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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

by Mark Twain
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What is the point of the "Notice" at the beginning of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn? Is it a challenge to the reader? Despite its warning, can we say that the novel indeed has a plot, a moral, and a motive?  

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Yes, we can say that the novel has a plot, a motive, and a moral. In his brief opening note, Twain is being humorous and ironic when he says that people looking for a motive will be prosecuted, people seeking a moral will be banished, and people trying to find...

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Yes, we can say that the novel has a plot, a motive, and a moral. In his brief opening note, Twain is being humorous and ironic when he says that people looking for a motive will be prosecuted, people seeking a moral will be banished, and people trying to find a plot will be shot.

The note can well be described as a "challenge" to the reader to search out the moral, the motive, and the plot within this seemingly loose, episodic adventure tale. Twain is signaling to us that this is a novel about more than comic hijinks on the Mississippi: he has a serious ethical reason for writing this book.

The plot of the book is that of a classic bildungsroman, a story that tracks the journey to maturity of Huck Finn as he travels up the Mississippi on a raft with Jim. The two are trying to escape difficult conditions: Jim as a slave, Huck as the abused son of a violent, alcoholic father.

As he travels with Jim, Huck has to come to terms with the limitations of the conventional morality he has been indoctrinated in and learn to think and make ethical decisions on his own. Jim challenges everything Huck has been taught about the moral worth of slavery and the inferiority of Black people. Through Jim, who treats him with a compassion, care, and generosity he has never experienced from his own father, Huck comes to understand that Black people are just as human and worthy of freedom as white people. He sides with helping Jim escape from slavery, even if he has to go to hell for it (as he believes it does), because he values Jim's kindness and personhood as more important than what he has been taught.

The motive behind this novel, written after slavery had been abolished, is to encourage people to think for themselves about moral choices and not simply accept what they are taught. What passes for "moral" in a society can be very immoral in a universal context.

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