Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
In A Nutshell
Ernest Hemingway probably summed it up best when he said, "All modern American literature comes
from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn" (source). We’re dealing with quite a book here.
Published in 1885, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain’s follow-up to the Adventures of Tom
Sawyer, carved new territory into the American literary landscape in several ways.
As one of the first novels to use a specific region’s vernacular in its narration, the Adventures of
Huckleberry Finn set a precedent for many other distinctly American works to follow. Some readers
didn’t exactly "get" this new colloquial style, however. Accustomed to the proper prose of Hawthorne,
Thoreau, and Emerson, some readers didn’t know what to do with Huck’s particular way of storytelling.
Aside from the novel’s new style of writing, Twain’s decision to use thirteen-year-old Huck as the
narrator allowed him to include certain content that a more civilized narrator probably would have left
out. At first, Twain’s novel was labeled crass by some readers. The book was even banned in schools for
its use of the word "nigger," which is ironic, given that the novel is up in arms over slavery. Even today,
the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn makes "Banned Books" lists.
Twain’s novel jumped head first into one of the biggest issues of its day: racism. Although the
Emancipation Proclamation had been signed over two decades before Huckleberry Finn’s original
publication date, African-Americans everywhere were still victims of oppression and racism. They were
technically "free," but often by name only in Reconstruction-era America. Many southerners were bitter
about the outcome of the Civil War.
By guiding his characters through several states of the Confederacy, Twain was able to reveal the
hypocrisy of many pre-war southern communities. As a southerner himself, Twain had first-hand
experiences to draw on, and he was able to walk the fine line between realistic depiction and ironic farce.
Not to mention, Twain created the now-iconic character of Jim, a runaway slave who convinces Huck that
African-Americans are deserving of freedom, and that equality is a goal for which we all should be
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is now considered to be one of the Great American Novels, mostly
due to how it so heartily champions the American ideals of freedom, independence, and rugged
individualism. Huck’s dedication to his own moral standards and his bold sense of adventure and self-