History of the Text
Publication History: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is essentially a sequel to Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, beginning where the plot of Tom Sawyer ends. Huck is a secondary character in Tom’s adventures, and Tom plays a role in Huck’s story. However, Huckleberry Finn is a far more serious novel in subject and theme, and Huck’s character is developed in greater depth than Tom’s.
- When the novel was published in the United States, critics attacked the book’s profanity, “low characters,” and depictions of criminal activity. Considered an affront to decency and unacceptable reading for children, the novel was banned in numerous libraries across the country. In Twain’s time, Huck’s personal relationship with Jim and his loyalty to the runaway slave were considered shocking, or at least highly controversial. In the context of the post-Civil War era of the late 1800s, the novel was socially progressive in Huck’s recognition and admiration of Jim as a fellow human being.
- In 1935, Ernest Hemingway said “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.” Twain’s novel is now recognized as a seminal work in American literature and one of the finest, most significant novels in the American canon.
The Transition from Romanticism to Realism: When Twain wrote Huckleberry Finn, romanticism had been the dominant literary movement in American fiction for decades, but after the Civil War, regionalism (local color writing)—which focuses on a specific geographic locations, traditions, and dialect—became increasingly popular and served as a transition to the subsequent rise of realism in American literature.
- Huckleberry Finn reflects the influence of both romanticism and regionalism—often romantic in theme but realistic in its detailed descriptions of life along the Mississippi River in the mid-1800s and its depiction of Huck Finn’s pre-Civil War southern society.
- Twain wrote the novel in the local vernacular with characters speaking in the dialects of the region. Huck and the other characters use the conversational vocabulary, expressions, and word pronunciations of the people in that geographical region at that time.