“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do, so throw off the bowlines, sail away from safe harbor, catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore, Dream, Discover.” –Mark Twain
After reading The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, we had to read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. Meant as a sequel to Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn instead went on to become a stand-alone book and in fact a classic of literature. Where Tom Sawyer is just a very well-written story of a boy and his antics, Huck Finn is a story of a boy who grows up and learns the power of friendship when he decides to help his friend, Jim, escape when he’s a slave. Huck Finn tackles head-on the evils of slavery through the eyes of a 12 year-old boy which puts all the adults to shame.
Set in the 1850’s, Huck Finn picks up right where Tom Sawyer left off: Huck and Tom have found a treasure trove and Huck has been adopted by Miss Watson. Tom is still up to his same ol’ antics of boyhood fun. However, Huck’s father shows up in town (the fictional St. Petersburg, Missouri) wanting Huck’s money. He’s a drunk and a child abuser and he ends up kidnapping Huck Finn while he fights the courts for Huck’s money. Huck can’t take it anymore so he fakes his own death by killing a pig, spreading its blood everywhere, and running off to an island in the Mississippi (the same island where Tom Sawyer ran off to for his adventures as well). Here, he meets Jim, a slave who has run away from Miss Watson when he heard he was going to be sold.
Huck and Jim team up–mainly because Huck is lonely and doesn’t want to run away alone and because Jim needs help. They make a raft and set off down the Mississippi River, where their adventures begin. The plan had been to make for Cairo, Illinois, which sits right where the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers meet and head up the Ohio River so Jim can be free. Instead, they end up missing the Ohio River when a fog and a storm arise so they are now floating down into slavery territory.
Here, Huck battles whether or not to turn Jim in. He feels guilty for helping a slave escape, especially since it’s Miss Watson’s slave and she needs the money she was going to make from his sale. Yet, he’s torn with loyalty to Jim because Jim helps Huck time and time again and all Jim wants to do is get free and then buy his wife and kids’ freedom.
Huck says, “I feel bad and low, because I knowed very well I had done wrong….but a body that don’t get started right when he’s little, ain’t got no show”. Huck says he’d feel bad either way–bad if he had given Jim up and bad if he hadn’t so he sticks with what’s easier.
Jim and Huck run across two liars and frauds known as the king and the duke that make for some of the funniest scenes in the novel as they try to rip people off of money. In the end though, Huck foils them and steals all the money and places it in a dead man’s coffin.
Some people here think, “Why does Huck stay with these people?” Well, Huck answers this himself, “I learnt that the best way to get along with his kind of people is to let them have their own way.” Let’s not forget Huck is just a boy here which it is hard to forget when you are reading this and the king and duke are adults.
The climax of the novel is where Huck grows up and changes. The duke and the king conspire to sell Jim as a runaway slave, which they do. Here, Huck reasons it’s best then to tell the truth so Jim can at least go home to a nice family to be a slave with. He writes a letter to Miss Watson to free his conscience; however, he gets to thinking what a good person Jim is and tears up the letter, saying “I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. All right, then, I’ll go to hell”. He decides to rescue Jim and steal him out of slavery forever.
The rest of the book is rip-roaring good time as Mr. Mark Twain brings Tom Sawyer back into the picture and they end up spending the rest of the book “stealing Jim out of slavery” from Tom’s aunt who had ended up buying Jim from the king and the duke. Tom concocts all these things Jim must do as to break out of prison “proper” and ends up causing havoc with his aunt and in the end Tom ends up being shot as the escape unfolds and he’s bragging about it!
Spoiler for conclusion: we discover at the end that Huck’s father has died and Jim has been free for two months because Miss Watson died and set him free. Tom pays Jim for all the fun they had with him at his expense and Tom’s Aunt Sally wants to adopt Huck.
Huck concludes about Jim: “I thought he had a good heart in him and was a good man, the first time I see him.” This is the first time Huck does not call him a “nigger”. Mark Twain took heavy criticism for using this word, which he does over and over again in this book. But it made it’s point: it’s the exact use of the derogatory word that proves the power of man’s ignorance towards one another and in the end, the power of Huck’s words ring out as readers discover the same thing: Jim is a man and worthy of his freedom and in fact deserves his freedom like everyone else.
A classic of literature everyone should read, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a powerful example of discovering humanity, great fun in its antics and adventures, and a book that’ll leave you in tears and laughing all at the same time.
What I love about this book is it transports you: you get to see through the eyes of a 12 year old boy what it was like to be a boy in the 1850’s. How it was possible for a boy to float on a raft down the Mississippi. How a boy could survive on his own by fishing and hunting. How a boy walking around a strange town by himself didn’t cause any alarm. How a boy could go missing and his family didn’t freak out about it until 2 or 3 days had passed. How a boy played all day long, entertaining himself by thinking up adventure stories and walking miles and miles in the woods. How a boy could use a canoe by himself and take off and explore caves.
None of this could happen in the twenty-first century in America at least. I love history and I’m always fascinated by the change in the times. There was something magical about the freedom people had 160 years ago and it’s why Americans love the Wild West stories. There’s also dangers like when Huck falls in with the king and the duke and is at their mercy; yet there is an innocence that we all yearn for and for the most part it existed in everyone in the 1800’s. And books such as Huck Finn lets us experience that time for just a brief moment–and that’s the magic of books.
The history behind the writing of the book is fascinating. Mr. Twain never meant this book to be about slavery. It started out as just another adventure story to compliment Tom Sawyer. Half-way through writing this tale, Mr. Twain put it down and when he picked it back up again in a year, it became the powerful novel that it is today.
As a writer, I love this because my novels never end up as I’ve planned–things always arise that moves the novel and the characters in different directions than planned–and always in better directions than planned. I think most writers never set out to write “the great American classic” that will impact readers for all of time. It just happens; and that in itself is powerful.
We decided to head back to a classic tale set in the mid-1800’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain after The Trumpet of the Swan. I don’t ever recall having read this book and I thought my kids would enjoy it and we sure did.
We meet Tom Sawyer playing hookey from school and his Aunt Polly upbraiding him for it. He is an affable boy of 12 whose life purpose is to have a good time.
Early in the book we see perhaps the most famous scene of Tom Sawyer when Tom is put upon by Aunt Polly to whitewash the fence and he in turn manages to get all of the neighborhood boys to do his work for him by tricking them and telling them it takes a lot of skill to do this. He discovers the principle of reverse psychology and as the narrator says “he had discovered a great law of human action, without knowing it–namely, that in order to make a man or a boy covet a thing, it is only necessary to make the thing difficult to attain.” Classic!
We follow Tom in his adventures, including when one night he and Huck Finn sneak out of the house and go to a cemetery and witness a murder. Tom ends up testifying at the trial and ends up freeing a man wrongly accused. We see him take a beating at school for the girl he likes, Becky Thatcher. He decides to “play pirate” and him and three other boys go and live on an island for a few days during which time the townsfolk take them for dead and Tom and his friends show up at their own funerals! And we see him and Huck on a quest for buried treasure and they find it in a cave that Tom and Becky get lost in!
In the end, both Tom and Huck split the stolen money and with proper prudence from Becky’s dad who is a judge the boys become the richest people in town.
This book is fast-paced with no dull moments. Full of great moral values for the times. Huck frees a man wrongly accused by testifying of what he saw that night in the graveyard. Twain propounds “knowledge is worth more than anything there is in the world” when Tom fusses about memorizing Bible verses. Tom feels bad about tricks he plays on his aunt. He discovers “that to promise not to do a thing is the surest way in the world to make a body want to go and do that very thing.” When the boys are missing and when Tom and Becky are lost in the cave, the families and the whole town pray and search for them.
Short and fun and full of teaching moments and of what life once used to be like in the 1860’s and how life has changed. For example, Tom and Huck return to the cave to find the treasure. They take a boat and travel 5 miles down river. I told the kids that could never happen today. One, their parents wouldn’t let them. Two, the cops would be called if they were discovered. Three, most kids can’t sail a boat at age 12. But back then it was commonplace. When the boys are “playing pirate” on the island, they light their own fires, fish for their own food, build a shelter, and basically go camping today but with no modern conveniences. Great fun and highly recommended!