Select five characters that Twain does not admire in Huck Finn. Name and describe the specific traits that each possesses that makes him or her not an admirable person.
Select five characters that Twain does admire. Name and discuss the specific traits that each possesses that makes him or her admirable.
Violence and greed are motivations of much of the action in this book. Discuss, giving at least three examples of each.
Mark Twain was able to find humor in situations that most people would regard as serious. Discuss and provide specific references from the novel.
Some critics claim that Jim is Huck's "true father." Defend or refute this statement.
Discuss the qualities Huck posesses which are necessary for survival on the frontier. Give specific examples from the novel.
What is the symbolic importance of the setting of the novel (land vs. river)?
What does the reader infer about Twain's attitude towared slavery and racism?
Discuss how the river provides freedom for Huck.
What is "civilization" in the mind of Huck?
Discuss how Huck grows as a person; what life lessons does he learn from his encounters on the river?
Although Mark Twain, in his introductory "notice" to the novel, denies that there is a moral or motive in the story, the work itself contradicts its author. How?
Discuss the role of religion in the novel.
Discuss Huck as an archetype hero.
What does Twain admire in a man and what is he contemptuous of?
This novel is also a satire on human weaknesses. What human traits does he satirize? Give examples for each.
What evidence do you find of Twain's cynicism?
Discuss three recurring motifs (any idea, object, feeling, color, pattern, etc. which repeats itself) in the novel. Give specifics.
Discuss the role of superstition in the novel. Explain how Twain criticizes superstitious beliefs and give specific examples.
Appearance versus reality is a major theme in Huckleberry Finn. Using specifics from the book, discuss this very prevalent theme.
How does Huck search for a family? What does he find and what does he learn?
How is Huck's trip down the river actually a passage into manhood?
How would you defend Huckleberry Finn against charges of being a racist novel?
Huckleberry Finn has been called the "Great American Novel." However, it is the sixth most frequently banned book in the United States. Discuss why this masterpiece is banned mostly in Christian academies and in all black institutions.
Explain how the American Dream is or is not achieved by three characters in this novel. Begin by explaining what each character holds as his or her American Dream.
Discuss how Huck displays several textbook characteristics of the child of an alcoholic.
Analyze and trace the moral maturation of Huck Finn. Discuss the events that disgusted and depressed him, the coping skills that he learned, and his actions and the circumstances for such.
"Picaresque" is a word used to describe a character who comes from a low class of society, is poor, lives by his/her wits, travels, and has eposodic adventures. Using specific examples and quotes from the novel, explain how Huck is a picaresque figure.
A persona is an alternate name and personality uses for many different reasons. Discuss the many personas used in the novel.
Discuss the similarities and differences between Jim and Pap, as parents.
If you had to name a modern day Huck Finn who would it be?
Explain how Huck's loss of innocence as a boy is symbolic of America as the country moves towards the Civil War.
Compare and contrast Realism and Romanticism in the novel.
Select two of the social institutions (i.e. democracy) at which Twain pokes fun. Use specific references to show how he accomplishes this.
What do you think makes this novel an important record of American culture?
Point out the weak and strong character traits in Huck. How do his character and personality compare with those of Tom Sawyer?
Lionel Trilling says that Huck possesses a sense of humor. Do you think this is so? Site examples for a yes or no answer.
A major unifying element in the novel is illusion (pretense) vs. reality. Find examples. Explain their significance to Twain's overall themes.
Identify the literary techniques used by Mark Twain in Huckleberry Finn. Consider techniques such as: figures of speech, language, narrative techniques, sentence structure, diction, organization, syntax, detail, structure, imagery, irony, and tone.
How does Mark Twain create a humorous effect (exaggeration, irony, satire, understatement)?
How does Twain use satire to expose and criticize human failings?
Discuss Jim as a Christ figure.
As a way of illustrating his theme, Twain deliberately sets certain events with Huck and Jim on the river and others on the shore. Compare and contrast the major events on the river with those on the shore and develop a supportable thesis for why you think he makes the choices he does. How do these choices subtly reinforce his theme? Back up your thesis with specific quotes and detailed explanations.
Discuss how Twain criticises the values of Southern society by showing the difference between Huck's acquired values and his own innate sense of goodness.
Discuss the theme of individual conscience verses society and how it relates to the theme of freedom in the novel.
Authors often use dramatic irony to define something. Describe how Mark Twain uses dramatic irony to define "freedom."
In some ways Huck's story is mythical but it is also an anti-myth -- a challenge to the deceits which individuals and cultures use to disguise their true natures from themselves. In the midst of this deceitful culture, Huck stands as a peculiarly honest individual. Discuss, referencing the novel.
Discuss the Civilized, Primitive, and Natural Man in Huck Finn.
Huck is born into nature, but is morally influenced by society.How does the book show Huck's development into trusting his natural morals again?
Discuss historical revisionism and whether Huck Finn should be part of a high school curriculm.
The overall American critical reaction to the publishing of The Adventures of Huck Finn in 1885 was summed up in one word: "trash". Louisa May Alcott (author of Little Women and Little Men) said, "If Mr. Clemens cannot think of anything better to tell our pure-minded lads and lassies, he had better stop writing for them." The Public Library Committee of Concord, Massachusetts excluded the book as "a dangerous moral influence on the young." Defend or refute the position that the novel is indeed "trash" with evidence from the text to support your claim.
Compare and contrast Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks with Huckleberry Finn.
Twain's writings were directly affected by him growing up in Hannibal. How did Twain write about himself through the characters Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer as well as through many others?
This section of the curriculum focuses on Huck Finn as satire -- a lens through which most English teachers have traditionally looked at the novel. Many of the questions and activities, which help students understand what a satire is, and how Twain uses this form to ridicule and rebuke the slaveholding society of Huck Finn, will probably be familiar. Here students are asked to think about Twain's satire and the author's intent in terms of the controversy surrounding the book.
Review with the class the meaning of satire and irony and how they differ. You may also have students read literary criticism that explores this topic in relation to Huck Finn. In addition to the essays noted below, you may also want to use the following books: Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: A Bloom's Notes Contemporary Literary Views Book, by Harold Bloom (New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1996) and Huck Finn among the Critics: A Centennial Selection, edited by Thomas M. Inge (Frederick, MD: University Publications of America, 1985.)
Companion Readings for Teachers and Students
Hoffman, Michael J. "Huck's Ironic Circle." In Modern Critical Interpretations of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, edited by Harold Bloom. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 1986, 31-44.
Marx, Leo. "Mr. Eliot, Mr. Trilling, and Huckleberry Finn." In The Critical Response to Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, edited by Laurie Champion. New York: Greenwood Press, 1991, 50-60.
- Why do you think the author chose Huck -- an illiterate young boy -- as the voice through which to tell this story?
- Why have the Phelps Farm section and the ending of the novel been considered problematic by critics over the years? How does the current controversy echo and extend those complaints?
- Is Mark Twain speaking through Huck, or do you think Huck's point of view is different from Twain's? Explain.
- Is Twain speaking through Jim, or is Jim's point of view different from Twain's? Explain.
- Who uses the word "nigger"? Based on who is speaking, what might have been the effect on a nineteenth-century reader? What do you think Twain is saying in how he uses the word?
- Huck begins and ends the novel by revealing his discomfort with being "sivilized." Why do you think he feels this way? What do you think Twain's message is?
- How is using satire different from delivering an overt message? After exploring the meaning of irony and satire, ask students to find a section of Huck Finn that they think is particularly satirical and summarize it in a one- or two-sentence "message." Discuss with students how and why what Twain did in Huck Finn is different from delivering his message outright.
- Bring in or ask students to bring in something from popular culture that employs satire to make its point (an episode of The Simpsons, for instance). What is the writer's point of view about the society he or she portrays? How can you tell? How is he or she using satire? Now ask students to answer those same questions about Huck Finn. You might then have students form small groups and find as many similarities as they can between the two works, such as similar targets of the authors' satires, methods of satirizing, or even reactions from the public when the piece was first presented. In reporting back to the class, each group might also identify the scene in each work they find to be the most effective use of satire.
- Stage a challenge for students: Have them work in small groups and give them twenty minutes to list as many examples of irony or satire in the novel as they can find. As each group shares some of their selections, let the rest of the class discuss whether the instances cited are, in fact, satirical or ironic.
- Direct students to Chapter 6, in which the drunken Pap Finn uses the word "nigger" multiple times. Why might Twain have used the word here with such intensity and frequency? Ask students to rewrite the speech without using the word, or by changing it to "slave" or "African American." Have the class discuss how changing this word changed the meaning or impact of the section. How does this scene support or refute the charge that the book is racist? Students can also use a section from John Wallace's version, The Adventures of Huck Finn Adapted (Falls Church, VA: John H. Wallace and Sons Co., 1983), in which he rewrites Huck Finn without using "nigger."
- As Huck and Jim journey down the Mississippi, readers may begin to notice that their experiences alone on the raft, or in nature in general, are very different from their experiences whenever they are on the shore in "sivilization." What is Twain saying by creating this division? Have each student construct his or her own map of the journey. Each map should show what they believe are the most important events in the novel, and should include a significant quote at each map point. Overall, their maps should visually express the symbolic differences between the river and "sivilization."
Next: Section 5: Reclaiming the Self -- The Legacy of Slavery
See also: Controversy at Cherry Hill