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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn | Discussion Questions 41 - 50

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Comparing Chapter 1 to Chapter 43, what progress has Huck made by the end of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

The novel ends on a note similar to how it began, and Twain even uses some of the same words. An older woman wants to take Huck in and "sivilize" him. In Chapter 1 it is the Widow Douglas who wants to adopt and civilize Huck, while in Chapter 43 it is Aunt Sally who wants to adopt and civilize him. When the novel begins, Huck goes in with the Widow Douglas and reluctantly adopts some of her ways, such as cutting out cursing and obtaining an education. However, at the end of the novel Huck does not want to be adopted by Aunt Sally and decides he will "light out for the Territory" rather than stay and be civilized. The stops that Huck has made along his journey have shown him how "sivilized" people act. They partake in feuds, cheat others, and involve themselves in mob rule. Huck wants no part of civilization. He'll go his own way and act and behave according to his conscience.

Why does Jim withhold the information about Pap's dying in Chapter 9 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, relating the information only in Chapter 43?

In Chapter 43 Jim tells Huck that Pap is dead. Jim has known for a long time, and he deliberately keeps the secret from Huck. While Jim is nervous about telling Huck, the boy has no reaction to the news. There are a couple of reasons why Jim withheld the information. At the point he discovered Pap's death, Jim needed Huck's help. Jim is worried that if Huck knows his father's is dead, he will have no reason to leave and will head back to the widow's place. Jim needs Huck's help in escaping. While this is selfish and goes against the positive character traits of Jim, he is in great need and is desperate to obtain his freedom. Another reason that fits better with the traits Jim shows throughout the text is that he feels a need to protect Huck. The sight of his father dying such a way could upset Huck, and Jim does not want to have him go through that. Jim only tells him at the end because the information is relevant and because Huck is more mature and able to handle the news by this point.

What is the deeper meaning behind having Jim locked up in Chapter 43 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn even though he has been set free?

Many people question why Mark Twain wrote the book about slavery after the fact. The book came out nearly 20 years after the conclusion of the Civil War. Reconstruction was also concluded as the Republicans suffered political defeats and the Democrats did not believe in Reconstruction. With the end of Reconstruction much of the progress that was made for African Americans was lost. While they were no longer slaves, some of the oppressive Jim Crow laws had been enacted. These laws created a barrier between African Americans and whites. In addition, lynching became a regular occurrence. So while the chains of slavery had been removed, the ropes holding African Americans back were still tied. The book which focuses on the slave era depicts a time that shares many similarities with the time period it was released.

What role does the river play in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and how does it compare and contrast with the towns?

When Huck and Jim are on the river alone, they are happy and free. They create a society or family-like structure. Each of them cares for the other and handles the raft. They discuss and consider things. Along each stop on the route Huck and Jim come across people who engage in or on the verge of violence, much of which is senseless. People tend to act cruelly toward one another for reasons that are not always clear. This world is sullied and illogical, mean and bitter. It is only along the river and on the raft that Huck and Jim are free from society and its threatening ways.

In light of what critics have said about the novel, and considering Huck's final words, why might many people view The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as especially "American"?

Ernest Hemingway, a widely respected author, famously said about The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, "All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn." Many like Hemingway view the book as uniquely American. Twain's use of dialect is one reason people point to. Huck is distinctly American and talks like one. The book also has a regional setting along one of America's great rivers, the Mississippi. In addition America is a place that people came (and still do come) to in order to escape the old country. In America they attempt to fulfill their dreams and stay forever young. Huck, the young protagonist of the novel, leaves the South and heads West to the territories. The territories have yet to be corrupted by civilization and therefore offer hope and opportunity. Movement for the sake of movement—particularly westward—as well as to seek one's dreams is distinctly American.

What would cause some critics to view The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as racist?

Twain wrote the book with the intention of skewering and satirizing the South and its belief systems. Yet many critics argue the book is racist. Some point to the usage of the word "nigger" as evidence that the book is racist. However, Twain was depicting another era, and the word was commonly used. To use the dialect with the intention of recreating a time a place and then changing the terms used would ring untrue. Another reason the book is considered racist by some is the depiction of Jim. While he has many honorable traits, he is also simple and gullible. Plus, Jim's constant references to superstitions make him seem silly and a stereotype. Finally, though Huck has come to see the good in Jim and believes he should not be enslaved, it does not appear he feels that way about all African Americans. He is so confused by the society that he decides to leave it. These questionable elements lead some critics to the thought that the book is a racist one, though it is certainly not what Twain intended.

What does The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn say about religion?

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the most banned books of all time and it continues to get banned for various reasons. One reason that the book has been banned over the years is for its religious views. Twain does indeed seem to look down upon religion. Many characters in the book who claim to be good Christians do not value the slaves and see them as chattel. Their hypocritical ways are noted throughout the text. Huck is reluctant to help Jim escape slavery even though he believes he should, because it goes against what he has been told is morally right. When Huck ultimately decides to help Jim, he is sure he is signing his ticket to hell. So helping someone is a sin that will cause one to be published. Any religion that advocates such behavior is not one to be admired.

Why is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn considered a coming-of-age novel?

In a coming-of-age novel the protagonist is a young person who goes through experiences that serve as an initiation. Afterward the character has greater understanding or insight and is changed because of it. Huck's journey down the river with Jim and the experiences he goes through serve as his coming-of-age. The journey teaches Huck to trust his instincts, to recognize that civilized adults are not always what they appear to be, and that black people can have admirable traits too. Once Huck learns these things he is no longer willing to live in the South where people adhere to backward beliefs.

Why is Huck's home with Jim better than the others he has in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

Huck had two homes before the raft and Jim. When the novel opens Huck is living with the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson. He complains about the home, notes the ladies' hypocrisy, and feels stifled. While he does adjust Huck is not happy there. While staying with Pap, Huck again adjusts and is happy to be able to cuss, smoke, and not learn. However, Pap beats Huck regularly and leaves him locked up in the house when he is out. Huck goes to great lengths to escape there. It's only on the raft with Jim that Huck feels comfortable. Jim combines elements of both the homes as well as other positives that were present in neither place. Jim lectures Huck when the boy treats him like a fool. Jim teaches Huck about superstitions. Jim shows Huck affection and care. And Jim allows Huck to explore his thoughts and considers what the boy has to say. It is because of the home with Jim that Huck grows and begins to trust himself.

What does Mark Twain advocate the reader do in response to reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

Huck is happiest and acts most wisely and admirably when he abides by his own conscience. Huck ignores the society around him and instead acts by his own moral code. Twain is advocating that the reader, like Huck, answer to his or her own conscience. When people do only as society says, their actions can be immoral and wrong. This is also seen in the frequent mob scenes found in the text. Similar to Ralph Waldo Emerson's call to "trust thyself," Twain puts more stock in the individual than in society. If left to their own devices, Twain seems to believe people will act decently towards one another even when it goes against what society advocates.

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