The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
A book review for parents
This adventure book by Mark Twain is published by Sterling Publishing and is written for adults but is sometimes studied by kids ages 13 and up.
Huckleberry Finn lives a comfortable life with Miss Watson and the Widow Douglas, but Huck hungers for adventure and freedom from their attempts to "sivilize" him. Huck's deadbeat father returns and kidnaps him in an effort to claim a large sum of money that Huck earned as a reward for helping capture some robbers. Huck fakes his own death to escape from his father, and then takes to the river in a canoe. As Huck is hiding out, he meets Miss Watson's runaway slave, Jim. The two set off on a great adventure down the Mississippi to help Jim gain his freedom. Along the way, they spend time with wealthy folks and scoundrels. They are even reunited with Huck's friend Tom Sawyer before discovering that Miss Watson's death has left Jim a free man.
Huck and others refer to a number of Bible characters (Moses, Solomon, Noah and Judas, to name a few) but most often name them incorrectly, take their stories out of context or attribute words of conventional wisdom to the Good Book. Miss Watson's attempts to convert Huck failed. Huck repeatedly takes her explanations of God and the Bible too literally and becomes discouraged with praying because "nothing come of it." Huck struggles inwardly about whether he should help Jim, since it means he's stealing from the woman who took him (Huck) in. He starts to pray for forgiveness but determines instead to free Jim and return to a life of "wickedness." At a tent revival, the king (a hustler with whom Huck and Jim travel) cons the crowd out of money by making up a hard-luck story and passing a hat. Some feel that this book is a diatribe against Christianity.
Huck's father is a drunk who beats the boy, locks him in a cabin and tries to steal his money. The king and the duke are such immoral con men that even Huck is disgusted by their lies. They use Huck and Jim to promote their schemes and sell Jim when they run out of money. Miss Watson and the Widow Douglas are well-meaning in their willingness to take in the wayward Huck. Judge Thatcher and others show compassion and a genuine interest in Huck's welfare. Despite the trouble Tom and Huck cause, Tom's Aunt Sally plans to adopt Huck.
Other Belief Systems
Huck puts a lot of stock in folk legends, and his beliefs about bizarre supernatural phenomena only intensify as he spends time around the highly superstitious Jim. Huck says that slaves are always talking about witches, and Jim performs spells with a hair ball removed from the stomach of an ox. Huck mentions "Providence" a few times, once saying that Providence always gives him the right words (lies) when he's in a bind.
This book's portrayal of slavery, particularly its frequent use of the word n----r, has made it controversial. One slave named Balum is nicknamed "Balum's Ass." Huck kills a pig by hacking its throat, and he spreads its blood around so people will think Huck died. Tom Sawyer's wild plans, often based on stories he's read, are filled with murder and bloodshed. Jim finds a dead, naked man who had been shot in the back.
Other items of possible concern: Huck smokes a pipe. Huck's dad, the king and the duke and other minor characters are drunks.
If your children have read this book or someone has read it to them, consider these discussion topics:
- Huck and Tom can invent lies to manipulate situations. They tell them far more often than they tell the truth.
What do you think about their lying?
Is it ever justified?
If so, when?
What does the Bible say about lying?
- Huck sometimes seems to be bothered by stealing, but other times, he justifies it.
What do you think?
Is stealing ever OK? In what situation(s)?
What does the Bible say?
- How did you feel when you read about slavery and people's attitudes toward and treatment of blacks throughout our nation's history?
Do you think this sort of prejudice exists today?
How did you feel about the frequent use of the word n----r in this book?
- Slavery is a significant theme in this book — but it isn't just in reference to the black slaves. Huck feels like a slave to his culture and laws, always trying to escape and gain freedom from his present situation. Whether the authority figures in his life at the time are negative or positive, he still runs from them to gain freedom. His inner dialogue also indicates that he feels enslaved by his conscience and by God.
Parents can discuss the world's view of God being a cruel taskmaster (and someone they may run from) vs. the Christian mind-set of Christ providing true freedom.
- Huck frequently struggles over whether he should help Jim gain his freedom. He finally decides to help Jim, even if it means Huck won't go to heaven.
What do you think about this?
What do you think was the right thing for Huck to do?
Was it more important to obey the laws of his day or help his friend?
- People are always trying to civilize Huck.
Do you think he lived in a civilized society? Explain your answer.
- Huck and Jim believe in the power of charms, spells and luck.
What are some beliefs people hold today that go against the idea that God alone is in control of the universe?
Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. A book's inclusion does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.