When discussing this novel, there are a few areas that stand out as interesting and potentially provocative.
The first line of discussion one might suggest relates to the issue of slavery (and racism) as it exists or does not exist in the text. This is a novel that has become associated with anti-slavery sentiment and racial justice. Does the text itself bear out or justify this association?
Whether slavery and race relations should be seen as an explicit theme of novel, they are at the heart of a running critic controversy about the book and its author's intentions.
Critics have gone on to say that the novel does not need to be understood as a work relating to slavery or race in order to be seen as an achievement.
Twain's purpose in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was not to present his opinion about broad social issues that continued to confound people in his day, but to entertain them with an amusing, picaresque tale that touches upon timeless subjects such as freedom as seen through the eyes of a highly particularized character.
What are these "time subjects" that Twain explores in the novel? If this is not a novel about anti-slavery sentiment, then what is it about?
These questions lead naturally to a discussion of the novel's true themes: problems of conscience, problems of conformity, and the notion that adult life may be just as "fantastic" as childhood (reliant upon presumption, supposition, received attitudes, and pure imagination).
A few questions that may help to spark discussion while revealing the novel's themes:
- What qualities or subjects in the novel have served to secure the long-lasting impact which the novel has enjoyed?
- Why do people still read this novel?
- Why is this an important book?
- Which characters are most memorable and why?
- What is Huck Finn's true dilemma?
- Who is the intended audience of this book and how do we know?
1. Give at least two examples of superstition in chapters 1-3 of the novel.
2. Give three examples of Man vs. Society in chapters 8-11.
3. What do we learn about Jim from his talking about "King Sollermun"?
4. Why did Twain include this adventure with the Grangerfords?
5. Is there anything left undecided at the end of the novel?