The story is written in dialect and uses language which some people consider offensive. It also shows some of the contradictions in the U.S., a country which lauds freedom, but where slavery was permitted long after it had been banned other places, where "all men are created equal", but racism is rampant. The language, violence, casual racism, and examples of hypocrisy have gotten the book banned in many places. According to Banned in the U.S.A by Herbert N. Foerstel as quoted on About.com it is the fourth most commonly banned book (in the U.S.).
At the beginning of the book before the story begins, there is a notice:
- PERSONS attempting to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot.
After having found gold with his friend Tom Sawyer at the end of their adventures, the gold is put into a trust account. Huck goes to live at the home of the Widow Douglas. Her sister, Miss Watson, and the widow's slave, Jim, also live there. Huck and Jim run away together, traveling on the Mississippi.
The story begins in fictional St. Petersburg, Missouri (based on the actual town of Hannibal, Missouri), on the shore of the Mississippi River "forty to fifty years ago" (the novel having been published in 1884). Huckleberry "Huck" Finn (the protagonist and first-person narrator) and his friend, Thomas "Tom" Sawyer, have each come into a considerable sum of money as a result of their earlier adventures (detailed in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer). Huck explains how he is placed under the guardianship of the Widow Douglas, who, together with her stringent sister, Miss Watson, are attempting to "sivilize" him and teach him religion. Finding civilized life confining, his spirits are raised somewhat when Tom Sawyer helps him to escape one night past Miss Watson's slave Jim, to meet up with Tom's gang of self-proclaimed "robbers." Just as the gang's activities begin to bore Huck, he is suddenly interrupted by the reappearance of his shiftless father, "Pap", an abusive alcoholic. Knowing that Pap would only spend the money on alcohol, Huck is successful in preventing Pap from acquiring his fortune; however, Pap kidnaps Huck and leaves town with him.
Pap forcibly moves Huck to his isolated cabin in the woods along the Illinois shoreline. Because of Pap's drunken violence and imprisonment of Huck inside the cabin, Huck, during one of his father's absences, elaborately fakes his own death, escapes from the cabin, and sets off downriver. He settles comfortably, on Jackson's Island. Here, Huck reunites with Jim, Miss Watson's slave. Jim has also run away after he overheard Miss Watson planning to sell him "down the river" to presumably more brutal owners. Jim plans to make his way to the town of Cairo in Illinois, a free state, so that he can later buy the rest of his enslaved family's freedom. At first, Huck is conflicted about the sin and crime of supporting a runaway slave, but as the two talk in depth and bond over their mutually held superstitions, Huck emotionally connects with Jim, who increasingly becomes Huck's close friend and guardian. After heavy flooding on the river, the two find a raft (which they keep) as well as an entire house floating on the river. Entering the house to seek loot, Jim finds the naked body of a dead man lying on the floor, shot in the back. He prevents Huck from viewing the corpse.
To find out the latest news in town, Huck dresses as a girl and enters the house of Judith Loftus, a woman new to the area. Huck learns from her about the news of his own supposed murder; Pap was initially blamed, but since Jim ran away he is also a suspect and a reward for Jim's capture has initiated a manhunt. Mrs. Loftus becomes increasingly suspicious that Huck is a boy, finally proving it by a series of tests. Once he is exposed, she nevertheless allows him to leave her home without commotion, not realizing that he is the allegedly murdered boy they have just been discussing. Huck returns to Jim to tell him the news and that a search party is coming to Jackson's Island that very night. The two hastily load up the raft and depart.
After a while, Huck and Jim come across a grounded steamship. Searching it, they stumble upon two thieves discussing murdering a third, but they flee before being noticed. They are later separated in a fog, making Jim intensely anxious, and when they reunite, Huck tricks Jim into thinking he dreamed the entire incident. Jim is not deceived for long, and is deeply hurt that his friend should have teased him so mercilessly. Huck becomes remorseful and apologizes to Jim, though his conscience troubles him about humbling himself to a black man.
Traveling onward, Huck and Jim's raft is struck by a passing steamship, again separating the two. Huck is given shelter on the Kentucky side of the river by the Grangerfords, an "aristocratic" family. He befriends Buck Grangerford, a boy about his age, and learns that the Grangerfords are engaged in a 30-year blood feud against another family, the Shepherdsons. The Grangerfords and Shepherdsons go to the same church, which ironically preaches brotherly love. The vendetta finally comes to a head when Buck's older sister elopes with a member of the Shepherdson clan. In the resulting conflict, all the Grangerford males from this branch of the family are shot and killed, including Buck, whose horrific murder Huck witnesses. He is immensely relieved to be reunited with Jim, who has since recovered and repaired the raft.
Near the Arkansas-Missouri-Tennessee border, Jim and Huck take two on-the-run grifters aboard the raft. The younger man, who is about thirty, introduces himself as the long-lost son of an English duke (the Duke of Bridgewater). The older one, about seventy, then trumps this outrageous claim by alleging that he himself is the Lost Dauphin, the son of Louis XVI and rightful King of France. The "duke" and "king" soon become permanent passengers on Jim and Huck's raft, committing a series of confidence schemes upon unsuspecting locals all along their journey. To divert suspicions from the public away from Jim, they pose him as recaptured slave runaway, but later paint him up entirely blue and call him the "Sick Arab" so that he can move about the raft without bindings.
On one occasion, the swindlers advertise a three-night engagement of a play called "The Royal Nonesuch". The play turns out to be only a couple of minutes' worth of an absurd, bawdy sham. On the afternoon of the first performance, a drunk called Boggs is shot dead by a gentleman named Colonel Sherburn; a lynch mob forms to retaliate against Sherburn; and Sherburn, surrounded at his home, disperses the mob by making a defiant speech describing how true lynching should be done. By the third night of "The Royal Nonesuch", the townspeople prepare for their revenge on the duke and king for their money-making scam, but the two cleverly skip town together with Huck and Jim just before the performance begins.
In the next town, the two swindlers then impersonate brothers of Peter Wilks, a recently deceased man of property. To match accounts of Wilks's brothers, the king attempts an English accent and the duke pretends to be a deaf-mute while starting to collect Wilks's inheritance. Huck decides that Wilks's three orphaned nieces, who treat Huck with kindness, do not deserve to be cheated thus and so he tries to retrieve for them the stolen inheritance. In a desperate moment, Huck is forced to hide the money in Wilks's coffin, which is abruptly buried the next morning. The arrival of two new men who seem to be the real brothers throws everything into confusion, so that the townspeople decide to dig up the coffin in order to determine which are the true brothers, but, with everyone else distracted, Huck leaves for the raft, hoping to never see the duke and king again. Suddenly, though, the two villains return, much to Huck's despair. When Huck is finally able to get away a second time, he finds to his horror that the swindlers have sold Jim away to a family that intends to return him to his proper owner for the reward. Defying his conscience and accepting the negative religious consequences he expects for his actions, Huck resolves to free Jim once and for all.
Huck learns that Jim is being held at the plantation of Silas and Sally Phelps. The family's nephew, Tom, is expected for a visit at the same time as Huck's arrival, so Huck is mistaken for Tom and welcomed into their home. He plays along, hoping to find Jim's location and free him; in a surprising plot twist, it is revealed that the expected nephew is, in fact, Tom Sawyer. When Huck intercepts the real Tom Sawyer on the road and tells him everything, Tom decides to join Huck's scheme, pretending to be his own younger half-brother, Sid, while Huck continues pretending to be Tom. In the meantime, Jim has told the family about the two grifters and the new plan for "The Royal Nonesuch", and so the townspeople capture the duke and king, who are then tarred and feathered and ridden out of town on a rail.
Rather than simply sneaking Jim out of the shed where he is being held, Tom develops an elaborate plan to free him, involving secret messages, a hidden tunnel, snakes in a shed, a rope ladder sent in Jim's food, and other elements from adventure books he has read, including an anonymous note to the Phelps warning them of the whole scheme. During the actual escape and resulting pursuit, Tom is shot in the leg, while Jim remains by his side, risking recapture rather than completing his escape alone. Although a local doctor admires Jim's decency, he has Jim arrested in his sleep and returned to the Phelps. After this, events quickly resolve themselves. Tom's Aunt Polly arrives and reveals Huck and Tom's true identities to the Phelps family. Jim is revealed to be a free man: Miss Watson died two months earlier and freed Jim in her will, but Tom (who already knew this) chose not to reveal this information to Huck so that he could come up with an artful rescue plan for Jim. Jim tells Huck that Huck's father (Pap Finn) has been dead for some time (he was the dead man they found earlier in the floating house), and so Huck may now return safely to St. Petersburg. Huck is rewarded six hundred dollars for saving the aunts from the con men. Huck gives most of it to Jim for his family. Huck declares that he is quite glad to be done writing his story, and despite Sally's plans to adopt and civilize him, he intends to flee west to Indian Territory.
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn explores themes of race and identity. A complexity exists concerning Jim's character. While some scholars point out that Jim is good-hearted, moral, and he is not unintelligent (in contrast to several of the more negatively depicted white characters), others have criticized the novel as racist, citing the use of the n-word and emphasizing the stereotypically "comic" treatment of Jim's lack of education, superstition and ignorance.
Throughout the story, Huck is in moral conflict with the received values of the society in which he lives, and while he is unable to consciously refute those values even in his thoughts, he makes a moral choice based on his own valuation of Jim's friendship and Jim's human worth, a decision in direct opposition to the things he has been taught. Mark Twain, in his lecture notes, proposes that "a sound heart is a surer guide than an ill-trained conscience" and goes on to describe the novel as "...a book of mine where a sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision and conscience suffers defeat".
To highlight the hypocrisy required to condone slavery within an ostensibly moral system, Twain has Huck's father enslave his son, isolate him, and beat him. When Huck escapes – which anyone would agree was the right thing to do – he then immediately encounters Jim "illegally" doing the same thing. The treatment both of them receive are radically different especially with an encounter with Mrs. Judith Loftus who takes pity on who she presumes to be a runaway apprentice, Huck, yet boasts about her husband sending the hounds after a runaway slave, Jim.
Some scholars discuss Huck's own character, and the novel itself, in the context of its relation to African-American culture as a whole. John Alberti quotes Shelley Fisher Fishkin, who writes in her 1990s book Was Huck Black?: Mark Twain and African-American Voices, "by limiting their field of inquiry to the periphery," white scholars "have missed the ways in which African-American voices shaped Twain's creative imagination at its core." It is suggested that the character of Huckleberry Finn illustrates the correlation, and even interrelatedness, between white and black culture in the United States.
Multiple movies, TV shows, and plays have been based on this book.
Although many consider this a key work in American (U.S.) literature, it was first published in England.
- ↑ Banned in the U.S.A by Herbert N. Foerstel as quoted on 50 Most Frequently Banned Books" by Jason Chervokas & Tom Watson on About.com
- About.com's article: Censorship and Book Banning in America: Taking Stock by Melissa Kelly
- SparkNotes on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn on GrAdeSave.com
- CliffsNotes on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain on Wikisource
- Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is posted on the Electronic Text Center, University of Virginia Library
- The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain on Literature.org, or "The Online Literature Library"
- American Literature .com has The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
- Free public domain audiobook of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn from LibriVox.