Why can The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn be considered a classic in American literature? What aspects of the novel's themes, plot, or characters, make the novel a "classic"?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

A classic is a piece of work which remains appreciated and lauded over a long period of time. It has been almost two centuries since The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn saw its initial publication, yet it remains not only studied, but enjoyed all this time later.

The things which keeps Huckleberry Finn entertaining are its characters and sense of adventure. Huck's first-person narration is rendered in a colorful, engaging style, with plenty of humor to make the boy likable in spite of his flaws. His rebelliousness against civilization is endearing. Furthermore, Huck himself is a three-dimensional character, crude and fun-loving, yet also deeply moral, considering his conflict between wanting to help Jim escape and breaking the law by doing so. The misadventures Huckleberry finds himself in are comical and fun, which make the novel easier to appreciate for younger readers.

The novel's social and moral themes also keep it evergreen. Huck is in danger of becoming like his brutal, selfish, racist father, but his encounter with Jim makes him question everything he has been taught about morality (particularly religious morality, which at this time does not condemn slavery as wrong) and who is worthy of human dignity. Through these thematic conflicts, Huck comes of age and makes his own way in the world. He does not become his father, but neither does he become "sivilized" as the Widow Douglas would have him be. At the end of the story, Huck opts to go west and continue having adventures, living life on his own terms.

The combination of memorable characters, lively adventure, social/moral questions, and a fierce individualist streak have kept Huckleberry Finn relevant and engaging, even by twenty-first-century standards. As American literature goes, it is quintessentially American in the virtues of its hero (individualism, adventurousness) and its questions about society's values.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has been called the first modern American novel. Its strengths are found in numerous ways. The narrator, Huck Finn, is virtually unique in American literature: an uneducated, undisciplined poor boy who tells his story in his own unusual language. The novel was one of the first to use native dialects of the South and Mid-West, and Twain's use of colloquial language and humorous satire were also groundsbreaking at the time of its publication. The many underlying themes--including racism, slavery, human rights, prejudice and social consciousness--and symbolism separated it from other adventure novels, including its predecessor, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Sadly, the novel has been repressed and dismissed by many critics because of the flagrant use of one word--the "N" word--and it continues to be one of the most banned books in this nation. But most critics still agree with Ernest Hemingway, who probably described it best:

"All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huck Finn... There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since."

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I am sure that there will be a number of different answers to this.

My opinion is that it can be considered great because of the way that it deals with a huge issue in American history -- that of slavery and racism.  The book does not shy away from making Jim seem very normally human.  He is superstitious (which makes him look bad) but he is also fundamentally good and a very strong person (which makes him look good).

At the same time, the book centers around the theme of individuality.  Huck follows his own conscience even when it conflicts with society's values.  This is a very American trait -- to be an individual -- at least, that is how we like to see ourselves.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
Soaring plane image

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial