Introductory Lecture and Objectives

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn eNotes Lesson Plan content

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is one of the best-known works of American literature, known as much for the controversy surrounding it as for the indelible characters it creates. Written by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens’s pen name), it was published in England in December 1884 and in America in February 1885. Among its most defining characteristics is that it is written in vernacular style, a radically different way of crafting dialogue introduced by Twain into American literature. Twain’s characters speak in regional dialect, not standard English, and their words are spelled and punctuated to convey not only what they say but how they sound. Twain’s use of vernacular style reflects the local color movement that developed in American literature after the Civil War as writers incorporated specific realistic details in their descriptions of people and places in uniquely different geographical sections of the country; local color writing retained many of the elements of Romanticism while moving toward Realism in American fiction.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is both romantic and realistic. Twain romanticizes the beauty of nature and the freedom of life on a river raft, but there is no romance in his depiction of society beyond the banks of the Mississippi: it is morally corrupt. The novel presents an accurate and uncompromising representation of a society rooted in the ignorance and cruelty of institutionalized slavery. Like the writers of realism that followed him, Twain exposes the truth about subjects previously considered taboo in American literature, and he does so through an unlikely voice as the story is narrated by Huckleberry Finn, an illiterate boy with no real home who forges a friendship with a runaway slave.

Twain is famous for approaching serious issues in a humorous way, and there is much humor and satire in the novel; however, it is the troubling questions Twain raises about American values and American identity that make it a cultural milestone. His attitude toward social conventions, literary icons Emerson and Longfellow, and even the Bible is irreverent. The novel’s themes include some that were rarely addressed at the time, such as superstition. Twain develops the superstition theme to bring humor and local color to the story, but it also illustrates the lack of education among some Americans of this time. Superstition reflects the human desire to make sense of world, and nothing makes sense, Twain suggests, in a society that embraces slavery and cannot distinguish right from wrong.

It is essential to understand the novel in its historical context. The setting is pre-Civil War Missouri sometime in the 1840s. At that time, slavery was institutionalized, and the Slave Codes were enforced. Slaves could not own property, testify against whites in court, or make contracts; slave marriages were not recognized by law. By the time the novel was published in the 1880s, after the Civil War and Reconstruction, the antebellum South depicted in it no longer existed. New laws had extended some rights to black Americans, such as the right to legally marry and own property, but curfews were imposed on them and racial segregation was enforced through state and local laws known as Jim Crow laws. Slavery had been eradicated, but racism remained entrenched. Thus Twain’s portrait in Huckleberry Finn of the pre-Civil War society that permitted, justified, and promoted racism when slavery was legal resonated as a savage critique of an American society that had continued its racist practices.

The novel has stirred up a great deal of controversy over the decades. Its early detractors were mainly concerned with its coarse language and what they considered to be disrespectful, immoral examples of behavior set by Huck, a lower-class hero. Despite those objections, literary critics increasingly recognized it as a major work, and by the 1950s, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was firmly established in the American literary canon. Ernest Hemingway called it “The Great American Novel,” and H. L. Mencken said it was “perhaps the greatest novel ever written in English.” T. S. Eliot agreed, writing that he viewed Huckleberry Finn as “the most American of heroes” and “one of the permanent symbolic figures in fiction; not unworthy to take a place with Ulysses, Faust, Don Quixote, Don Juan, Hamlet and other great discoveries that man has made about himself.”

However, after the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, Twain’s novel was attacked once again, this time for its language; its nineteenth-century characters use the word “nigger,” the most demeaning and inflammatory of racial epithets, more than two hundred times. Fears that the book promotes racism or simply presents racial issues that are too complex for anyone but an adult to understand resulted in its being banned from some school libraries and reading lists; the controversy continues today as Twain’s use of language is either condemned as being racist or defended as being necessary to present realistically the setting of the novel. In “This Amazing, Troubling Book,” African-American author Toni Morrison points out that removing it from students’ hands is not the best solution. She calls that approach a “narrow notion of how to handle the offense Mark Twain’s use of the term ‘nigger’ would occasion for black students and the corrosive effect it would have on white ones,” suggesting that preventing this work from being read rules out students’ investigating it, learning from it, and being enriched by it. As Morrison points out, “the brilliance of Huckleberry Finn is that it is the argument is raises.”

The controversy over Twain’s novel is understandable, but it is ironic, as well, since The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn stands as one of the strongest condemnations of slavery in American literature. Huck believes truly that he will “go to Hell” if he does not obey the law and turn in a runaway slave. He knows this is true because every voice in his society has taught him that it is, but he chooses to exchange his soul for Jim’s freedom. Huck’s being confronted with this decision emphasizes the depth of the moral corruption inherent in his racist society and its effects on him; in deciding to accept damnation rather than send Jim back into slavery, Huck is acknowledging its profound horror. Despite certain and unbearable consequences, Huck finds slavery to be an evil so great he cannot impose it on another human being. Mark Twain never tells readers explicitly what to think or feel about his young hero, but in Huckleberry Finn’s innocence and moral courage, Twain’s novel leads them to examine the nature of their own humanity.

By the end of the unit, the student will be able to

1. Explain why Huckleberry Finn has been a controversial book since its early publication and has been and continues to be subjected to censorship.

2. Identify issues of racism, as well as of slavery and its stereotypes, and discuss how they are challenged through the character of Jim.

3. Analyze the way Mark Twain uses humor to satirize the evils of society and point out hypocrisies in the antebellum South.

4. Understand how superstition functions as a theme and informs the book.

5. Investigate whether or not Huck’s character develops morally over the course of the novel.

6. Analyze the way in which the Mississippi River functions as a symbol, and contrast it with life ashore in “civilized” society.

7. Explain why the book has been called “The Great American Novel,” and discuss which aspects of it are uniquely American.

8. Discuss what makes Huckleberry Finn’s narrative voice unique.

9. Identify specific details in the novel that make it realistic in its regional setting.

10. Identify elements of Romanticism in the novel, including Twain’s treatment of the Mississippi River, Huck’s relationship to nature, and Huck’s innocence and intrinsic morality.

Instructional Focus: Teaching With an eNotes Lesson Plan

This eNotes lesson plan is designed so that it may be used in numerous ways to accommodate ESL students and to differentiate instruction in the classroom.

Student Chapter Guide

  • The Chapter Guide is organized for a chapter-by-chapter study of the novel. Study Guide pages may be assigned individually and completed at a student’s own pace.
  • Chapter Guide pages may be used as pre-reading activities to preview for students the vocabulary words they will encounter in reading each chapter and to acquaint them generally with the chapter’s content.
  • Before Chapter Guide pages are assigned, questions may be selected from them to use as short quizzes to assess reading comprehension.
  • ...

(The entire section is 480 words.)

Essay and Discussion Questions

1. The novel begins with a note from the author. What does it say to the reader? Should it be taken seriously?

2. In the first chapter, Huck notes that the widow’s efforts to “sivilize” him make for “rough living,” and in the last chapter, Huck wants to escape so Aunt Sally will not try to “sivilize” him. What does the term “sivilize” mean to Huck, and does that change over the course of the novel?

3. How does Jim’s character illustrate stereotypes about slaves? How does that work against them?

4. Compare and contrast the bloody shoot-out between the Shepherdsons and the Grangerfords with the scene immediately afterwards where...

(The entire section is 502 words.)

Chapter 1


bad place: (in context) hell

Bulrushers: a biblical reference to the Pharoah’s daughter who discovered the baby Moses floating in basket made of bulrushes and adopted him

goggles: glasses

good place: (in context) heaven

sivilize: dialect civilize

stretcher: (in context) big lies

sugarhogshead: archaic a large barrel

victuals: food

Study Questions

1. As the book opens, how does Huck Finn introduce himself? What information about his past does he share?

Huck identifies himself as a character that appeared in one of the author’s previous books, The Adventures of Tom...

(The entire section is 813 words.)

Chapter 2


betwixt: between

five-center piece: a nickel

nation: euphemism for “damnation”

saddle-boils: sore blistered areas on the skin caused by a long ride in a saddle (in this case, the witches were riding Jim and he got sores)

skiff: a flat-bottomed open boat

tanyard: the section or part of a tannery that houses tanning vats

the quality: slang people of high social status

Study Questions

1. Whom do Huck and Tom encounter as they try to sneak away from the widow’s garden? What situation results, and how do Huck and Tom have similar or different reactions to it?

When Huck makes a noise as he trips...

(The entire section is 856 words.)

Chapter 3


ambuscade: slang ambush

fat up: slang gain weight

hived: slang nabbed

hog-drovers: hog drivers

ornery: irritable

Providence (capitalized): God

shot tower: a place where gunshot is made

sumter: fancy name for a pack animal

whale: slang beat upon

Study Questions

1. Why does Miss Watson take Huck into the closet to pray? What does she tell him he’ll get in return for praying and does Huck believe her?

Miss Watson takes Huck into the closet to pray because she is disappointed that he got his clothes all dirty with grease and clay. She tells...

(The entire section is 581 words.)

Chapters 4 and 5


cowhide: slang a beating

down in de bills: dialect predestined

druther: rather

forty-rod: slang whiskey strong enough to knock a man forty rods

pungle: to pay up, to hand over

raspy: slang harsh

sass: impudent speech, back-talk

shinning: slang running

soundings: measurements of depth

stanchion: an upright bar, post or support

stile: double sets of steps straddling a fence

Study Questions

1. As the chapter opens, what changes can be noted in Huck?

He is becoming more accustomed to going to school, and he has...

(The entire section is 551 words.)

Chapters 6 and 7


delirium tremens: an acute mental disturbance with tremors that is induced by excessive and prolonged use of alcoholic liquors

fagged out: slang tired

hick’ry: slang a switch or cane of tough hickory wood used especially for punishing a child

meal: cornmeal

mulatter: dialect a person of mixed white and black ancestry

nabob: a person of great importance

palavering: talking profusely or idly

roust: to drive (as from bed) roughly or unceremoniously

stabbard: dialect starboard; the right side of a boat looking forward

State: (in context) Missouri

stern: the rear of a boat


(The entire section is 924 words.)

Chapters 8 and 9


Ablitionist: dialect abolitionist; especially prior to the Civil War, a person who advocated outlawing slavery in the United States

Barlow knife: a one-bladed jackknife, named for the inventor

cooper: a barrelmaker

corn-pone: similar to cornbread but cheaper to make (usually made without milk or eggs)

currycomb: a comb, usually with rows of metal teeth, for grooming horses

fan-tods: slang the shakes, the willies

gapped: slang yawned

Honest injun: slang honestly; seriously; deeply meant

quicksilver: mercury; a silver-white poisonous heavy metallic element in the periodic table


(The entire section is 813 words.)

Chapters 10 and 11


calico: a plain-woven cotton cloth, usually printed with a pattern on one side

hocus: to trick; to fool

lynched: put to death by hanging without legal authority

rubbage: trash

Study Questions

1. What does Huck do at the start of Chapter 10? What is the result? What emotional reaction does he have, and what does it signify?

Huck kills a rattlesnake, and as a practical joke, he curls it up at the foot of Jim’s blanket. The dead rattlesnake’s mate is drawn to the spot and bites Jim. Huck feels terrible about the result of his joke and doesn’t want Jim to know that his being bitten was Huck’s fault. This signifies Huck’s...

(The entire section is 608 words.)

Chapters 12 and 13


bitts: pairs of short posts with a crosspiece for securing cables

chimbly-guy: dialect wires that brace the chimneys of a steamboat

harrow-teeth: straight steel teeth set in horizontal bars, as on a farm tool

labboard: dialect larboard; left side of a boat while facing the front

pilot house: the structure on a steamboat usually on top of the texas

spondulicks: slang money, cash

stabboard: dialect starboard; right side of a boat while facing the front

texas: dialect the officer’s cabin on the upper deck of a steamboat

treed: driven to or up a tree; suggests having being put in...

(The entire section is 843 words.)

Chapters 14 and 15


dolphin: Huck’s term for the dauphin, the son of Louis XVI, King of France, who was beheaded in 1793 (He almost certainly died in prison, but there were rumors that he escaped.)

gaudy: ostentatiously or tastelessly ornamented

Study Questions

1. Who almost ruins Huck and Jim’s chance to escape the steamboat?

Just as Huck and Jim are about to steal the robbers’ skiff, the robbers themselves—the Packard brothers—arrive and get ready to climb in. Luckily, the brothers suddenly remember they left money in Jim Turner’s pockets and go back to get it, allowing Huck and Jim to climb into the skiff and make an escape.


(The entire section is 876 words.)

Chapters 16 and 17


aft: towards the stern (rear) of a boat

green hand: slang novice

Injuns: dialect Native American Indians

juba: patting knees, hands, right shoulder, left shoulder—or a similar sequence—in time to music.

sweeps: oars

trading-scow: a large flat-bottomed boat with broad square ends

Study Questions

1. Why does Huck take the risk of climbing aboard the big raft occupied by lots of rough men? What happens to him?

Huck and Jim are trying to figure out the location of Cairo, Illinois, because that’s the place where they can begin heading north to the free states. Huck hopes to overhear...

(The entire section is 773 words.)

Chapters 18 and 19


bowie: a stout single-edged hunting knife

decanters: ornamental glass bottles used for serving wine or other beverages

frowsy: messy, unkempt

galluses: suspenders

mud-cat: a variety of catfish

obituary: a notice of a person’s death usually including a short biography of the deceased

ornery: having an irritable disposition

pendulum: the swinging weighted element of a clock

phrenology: the pseudoscience of reading character from the natural bumps and valleys of the head

reticule: a woman’s drawstring bag used especially as a carryall

roundabout: a short jacket

scalped: to have one’s scalp removed in the manner...

(The entire section is 643 words.)

Chapters 20 and 21


cipher: to figure, to calculate

handbill: a small printed sheet to be distributed (as for advertising) by hand

histrionic: deliberately affected; theatrical

linsey-woolsey: a coarse cloth made of linen and wool or cotton and wool

mourners’ bench: front-row pews in a church reserved for penitents

seven-up: a card game

sockdolager: outstanding; exceptional

Study Questions

1. What explanation does Huck give to the duke and the king to justify the fact that he and Jim travel at night and sleep during the day?

He tells them a story about Jim’s being the family slave. He explains that since his family is all...

(The entire section is 549 words.)

Chapters 22 and 23


acquit: to find not guilty

bully: slang wonderful, amazing

greenhorns: people who lack experience

parasol: an umbrella

rapscallions: rascals

tar and feather: physical punishment that involves covering a person in hot tar and then feathers; characteristic of mob vengeance in feudal Europe and on the early American frontier

Study Questions

1. What must Sherburn confront as Chapter 22 begins?

A mob is swarming towards Sherburn’s house calling for him to be lynched.

2. From Sherburn’s speech to the assembled crowd, what do we perceive is the author’s attitude regarding mobs and...

(The entire section is 710 words.)

Chapters 24 and 25


doxolojer: slang the doxology, beginning “Praise God, from whom all blessings flow.”

hare-lip: a cleft lip

jake: slang a fellow

Study Questions

1. What becomes troubling for Jim as the group decides to continue pulling ashore and “working the towns”? How is the problem resolved?

When Huck, the king, and the duke leave the raft, they always have to leave Jim tied up so that it’s clear that he is not a slave on the run. Jim doesn’t like spending whole days tied up and wants another solution. The duke hits upon the idea of painting him blue and dressing him up in a wild costume and labeling him with a...

(The entire section is 417 words.)

Chapters 26 and 27


beats: slang deadbeats

cheatsmelodeum: a small reed organ

Congress water: mineral water from the Congress Spring at Saratoga, New York

garret: part of a house just under the roof

pallet: a straw-filled tick or mattress

Study Questions

1. How does Huck almost get caught out as an imposter at the Wilks’s home? Who defends him, and what impression does his defender make upon Huck?

Huck is posing as the valet of the king and duke, so he has dinner in the kitchen with one of the Wilks daughters. Asking him a lot of questions about England, she realizes Huck is making up answers. The daughter makes him swear on a...

(The entire section is 622 words.)

Chapters 28 and 29


consumption: tuberculosis

erysipelas: a severe skin disease

Goliar: Goliath, as in the Biblical myth of David and Goliath

muggins: dialect a fool

sand: slang courage

yallerjanders: yellow jaundice, a liver disease

Study Questions

1. When does Huck decide that telling the truth “is better, and actuly safer, than a lie”? What truth does he tell?

When Huck sees Mary Jane crying about the separated slave family, he feels moved and blurts out that the slave family will surely be reunited within two weeks, hoping to help her feel better. When she wants an explanation of how such a...

(The entire section is 636 words.)

Chapters 30 and 31


doggery: slang saloon

pegged: hustled; moved along quickly

Study Questions

1. Of whom is Huck afraid as Chapter 30 opens, and how does he escape their wrath?

Huck is scared of the king and the duke when they come aboard the raft. He makes up a story about a man who believed Huck resembled his dead son and encouraged him to make a run for it. After Jim verifies the story, the duke also defends Huck, reminding the king that he wasn’t exactly concerned with Huck’s welfare when they made their escape from the graveyard.

2. What do the king and the duke argue about? What results from the argument?


(The entire section is 597 words.)

Chapters 32 and 33


ash-hopper: container that holds lye for making soap

grounding: a ship’s going aground on a sand bar

meeky: slang to come meekly

Methusalem-numbskull: slang an imbecile as old as Methusalah

Study Questions

1. At the start of Chapter 32, Huck arrives at the Phelps plantation with hopes of finding Jim. Contrast the description of the plantation with the prior descriptions Huck has given of life on the river.

The plantation is described in depressing terms. It’s “lonesome,” and it makes Huck feel “mournful.” The setting is grim, with a big, bare yard and the sound of a spinning wheel wailing along...

(The entire section is 860 words.)

Chapters 34 and 35


caseknife: a metal blade with a handle, used as cutlery

vittles: food

Study Questions

1. How do the boys discover Jim’s whereabouts?

Tom Sawyer sees a slave bringing a plate of food with watermelon on it to a hut on the Phelps Plantation. He deduces that nobody would feed watermelon to a dog, and figures out it must be Jim in the hut. Huck is very impressed and sees it as further proof of Tom’s amazing intelligence.

2. Characterize the proposal Huck makes for freeing Jim. How does Tom react to the idea, and what does it show about Tom’s character?

Huck’s plan is simple and straightforward and involves...

(The entire section is 527 words.)

Chapters 36 and 37


biling: slang complaining

bullyrag: to abuse, to threaten

counterpin: counterpane, bedspread

knocked the cat galley-west: slang out of kilter, cockeyed

Study Questions

1. Describe what Tom is referring to when he says, “It ain’t right, and it ain’t moral.” Does Huck apply the same level of moral examination to the way something is accomplished? Which approach seems to be more practical and to show more humanity?

Tom thinks it’s not right that they will use picks to dig out the tunnel instead of using caseknives. He agrees to use picks so long as they still “let on” or pretend that they are...

(The entire section is 674 words.)

Chapters 38 and 39


coat of arms: an emblem bearing the official symbols of a family or state

grindstone: a revolving stone disk used for grinding, polishing, or sharpening tools

jewsharp: slang (Jew’s harp; various spellings in book) a small lyre-shaped instrument that when held between the teeth gives tones from a metal tongue struck by the finger

mullet-headed: slang trusting and stupid

Study Questions

1. What event in Chapter 38 is the most ridiculous so far in Tom’s plan, and how does it reveal Jim’s loyalty and commitment to the boys?

Tom gets the idea to carve a coat of arms on a rock, and he wants to use Uncle...

(The entire section is 545 words.)

Chapters 40 and 41


full tilt: as fast as possible

harum-scarum: slang motley

Study Questions

1. After Huck sneaks down to the cellar to steal some butter and Aunt Sally catches him, what happens? Who does Huck see and what does he realize?

Aunt Sally tells him to go into the “setting-room” and wait for her to come back and question him. As he walks in, he sees a group of “fifteen farmers, and every one of them had a gun” who are gathered to ward off the “desperadoes” named in Tom’s false anonymous letters. Huck realizes that he and Tom are now in a bad position for pulling off their plan, and that they need to get Jim and leave as quickly...

(The entire section is 715 words.)

Chapters 42 and 43


impudent: rude

scamp: rascal

Territory: America’s wild and unsettled western frontier

Study Questions

1. What distracts Aunt Sally from reading a letter that has arrived from her sister?

Tom, who she thinks is Sid, is being carried up to the house on a mattress. With him is the doctor and also Jim; Jim is wearing Aunt Sally’s calico dress with his hands tied behind him. A crowd of people is following Jim.

2. What happens to Jim after he is re-captured? How has his relationship with Huck changed?

Some townspeople threaten to kill Jim, but they end up deciding not to, not because of Jim’s exemplary...

(The entire section is 597 words.)

Multiple-Choice Test and Answer Key

1. During what period is the novel set?

A. 1840s

B. 1880s

C. 1780s

D. 1740s

E. 1890s

2. Jim is the slave of which character?

A. Mrs. Judith Northrup

B. Widow Douglas

C. Miss Watson

D. Mary Jane Wilks

E. Mary Williams

3. Which theme is first introduced in the scene with Huck, the candle, and the spider?

A. Pain and suffering

B. The natural world

C. Man’s cruelty to animals

D. The inhumanity of slavery


(The entire section is 1096 words.)

Essay Exam Questions With Answers

1. Choose three key examples in the novel that illustrate Huck’s struggle to decide whether or not to inform on Jim. Are they easy decisions for Huck to make? What do they reveal about his development as a character?

The novel’s central conflict is Huck’s struggle to reconcile his friendship with Jim and the civil and social laws that make such a connection taboo and even criminal. The reader is first explicitly introduced to the conflict in Chapter 8, when Huck encounters Jim on Jackson’s Island. As soon as he realizes Jim’s identity, he must grapple with the question of whether or not to inform on Jim. The decision not to report him seems fairly easy for Huck to make. He clearly considers the consequences of...

(The entire section is 3425 words.)