The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Lesson Plan - Lesson Plan

eNotes Lesson Plan

Introductory Lecture and Objectives

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn eNotes Lesson Plan content

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the best-known works of American literature, known as much for the controversy surrounding it as for the indelible characters it creates. Written by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens’s pen name), it was published in England in December 1884 and in America in February 1885. Among its most defining characteristics is that it is written in vernacular style, a radically different way of crafting dialogue introduced by Twain into American literature. Twain’s characters speak in regional dialect, not standard English, and their words are spelled and punctuated to convey not only what they say but how they sound. Twain’s use of vernacular style reflects the local color movement that developed in American literature after the Civil War as writers incorporated specific realistic details in their descriptions of people and places in uniquely different geographical sections of the country; local color writing retained many of the elements of Romanticism while moving toward Realism in American fiction.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is both romantic and realistic. Twain romanticizes the beauty of nature and the freedom of life on a river raft, but there is no romance in his depiction of society beyond the banks of the Mississippi: it is morally corrupt. The novel presents an accurate and uncompromising representation of a society rooted in the ignorance and cruelty of institutionalized slavery. Like the writers of realism that followed him, Twain exposes the truth about subjects previously considered taboo in American literature, and he does so through an unlikely voice as the story is narrated by Huckleberry Finn, an illiterate boy with no real home who forges a friendship with a runaway slave.

Twain is famous for approaching serious issues in a humorous way, and there is much humor and satire in the novel; however, it is the troubling questions Twain raises about American values and American identity that make it a cultural milestone. His attitude toward social conventions, literary icons Emerson and Longfellow, and even the Bible is irreverent. The novel’s themes include some that were rarely addressed at the time, such as superstition. Twain develops the superstition theme to bring humor and local color to the story, but it also illustrates the lack of education among some Americans of this time. Superstition reflects the human desire to make sense of world, and nothing makes sense, Twain suggests, in a society that embraces slavery and cannot distinguish right from wrong.

It is essential to understand the novel in its historical context. The setting is pre-Civil War Missouri sometime in the 1840s. At that time, slavery was institutionalized, and the Slave Codes were enforced. Slaves could not own property, testify against whites in court, or make contracts; slave marriages were not recognized by law. By the time the novel was published in the 1880s, after the Civil War and Reconstruction, the antebellum South depicted in it no longer existed. New laws had extended some rights to black Americans, such as the right to legally marry and own property, but curfews were imposed on them and racial segregation was enforced through state and local laws known as Jim Crow laws. Slavery had been eradicated, but racism remained entrenched. Thus Twain’s portrait in Huckleberry Finn of the pre-Civil War society that permitted, justified, and promoted racism when slavery was legal resonated as a savage critique of an American society that had continued its racist practices.

The novel has stirred up a great deal of controversy over the decades. Its early detractors were mainly concerned with its coarse language and what they considered to be disrespectful, immoral examples of behavior set by Huck, a lower-class hero. Despite those objections, literary critics increasingly recognized it as a major work, and by the 1950s, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was firmly established in the American literary canon. Ernest Hemingway called it “The Great American Novel,” and H. L. Mencken said it was “perhaps the greatest novel ever written in English.” T. S. Eliot agreed, writing that he viewed Huckleberry Finn as “the most American of heroes” and “one of the permanent symbolic figures in fiction; not unworthy to take a place with Ulysses, Faust, Don Quixote, Don Juan, Hamlet and other great discoveries that man has made about himself.”

However, after the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, Twain’s novel was attacked once again, this time for its language; its nineteenth-century characters use the word “nigger,” the most demeaning and inflammatory of racial epithets, more than two hundred times. Fears that the book promotes racism or simply presents racial issues that are too complex for anyone but an adult to understand resulted in its being banned from some school libraries and reading lists; the controversy continues today as Twain’s use of language is either condemned as being racist or defended as being necessary to present realistically the setting of the novel. In “This Amazing, Troubling Book,” African-American author Toni Morrison points out that removing it from students’ hands is not the best solution. She calls that approach a “narrow notion of how to handle the offense Mark Twain’s use of the term ‘nigger’ would occasion for black students and the corrosive effect it would have on white ones,” suggesting that preventing this work from being read rules out students’ investigating it, learning from it, and being enriched by it. As Morrison points out, “the brilliance of Huckleberry Finn is that it is the argument is raises.”

The controversy over Twain’s novel is understandable, but it is ironic, as well, since The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn stands as one of the strongest condemnations of slavery in American literature. Huck believes truly that he will “go to Hell” if he does not obey the law and turn in a runaway slave. He knows this is true because every voice in his society has taught him that it is, but he chooses to exchange his soul for Jim’s freedom. Huck’s being confronted with this decision emphasizes the depth of the moral corruption inherent in his racist society and its effects on him; in deciding to accept damnation rather than send Jim back into slavery, Huck is acknowledging its profound horror. Despite certain and unbearable consequences, Huck finds slavery to be an evil so great he cannot impose it on another human being. Mark Twain never tells readers explicitly what to think or feel about his young hero, but in Huckleberry Finn’s innocence and moral courage, Twain’s novel leads them to examine the nature of their own humanity.

By the end of the unit, the student will be able to

1. Explain why Huckleberry Finn has been a controversial book since its early publication and has been and continues to be subjected to censorship.

2. Identify issues of racism, as well as of slavery and its stereotypes, and discuss how they are challenged through the character of Jim.

3. Analyze the way Mark Twain uses humor to satirize the evils of society and point out hypocrisies in the antebellum South.

4. Understand how superstition functions as a theme and informs the book.

5. Investigate whether or not Huck’s character develops morally over the course of the novel.

6. Analyze the way in which the Mississippi River functions as a symbol, and contrast it with life ashore in “civilized” society.

7. Explain why the book has been called “The Great American Novel,” and discuss which aspects of it are uniquely American.

8. Discuss what makes Huckleberry Finn’s narrative voice unique.

9. Identify specific details in the novel that make it realistic in its regional setting.

10. Identify elements of Romanticism in the novel, including Twain’s treatment of the Mississippi River, Huck’s relationship to nature, and Huck’s innocence and intrinsic morality.

Instructional Focus: Teaching With an eNotes Lesson Plan

This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.

Student Chapter Guide

  • The Chapter Guide is organized for a chapter-by-chapter study of the novel. Study Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.
  • Chapter Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading each chapter and to acquaint them generally with the chapter’s content.
  • Before Chapter Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading comprehension.
  • ...

(The entire section is 480 words.)

Essay and Discussion Questions

1. The novel begins with a note from the author. What does it say to the reader? Should it be taken seriously?

2. In the first chapter, Huck notes that the widow’s efforts to “sivilize” him make for “rough living,” and in the last chapter, Huck wants to escape so Aunt Sally will not try to “sivilize” him. What does the term “sivilize” mean to Huck, and does that change over the course of the novel?

3. How does Jim’s character illustrate stereotypes about slaves? How does that work against them?

4. Compare and contrast the bloody shoot-out between the Shepherdsons and the Grangerfords with the scene immediately afterwards where...

(The entire section is 502 words.)

Chapter 1

Vocabulary 

bad place: (in context) hell 

Bulrushers: a biblical reference to the Pharoah’s daughter who discovered the baby Moses floating in basket made of bulrushes and adopted him 

goggles: glasses 

good place: (in context) heaven 

sivilize: dialect civilize 

stretcher: (in context) big lies 

sugarhogshead: archaic a large barrel 

victuals: food 

Study Questions

1. As the book opens, how does Huck Finn introduce himself? What information about his past does he share? 

Huck identifies himself as a character that appeared in one of the author’s previous books, The Adventures...

(The entire section is 813 words.)

Chapter 2

Vocabulary 

betwixt: between 

five-center piece: a nickel 

nation: euphemism for “damnation” 

saddle-boils: sore blistered areas on the skin caused by a long ride in a saddle (in this case, the witches were riding Jim and he got sores) 

skiff: a flat-bottomed open boat 

tanyard: the section or part of a tannery that houses tanning vats 

the quality: slang people of high social status 

Study Questions

1. Whom do Huck and Tom encounter as they try to sneak away from the widow’s garden? What situation results, and how do Huck and Tom have similar or different reactions to it? 

When Huck makes a noise as...

(The entire section is 856 words.)

Chapter 3

Vocabulary 

ambuscade: slang ambush 

fat up: slang gain weight 

hived: slang nabbed 

hog-drovers: hog drivers 

ornery: irritable 

Providence (capitalized): God 

shot tower: a place where gunshot is made 

sumter: fancy name for a pack animal 

whale: slang beat upon 

Study Questions

1. Why does Miss Watson take Huck into the closet to pray? What does she tell him he’ll get in return for praying and does Huck believe her? 

Miss Watson takes Huck into the closet to pray because she is disappointed that he got his clothes all dirty with grease and clay....

(The entire section is 581 words.)

Chapters 4 and 5

Vocabulary 

cowhide: slang a beating 

down in de bills: dialect predestined 

druther: rather 

forty-rod: slang whiskey strong enough to knock a man forty rods 

pungle: to pay up, to hand over 

raspy: slang harsh 

sass: impudent speech, back-talk 

shinning: slang running 

soundings: measurements of depth 

stanchion: an upright bar, post or support 

stile: double sets of steps straddling a fence 

Study Questions

1. As the chapter opens, what changes can be noted in Huck? 

He is becoming more accustomed to going to school,...

(The entire section is 551 words.)

Chapters 6 and 7

Vocabulary 

delirium tremens: an acute mental disturbance with tremors that is induced by excessive and prolonged use of alcoholic liquors 

fagged out: slang tired 

hick’ry: slang a switch or cane of tough hickory wood used especially for punishing a child 

meal: cornmeal 

mulatter: dialect a person of mixed white and black ancestry 

nabob: a person of great importance 

palavering: talking profusely or idly 

roust: to drive (as from bed) roughly or unceremoniously 

stabbard: dialect starboard; the right side of a boat looking forward 

State: (in context) Missouri 

stern: the rear of a...

(The entire section is 924 words.)

Chapters 8 and 9

Vocabulary 

Ablitionist: dialect abolitionist; especially prior to the Civil War, a person who advocated outlawing slavery in the United States 

Barlow knife: a one-bladed jackknife, named for the inventor 

cooper: a barrelmaker 

corn-pone: similar to cornbread but cheaper to make (usually made without milk or eggs) 

currycomb: a comb, usually with rows of metal teeth, for grooming horses 

fan-tods: slang the shakes, the willies 

gapped: slang yawned 

Honest injun: slang honestly; seriously; deeply meant 

quicksilver: mercury; a silver-white poisonous heavy metallic element in the periodic...

(The entire section is 813 words.)

Chapters 10 and 11

Vocabulary 

calico: a plain-woven cotton cloth, usually printed with a pattern on one side 

hocus: to trick; to fool 

lynched: put to death by hanging without legal authority 

rubbage: trash 

Study Questions

1. What does Huck do at the start of Chapter 10? What is the result? What emotional reaction does he have, and what does it signify? 

Huck kills a rattlesnake, and as a practical joke, he curls it up at the foot of Jim’s blanket. The dead rattlesnake’s mate is drawn to the spot and bites Jim. Huck feels terrible about the result of his joke and doesn’t want Jim to know that his being bitten was Huck’s fault. This signifies Huck’s...

(The entire section is 608 words.)

Chapters 12 and 13

Vocabulary 

bitts: pairs of short posts with a crosspiece for securing cables 

chimbly-guy: dialect wires that brace the chimneys of a steamboat 

harrow-teeth: straight steel teeth set in horizontal bars, as on a farm tool 

labboard: dialect larboard; left side of a boat while facing the front 

pilot house: the structure on a steamboat usually on top of the texas 

spondulicks: slang money, cash 

stabboard: dialect starboard; right side of a boat while facing the front 

texas: dialect the officer’s cabin on the upper deck of a steamboat 

treed: driven to or up a tree; suggests having...

(The entire section is 843 words.)

Chapters 14 and 15

Vocabulary 

dolphin: Huck’s term for the dauphin, the son of Louis XVI, King of France, who was beheaded in 1793 (He almost certainly died in prison, but there were rumors that he escaped.) 

gaudy: ostentatiously or tastelessly ornamented 

Study Questions

1. Who almost ruins Huck and Jim’s chance to escape the steamboat? 

Just as Huck and Jim are about to steal the robbers’ skiff, the robbers themselves—the Packard brothers—arrive and get ready to climb in. Luckily, the brothers suddenly remember they left money in Jim Turner’s pockets and go back to get it, allowing Huck and Jim to climb into the skiff and make an escape. 

...

(The entire section is 876 words.)

Chapters 16 and 17

Vocabulary 

aft: towards the stern (rear) of a boat 

green hand: slang novice 

Injuns: dialect Native American Indians 

juba: patting knees, hands, right shoulder, left shoulder—or a similar sequence—in time to music. 

sweeps: oars 

trading-scow: a large flat-bottomed boat with broad square ends 

Study Questions

1. Why does Huck take the risk of climbing aboard the big raft occupied by lots of rough men? What happens to him? 

Huck and Jim are trying to figure out the location of Cairo, Illinois, because that’s the place where they can begin heading north to the free states. Huck hopes to...

(The entire section is 773 words.)

Chapters 18 and 19

Vocabulary 

bowie: a stout single-edged hunting knife 

decanters: ornamental glass bottles used for serving wine or other beverages 

frowsy: messy, unkempt 

galluses: suspenders 

mud-cat: a variety of catfish 

obituary: a notice of a person’s death usually including a short biography of the deceased 

ornery: having an irritable disposition 

pendulum: the swinging weighted element of a clock 

phrenology: the pseudoscience of reading character from the natural bumps and valleys of the head 

reticule: a woman’s drawstring bag used especially as a carryall 

roundabout: a short jacket 

scalped: to have one’s scalp removed in the...

(The entire section is 643 words.)

Chapters 20 and 21

Vocabulary 

cipher: to figure, to calculate 

handbill: a small printed sheet to be distributed (as for advertising) by hand 

histrionic: deliberately affected; theatrical 

linsey-woolsey: a coarse cloth made of linen and wool or cotton and wool 

mourners’ bench: front-row pews in a church reserved for penitents 

seven-up: a card game 

sockdolager: outstanding; exceptional 

Study Questions

1. What explanation does Huck give to the duke and the king to justify the fact that he and Jim travel at night and sleep during the day? 

He tells them a story about Jim’s being the family slave. He explains that since his family...

(The entire section is 549 words.)

Chapters 22 and 23

Vocabulary 

acquit: to find not guilty 

bully: slang wonderful, amazing 

greenhorns: people who lack experience 

parasol: an umbrella 

rapscallions: rascals 

tar and feather: physical punishment that involves covering a person in hot tar and then feathers; characteristic of mob vengeance in feudal Europe and on the early American frontier 

Study Questions

1. What must Sherburn confront as Chapter 22 begins? 

A mob is swarming towards Sherburn’s house calling for him to be lynched. 

2. From Sherburn’s speech to the assembled crowd, what do we perceive is the author’s attitude regarding...

(The entire section is 710 words.)

Chapters 24 and 25

Vocabulary 

doxolojer: slang the doxology, beginning “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.” 

hare-lip: a cleft lip 

jake: slang a fellow 

Study Questions

1. What becomes troubling for Jim as the group decides to continue pulling ashore and “working the towns”? How is the problem resolved? 

When Huck, the king, and the duke leave the raft, they always have to leave Jim tied up so that it’s clear that he is not a slave on the run. Jim doesn’t like spending whole days tied up and wants another solution. The duke hits upon the idea of painting him blue and dressing him up in a wild costume and labeling him with...

(The entire section is 417 words.)

Chapters 26 and 27

Vocabulary 

beats: slang deadbeats 

cheatsmelodeum: a small reed organ 

Congress water: mineral water from the Congress Spring at Saratoga, New York 

garret: part of a house just under the roof 

pallet: a straw-filled tick or mattress 

Study Questions

1. How does Huck almost get caught out as an imposter at the Wilks’s home? Who defends him, and what impression does his defender make upon Huck? 

Huck is posing as the valet of the king and duke, so he has dinner in the kitchen with one of the Wilks daughters. Asking him a lot of questions about England, she realizes Huck is making up answers. The daughter makes him swear...

(The entire section is 622 words.)

Chapters 28 and 29

Vocabulary 

consumption: tuberculosis 

erysipelas: a severe skin disease 

Goliar: Goliath, as in the Biblical myth of David and Goliath 

muggins: dialect a fool 

sand: slang courage 

yallerjanders: yellow jaundice, a liver disease 

Study Questions

1. When does Huck decide that telling the truth “is better, and actuly safer, than a lie”? What truth does he tell? 

When Huck sees Mary Jane crying about the separated slave family, he feels moved and blurts out that the slave family will surely be reunited within two weeks, hoping to help her feel better. When she wants an explanation of how...

(The entire section is 636 words.)

Chapters 30 and 31

Vocabulary 

doggery: slang saloon 

pegged: hustled; moved along quickly 

Study Questions

1. Of whom is Huck afraid as Chapter 30 opens, and how does he escape their wrath? 

Huck is scared of the king and the duke when they come aboard the raft. He makes up a story about a man who believed Huck resembled his dead son and encouraged him to make a run for it. After Jim verifies the story, the duke also defends Huck, reminding the king that he wasn’t exactly concerned with Huck’s welfare when they made their escape from the graveyard. 

2. What do the king and the duke argue about? What results from the argument? 

...

(The entire section is 597 words.)

Chapters 32 and 33

Vocabulary 

ash-hopper: container that holds lye for making soap 

grounding: a ship’s going aground on a sand bar 

meeky: slang to come meekly 

Methusalem-numbskull: slang an imbecile as old as Methusalah 

Study Questions

1. At the start of Chapter 32, Huck arrives at the Phelps plantation with hopes of finding Jim. Contrast the description of the plantation with the prior descriptions Huck has given of life on the river. 

The plantation is described in depressing terms. It’s “lonesome,” and it makes Huck feel “mournful.” The setting is grim, with a big, bare yard and the sound of a spinning wheel wailing...

(The entire section is 860 words.)

Chapters 34 and 35

Vocabulary 

caseknife: a metal blade with a handle, used as cutlery 

vittles: food 

Study Questions

1. How do the boys discover Jim’s whereabouts? 

Tom Sawyer sees a slave bringing a plate of food with watermelon on it to a hut on the Phelps Plantation. He deduces that nobody would feed watermelon to a dog, and figures out it must be Jim in the hut. Huck is very impressed and sees it as further proof of Tom’s amazing intelligence. 

2. Characterize the proposal Huck makes for freeing Jim. How does Tom react to the idea, and what does it show about Tom’s character? 

Huck’s plan is simple and straightforward and...

(The entire section is 527 words.)

Chapters 36 and 37

Vocabulary 

biling: slang complaining 

bullyrag: to abuse, to threaten 

counterpin: counterpane, bedspread 

knocked the cat galley-west: slang out of kilter, cockeyed 

Study Questions

1. Describe what Tom is referring to when he says, “It ain’t right, and it ain’t moral.” Does Huck apply the same level of moral examination to the way something is accomplished? Which approach seems to be more practical and to show more humanity? 

Tom thinks it’s not right that they will use picks to dig out the tunnel instead of using caseknives. He agrees to use picks so long as they still “let on” or pretend that they...

(The entire section is 674 words.)

Chapters 38 and 39

Vocabulary 

coat of arms: an emblem bearing the official symbols of a family or state 

grindstone: a revolving stone disk used for grinding, polishing, or sharpening tools 

jewsharp: slang (Jew’s harp; various spellings in book) a small lyre-shaped instrument that when held between the teeth gives tones from a metal tongue struck by the finger 

mullet-headed: slang trusting and stupid 

Study Questions

1. What event in Chapter 38 is the most ridiculous so far in Tom’s plan, and how does it reveal Jim’s loyalty and commitment to the boys? 

Tom gets the idea to carve a coat of arms on a rock, and he wants to use...

(The entire section is 545 words.)

Chapters 40 and 41

Vocabulary 

full tilt: as fast as possible 

harum-scarum: slang motley 

Study Questions

1. After Huck sneaks down to the cellar to steal some butter and Aunt Sally catches him, what happens? Who does Huck see and what does he realize? 

Aunt Sally tells him to go into the “setting-room” and wait for her to come back and question him. As he walks in, he sees a group of “fifteen farmers, and every one of them had a gun” who are gathered to ward off the “desperadoes” named in Tom’s false anonymous letters. Huck realizes that he and Tom are now in a bad position for pulling off their plan, and that they need to get Jim and leave as...

(The entire section is 715 words.)

Chapters 42 and 43

Vocabulary 

impudent: rude 

scamp: rascal 

Territory: America’s wild and unsettled western frontier 

Study Questions

1. What distracts Aunt Sally from reading a letter that has arrived from her sister? 

Tom, who she thinks is Sid, is being carried up to the house on a mattress. With him is the doctor and also Jim; Jim is wearing Aunt Sally’s calico dress with his hands tied behind him. A crowd of people is following Jim. 

2. What happens to Jim after he is re-captured? How has his relationship with Huck changed? 

Some townspeople threaten to kill Jim, but they end up deciding not to, not because of Jim’s...

(The entire section is 597 words.)

Multiple-Choice Test and Answer Key

1. During what period is the novel set? 

A. 1840s 

B. 1880s 

C. 1780s 

D. 1740s 

E. 1890s 

2. Jim is the slave of which character? 

A. Mrs. Judith Northrup 

B. Widow Douglas 

C. Miss Watson 

D. Mary Jane Wilks 

E. Mary Williams 

3. Which theme is first introduced in the scene with Huck, the candle, and the spider? 

A. Pain and suffering 

B. The natural world 

C. Man’s cruelty to animals 

D. The inhumanity of slavery 

...

(The entire section is 1096 words.)

Essay Exam Questions With Answers

1. Choose three key examples in the novel that illustrate Huck’s struggle to decide whether or not to inform on Jim. Are they easy decisions for Huck to make? What do they reveal about his development as a character? 

The novel’s central conflict is Huck’s struggle to reconcile his friendship with Jim and the civil and social laws that make such a connection taboo and even criminal. The reader is first explicitly introduced to the conflict in Chapter 8, when Huck encounters Jim on Jackson’s Island. As soon as he realizes Jim’s identity, he must grapple with the question of whether or not to inform on Jim. The decision not to report him seems fairly easy for Huck to make. He clearly considers the consequences...

(The entire section is 3425 words.)