The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Book Summary - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Book explained in key points
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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn summary

Mark Twain

Freedom, Civilization, and Prejudice in the Pre-Civil War South

4.6 (217 ratings)
20 mins
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    The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
    Summary of 4 key ideas

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    More money, more problems

    In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn was basically homeless. His father was an alcoholic vagabond, and Huck was fairly wild and lawless. But that began to change when, at the end of that book, Tom and Huck discovered a hidden treasure worth over $12,000.

    This newfound money was placed in a trust on their behalf, with Tom and Huck each getting $6,000, a small amount of which was made available to them every so often. At the same time, the Widow Douglas, a stern older woman, agreed to adopt Huck and have him move in with her.

    By the time Huckleberry Finn opens, Huck is, by his estimation, around 13 or 14 years old, living in St. Petersburg, Missouri, and being given a second chance at respectability. But he isn’t so sure this new lifestyle agrees with him. He prefers his ragged clothes over the itchy, starched, clean outfits the Widow Douglas makes him wear. He also chafes at all the rules that she hands down. Even sleeping indoors has an unpleasant, restrictive quality to it. But, surprisingly enough, Huck has gotten used to going to school, and even started to enjoy parts of it.

    It has been a year since Huck last saw his dad, whom he calls “Pap.” But once winter comes, Huck recognizes his father’s footsteps in the snow around the widow’s house. Huck goes to visit a man named Jim, who has a talent for fortune-telling, and who is held as a slave by the Widow Douglas’s sister, Miss Watson. Huck asks Jim what his father has in mind. Jim tells him that his father isn’t sure whether he wants to stay or leave. Jim also tells Huck that his dad has two angels hovering around him – one good, one bad. He adds that Huck has two similar angels flying around him – one light, one dark; one rich, one poor. As well, Jim advises Huck that he should stay away from water, and not take any risks.

    When Huck returns to his room that night, he finds Pap sitting in a chair, waiting for him. His hair is long and greasy, his clothes in tatters – and he looks as menacing as ever. He says he’d heard that Huck was learning to read and write, and he was ashamed – his own son, thinking he was better than his dad. Pap says he has every mind to knock such ideas right out of Huck’s head. But what he really wants, of course, is Huck’s money. Huck explains that he doesn’t have it – Judge Thatcher is holding onto it. 

    Pap badgers the judge, and tries to get the law on his side, but doesn’t have any luck. The Widow Douglas tries to drive Pap away, but this only causes Pap to drag Huck to a cabin a few miles away on the banks of the Mississippi River.

    At first, Huck doesn’t mind too much. Being at the cabin means he doesn’t have to go to school or wear uncomfortable clothes. He can smoke whenever he wants, and spend the days fishing. The only problem is that Pap gives him regular beatings and locks him up in the cabin whenever he goes to town.

    Eventually, Pap goes on one of his days-long drinking binges. This is when Huck begins to plot his escape. One by one, the pieces fall into place. He takes an axe and breaks down the front door of the cabin. He spills pig’s blood on the floor and creates marks that make it look like Huck’s body has been dragged down to the river. He also leaves tracks that make it look like the imaginary burglars have made their getaway in the opposite direction. He then packs up a raft and sets off downstream. Huck knows just where to go to lie low: Jackson’s Island.

    ANALYSIS

    All right. This is a good place to take a break and look at the groundwork that the author, Mark Twain, has laid for the rest of the story.

    Huck is in a pretty interesting position at the start of the story. Even though he’s one of the richest people in town, he isn’t so thrilled about all that comes with his status – like the uncomfortable clothes, and being under the critical watch of adults who are obsessed with “respectability.”

    Throughout the book, Twain raises some questions about what it means to be “free” in America. While most people of his time look down on those who have no money, wear threadbare clothes, and sleep outside, Huck maintains that there is a certain freedom in this.

    Now, one of the things that Twain himself commented on is that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is by and large about the inner conflict in Huck between the head and the heart. As the author puts it, it’s a book “where a sound heart and a deformed conscience come into collision and conscience suffers defeat." We can see these two elements as a variation on the two angels that Jim mentions while telling Huck’s fortune.

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    What is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn about?

    The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) is often considered a landmark, if controversial, work in the history of American literature. It tells the story of a young teenager who runs away from an abusive, alcoholic father by fleeing in a raft down the Mississippi River. Along the way, he befriends a man running from slavery and becomes a reluctant accomplice to a pair of con artists.

    Who should read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

    • Fans of classic literature
    • People interested in stories about the antebellum South
    • Anyone who likes a good coming-of-age story

    About the Author

    Mark Twain was an important and influential figure in nineteenth-century American literature. His use of humor and social critique and his command of storytelling made him a beloved journalist and author of novels and short stories. His quick wit also made him a popular lecturer later in life. His most cherished works includes The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court

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