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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn | Discussion Questions 1 - 10

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What is the point of the NOTICE blurb that appears before Chapter 1 in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

Author Mark Twain knows full well critics and readers alike will analyze the book and look for a motive, moral, and plot. The NOTICE, if anything, makes people more curious. Why would the author warn a person against this? Twain's claim regarding the lack of seriousness in the novel has the opposite effect: It alerts readers the novel will address serious themes, such as maturation, racism, cruelty, and hypocrisy. However, the phrasing of the NOTICE is reminiscent of Twain. Readers turn to him for humor and appreciate his sense of humor. The NOTICE lets readers know they will not be disappointed here, although Twain will blend his trademark humor with seriousness. The book begins with that sense of humor already established in earlier works and continues throughout the novel.

What is the purpose of the EXPLANATORY blurb, which comes after the NOTICE and before Chapter 1 in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

Using dialect was a bold choice by Mark Twain. This is one of the first books to use such dialect. With the EXPLANATORY Twain is letting people know right from the start the book will include dialect, and he is taking his place as the authority over it. Because the technique of rendering African American dialect on the page was new, readers will note Jim's speech is represented phonetically rather than grammatically, which may make it difficult to read. Often reading Jim's words aloud will solve this problem. Like the NOTICE this section also helps establish tone. While it is more serious than the NOTICE, the EXPLANATORY is also playful as it leaves the reader wondering if the full truth is being told. At the same time the use of dialect gives the book a sense of realism by establishing place and time, and it adds to the colorful nature of the book.

Why does Twain mention Tom Sawyer in the opening pages of Chapter 1 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

Twain mentions Tom Sawyer and the action in that book for a few reasons. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer was a successful book. To tie Huck Finn to it makes sense in terms of making sales. Similar things happen today in movies, in particular where a popular character from a previous film is brought back to increase interest in a new film. Sequels are also popular, and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn can be seen as a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Beyond economic reasons the returning characters (including Huck himself, as well as Tom and Aunt Polly) have an impact on the plot. Knowing their past can fill in some of this story for readers. Finally while the first book was written by Mark Twain and in his voice, this one is purportedly in the voice of Huck Finn. Despite having the same characters, the books are not the same.

Why is it significant that the Widow Douglas refers to Huck as a "poor lost lamb" in Chapter 1 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

The "lost lamb" reference is to the Bible and the story about a shepherd who tries to retrieve a lost sheep. The widow looks at Huck as the lost sheep and she, like Jesus, is trying to bring him back to the flock. Huck, however, will not fit into the flock. He is an independent thinker and does not appreciate the widow's religious stories. Huck views the stories of Moses as irrelevant since he is dead. The widow, according to Huck, is a hypocrite since she tells him not to smoke but takes snuff herself. After hearing the description of heaven Huck decides he would rather be in hell. The also widow tries to bring religion to her slaves. She brings them in for prayer but does nothing about their subordinate position. This is hypocritical. Early on it is clear that Huck does not have a high opinion of religion. Throughout the story this point is driven home.

What character traits does Huck display in Chapter 1 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

From the beginning Huck is observant and thoughtful. When the Widow Douglas tells Huck something, he considers what she has to say before deciding whether or not he believes her. Readers should remember Huck is just 13 years old and lacks formal education. Despite this Huck does not simply believe what he is told. Huck's lack of education and his poor speech add to the expectation that he will not be particularly smart or bright. Huck does have patience and the willingness to consider the situation before making a decision. Huck is also good-hearted. Even though he does not care for what the widow is teaching him or how she is treating him, Huck sees the widow as meaning well.

How does Tom's first treatment of Jim in Chapter 2 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn foreshadow his actions in the final section of the novel?

Tom does not take Jim seriously. At the end of the book Tom places lives in danger and treats Jim's freedom as a joke so he can play an adventure game. This lack of seriousness, particularly when it comes to Jim, begin when Tom and Jim are first brought together. Tom wants to tie Jim to a tree—just for fun. In the end, Tom pulls a different prank on Jim. At this point the prank is not violent. However, it establishes that Tom looks at Jim, and by extension the slaves, as objects he can use for his entertainment rather than as people who have feelings and are his equals.

In Chapter 2 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn how does Tom show himself to be immature despite being the leader of Tom Sawyer's gang?

When Tom sees that Jim is fast asleep he first suggests to Huck that they "tie Jim to the tree for fun." When Huck refuses Tom insists on getting some satisfaction at Jim's expense, and so he removes Jim's hat and hangs it on a nearby tree. The stunt is done purely for fun, with no regard for Jim. Later in the chapter Tom insists the boys recite an oath and draw blood to write their name. The oath includes a promise to kill a fellow member and his family if he gives up secrets. When asked about the oath, Tom admits he made some of it up but got a good amount of it from a book. Twain establishes that Tom is a character who cannot be taken seriously. He is silly and prefers the world of make-believe to real life.

Based on Huck's decision to leave Tom Sawyer's gang in Chapter 3 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, what differences can be seen in the two young boys?

Once Huck realizes the gang is only pretend, he loses interest and decides to leave. Unlike Tom, Huck means what he says and says what he means. He is sincere and does not do things frivolously. For Tom everything is about games. He comes from a decent family, has been educated, and is seen in a positive light. Huck is looked down on by society due to his upbringing and background. He cannot afford to play games when he is forced to deal with real-life problems, like his abusive, alcoholic father, on a daily basis. While the boys are both excitable and enjoy pranks, these two boys are opposites in many ways.

What does it say about Southern society when, in Chapter 5 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the new judge places Huck with Pap?

It is often said that justice is blind, but in this case the judge is blind. His naïveté is extreme, and he ultimately puts a boy's life in danger. He puts more stock in tradition than in practical sense. This can be seen as a microcosm of the South. Southerners retained the tradition of slavery because that was what had been done for generations. There is no deep thinking done about slavery; it is simply accepted as the way it is. This tradition chains and keeps four million people stuck in a despicable situation. This book prosecutes the South for it, and this scene is one of many examples that show the South to be a place stuck in the dark.

What drives Huck to stage his own death in Chapter 7 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

Huck is being horribly mistreated by his father. Pap beats Huck and keeps him locked up when he is not home. Yet Huck never complains about these things or his situation in general. He simply reports it as part of his story. Huck has been brought up with few expectations and accepts the situation. Finally Huck reaches a breaking point. He simply says, "But by-and-by pap got too handy with his hick'ry, and I couldn't stand it." Huck notes that his body is covered with welts. Huck does not like living with the Widow Douglas, who tries to civilize him. He goes from that to living with a man who treats him in a terribly uncivil manner. Huck has had enough of adults and their treatment and is determined to care for himself.

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