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Discussion Questions on Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

1. What elements mark Huckleberry Finn as a mythical or archetypal story? Does it follow the elements of other genres, such as the picaresque?

2. In what ways does Huckleberry Finn attack romanticism and promote realism? In addition to Tom Sawyer, what characters, scenes, or incidents contribute to this theme?

3. If we assume, as Twain says, that the novel celebrates the triumph of a "sound heart" over a "deformed conscience," what are the steps in that process? Look closely at the relationship between Huck and Jim. What incidents mark steps in Huck's moral growth?

4. Huckleberry Finn is celebrated for its style, especially Twain's use of vernacular speech and dialect. Examine a short section of the book and explain what kinds of features (sentence structure, irony, word choice, repetition, and so forth) he uses to achieve the effects.

5. What kinds of humor occur in the novel? Does Twain use humor for serious effects? What debt does it owe to Southwestern humor? to understatement or irony? to set pieces of humorous dialogue like the "Sollermon" debate?

6. Feminist critics such as Nancy A. Walker and Myra Jehlen contend that the female characters in the novel are critical to Huck's growth. Jehlen singles out the Judith Loftus episode as the point at which Huck becomes a person capable of saving Jim: "By plunging Huck into the deepest possible limbo of identity," the episode teaches Huck to question the constraints of gender, and, by extension, race. Are the female characters significant in this novel, or could they easily have been omitted? What do they represent? Discuss.

7. Huckleberry Finn is in some ways a novel in which violence is mingled with entertainment. In addition to its persistent mention of death and its motif of unburied bodies (especially those floating in water), the novel shows Huck witnessing a series of violent episodes; he also describes a number of entertaining spectacles. What connection exists in the novel between violence and entertainment?

8. The ending of Huckleberry Finn, one of its most frequently discussed features, has been criticized as abrupt, shallow, and unsatisfying. James Cox, on the other hand, defends the ending by saying that we are Tom who "safely" frees the slave who is already free. Would you agree or disagree with this characterization? Why?

9. Discuss Huckleberry Finn as a social satire. What classes does he satirize? What characteristics of each class does he criticize?

Comments to D. Campbell