Hyperbole In Huckleberry Finn

What is an example of hyperbole in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

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laurniko eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mark Twain uses several examples of hyperbole in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to exaggerate a feeling so that it has an effect on the reader. Hyperbole is often used to dramatize a situation. 

One example of hyperbole is when Twain writes:

There was a place on my ankle that got to itching, but I dasn’t scratch it; and then my ear begun to itch; and next my back, right between my shoulders. Seemed like I’d die if I couldn’t scratch.

Of course, he doesn't believe he'll actually die if he can't scratch it. It's a hyperbolic statement designed to convey how badly he wanted to scratch. The audience has a better understanding of just how difficult it is for him not to scratch the itch.

Another example of hyperbole occurs when Huck and Jim are trying to escape criminals on the same boat as them. Twain writes:

We’d got to find that boat now—had to have it for ourselves. So we went a-quaking and shaking down the stabboard side, and slow work it was, too—seemed a week before we got to the stern. No sign of a boat. Jim said he didn’t believe he could go any further—so scared he hadn’t hardly any strength left, he said. But I said, come on, if we get left on this wreck we are in a fix, sure.

Though they are moving slowly, it likely takes them only minutes to get to the stern. Twain uses hyperbole to indicate how slow their progress felt because of their fear that the men might find them aboard the ship. Once again, Twain uses hyperbole to give his audience the feeling he wants them to have while reading the scene he's writing. 

accessteacher eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A hyperbole is another word for any intentional exaggeration for effect. If you think about it, we all use hyperboles every day in our speech. Consider the following example: "I've been walking for miles!" Mostly we haven't been walking for miles, but the hyperbole here conveys the sense of exhaustion we feel and our sense of how long we have walked.

Twain is a writer that uses hyperbole a lot in his work. Huck Finn, as a character who likes to embellish and exaggerate, uses hyperbole in lots of instances. Consider this example from Chapter Sixteen which describes the steamboat that smashes into the raft:

She was a big one, and she was coming in a hurry, too, looking like a black cloud with rows of glowworms around it; but all of a sudden she bulged out, big and scary, with a long row of wide-open furnace doors shining like red-hot teeth, and her monstrous bows and guards hanging right over us.

Note how the description is exaggerated to make the steamboat appear more fearsome and dangerous than it actually is. The similes and metaphors employed help in this hyperbole, comparing the steamboat to a "black cloud" surrounded by "glowworms" to increase the fear that the steamboat instills. Likewise the steamboat increases in size, with the furnace doors looking like "red-hot teeth," which exaggerates the size and appearance of the steamboat as it crashes into them.

This is just one example. Hopefully you will now be able to go back and find some more examples of hyperbole in this excellent novel. Good luck!

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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