of Huckleberry Finn
Things to think about while reading Huckleberry Finn:
Why does Twain explain his use of dialects at the beginning of the book? What attitudes about language is he satirizing? How does the use of dialects contribute to the characterization and tone of the book?
What are the different influences Huck wants to escape at the beginning of the novel?
Why is this novel considered the greatest coming of age story in American literature? What makes Huck an archetypal, or almost mythic, American hero? Would you classify the novel as a children's book? Why or why not?
How do Tom Sawyer's attitudes and methods compare with Huck's? How is Tom an influence on Huck all through the middle of the novel when he is not present?
What are Huck's experiences of and attitudes toward superstitions, the supernatural, and established religion?
What do the towns along the Mississippi have in common? How do Huck's town experiences compare with life on the raft?
How does Huck perceive and relate to nature?
What is the significance of Huck's response to the beautiful women, the mother figures, and the various families he encounters? Consider his responses to individuals in relation to the examples of exaggerated and false sentimentality in the novel. How is he affected by his drunken and neglectful father?
How do you perceive Huck as a storyteller? What kinds of stories does he tell people in the novel and why? What is the effect of hearing the story entirely from his point of view and in his language? What ideas does Twain seem to convey toward the relationship between storytelling and lying? Why does Huck sometimes lie during his adventures?
How many burlesques or parodies can you find of different character types, social institutions, traditional beliefs and attitudes, literary and historical traditions, etc.?
Why does Huck think he'll go to hell for helping Jim escape? What are his attitudes toward slavery, slave-stealing, and crimes such as stealing? What different moral forces within Huck are struggling with each other?
Why is Huckleberry Finn usually near the top of lists of books that have been banned or censored in America? What do you think about the content that some people consider objectionable?
Why does Huck go along with the frauds of the King and Duke, and the Evasion plans devised by Tom? What does he learn from these experiences? What do we learn from watching Huck experience them?
Is the ending of the novel (the "rescue" of Jim from the Phelpses) appropriate? Is it plausible? Is it anticlimactic? Does it fit the rest of the book? Do Huck and Jim lose dignity by their participation in Tom's schemes? Why has the ending created such controversy among readers and critics of this novel?
In what ways is this novel particularly American? What attitudes toward Europe, European civilization, and the past does Twain express?
Are you familiar with film or dramatic adaptations of this novel? Ask Dr. Rex Stephenson about the dramatic adaptation he wrote for the Blue Ridge Dinner Theatre in 1995.
General Links on Mark Twain:
The Mark Twain Boyhood Home & Museum, Hannibal, Missouri
The Mark Twain House & Museum, Hartford, Connecticut
Mark Twain and American Humor, an NEH Edsitement lesson
Mark Twain in His Times, University of Virginia
If you want to read more about Mark Twain and background on Huckleberry Finn, including illustrations from early editions of the novel, discussions of controversies surrounding the novel and attempts to ban it, look at http://classiclit.about.com/od/huckleberryfinn/Finn_Huckleberry.htm.
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