells, a Twain contemporary, who wrote that the author’s “humor was not for most women.” However, Hearn continues by explaining that “the reticent Howells found nothing in the proofs of Huckleberry Finn so offensive that it needed to be struck out.”
Much of modern scholarship of Huckleberry Finn has focused on its treatment of race. Many Twain scholars have argued that the book, by humanizing Jim and exposing the fallacies of the racist assumptions of slavery, is an attack on racism. Others have argued that the book falls short on this score, especially in its depiction of Jim. According to Professor Stephen Railton of the University of Virginia, Twain was unable to fully rise above the stereotypes of black people that white readers of his era expected and enjoyed, and therefore resorted to minstrel show-style comedy to provide humor at Jim's expense, and ended up confirming rather than challenging late-19th century racist stereotypes.
In one instance, the controversy caused a drastically altered interpretation of the text: in 1955, CBS tried to avoid controversial material in a televised version of the book, by deleting all mention of slavery and omitting the character of Jim entirely.
Because of this controversy over whether Huckleberry Finn is racist or anti-racist, and because the word "nigger" is frequently used in the novel, many have questioned the appropriateness of teaching the book in the U.S. public school system—this questioning of the word “nigger” is illustrated by a school administrator of Virginia in 1982 calling the novel the "most grotesque example of racism I’ve ever seen in my life". According to the American Library Association, Huckleberry Finn was the fifth most-frequently-challenged book in the United States during the 1990s.
There have been several more recent cases involving protests for the banning of the novel. In 2003 high school student Calista Phair and her grandmother, Beatrice Clark, in Renton, Washington, proposed banning the book from classroom learning in the Renton School District, though not from any public libraries, because of the word "nigger". Clark filed a request with the school district in response to the required reading of the book, asking for the novel to be removed from the English curriculum. The two curriculum committees that considered her request eventually decided to keep the novel on the 11th grade curriculum, though they suspended it until a panel had time to review the novel and set a specific teaching procedure for the novel and its controversial topics.
In 2009 a Washington state high school teacher called for the removal of the novel from a school curriculum. The teacher, John Foley, called for replacing Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with a more modern novel. In an opinion column that Foley wrote in the Seattle Post Intelligencer, he states that all "novels that use the ‘N-word’ repeatedly need to go." He states that teaching the novel is not only unnecessary, but difficult due to the offensive language within the novel with many students becoming uncomfortable at "just hear[ing] the N-word." He views this change as “common sense,” with Obama’s election into office as a sign that Americans “are ready for a change,” and that by removing these books from the reading lists, they would be following this change.
Publishers of the book have made their own attempts at easing the controversy by way of less-coarse publications. A 2011 edition of the book, published by NewSouth Books, replaced the word "nigger" with "slave" (although being incorrectly addressed to a freed man) and did not use the term "Injun." Mark Twain scholar Alan Gribben said he hoped the edition would be more friendly for use in classrooms, rather than have the work banned outright from classroom reading lists due to its language.
According to publisher Suzanne La Rosa "At NewSouth, we saw the value in an edition that would help the works find new readers. If the publication sparks good debate about how language impacts learning or about the nature of censorship or the way in which racial slurs exercise their baneful influence, then our mission in publishing this new edition of Twain’s works will be more emphatically fulfilled." Another scholar, Thomas Wortham, criticized the changes, saying the new edition "doesn't challenge children to ask, 'Why would a child like Huck use such reprehensible language?'"
Responses to this include the publishing of The Hipster Huckleberry Finn which is an edition with the word "nigger" is replaced with the word "hipster". The book's description includes this statement "Thanks to editor Richard Grayson, the adventures of Huckleberry Finn are now neither offensive nor uncool."
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