When Is Huckleberry Finn Set?

Mark Twain sets the time frame of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in the early nineteenth century, before the American Civil War. The physical setting of the story covers a linear trip along the Mississippi River from north to south.

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain (pen name Samuel Langhorne Clemens, 1835–1910) was first published in 1884 and became available in the United States in 1885. In Twain’s own words in an introductory statement preceding the story itself, he wrote:

Scene: The Mississippi Valley

Time: Forty to Fifty Years Ago

The complete adventure novel was actually written over time between the mid-1870s and 1884, the time of its first publication. Using the author’s introductory note as a time reference, readers may conclude those forty to fifty years prior to 1884 would set the action of the tale before the American Civil War that occurred between 1861 and 1865. The time setting of the novel becomes significant because the plot unfolds at a time in American history when slavery was still very much a major issue in the United States. Twain’s introductory notes place the action between 1834 and 1844.

As for the geographical setting of the novel, the rafting journey of characters Huckleberry Finn and Jim covers over a thousand miles from Missouri, to the mouth of the Ohio River in Illinois, to Arkansas, along the Mississippi River, which not only provides the physical setting of the novel, but also its main theme. Just as America was divided as a nation, the Mississippi split the country between slave states and the freedom sought by Jim, the escaped slave essential to the plot. Representing freedom, the river is the central symbol of the novel.

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