The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1876-85)
by Mark Twain

Chapters One to Eight, pp. 13-63 

The Title:

"huckleberry"
  • a slang expression: somebody of no consequence 
  • a weed which resists domestication; it can't be transplanted successfully to the city

Twain's Narrative Point of View:

  • first person narrator
  • opening paragraph (13): Huck comments on Twain's reliability; what should we make of Huck's own reliability as a narrator?

Essay Section One: What is Huck's Situation at the beginning of the action?

- What has 'being sivilised' by the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson been like?
  • table manners, clothes, no smoking, spelling lessons, school, endless lectures on wicked ways and the bad place 
  • the food (14) What's wrong with it?
  • The Widow Douglas on Moses and the Bullrushers (14) What is that bible story about?
  • Miss Watson on The Good Place and the Bad Place (15) Huck's response?
  • What is Huck's attitude toward prayer (23) and religion in general?  Huck can't see the sense in prayer because you aren't supposed to pray for something practical like the return of a lost or stolen possession. Instead, "the thing a body could get by praying for it was 'spiritual gifts.' (23)", and Huck sees no point in that.
  • What point is Twain making about learning the difference between right and wrong? What is the only way that Huck is going to learn?
- Scratch beneath the surface of Huck's gruff exterior and what do we find?
  • After being 'pecked at' by Miss Watson about Moses, about 'going to the Bad Place', about spelling, about how to sit properly, and what not, Huck sits by himself at the window and, looking out at the night, thinks about how lonesome he is. For whom is Huck lonesome? (16) 
  • In the same passage, Huck talks about how burning a spider is bad luck, so he turns around three times and then ties up a lock of his hair. Who has taught him these remedies for bad luck?

- What ghosts haunt Huck?

  • Huck nearly cries when the kids won't let him into Tom's gang because he has no family worth killing if he betrays their secrets. (20) Who was in his family? 
  • What does he think of himself? When the old widow Douglas describes heaven, Huck figures that they wouldn't want him there, "seeing I was so ignorant, and so kind of low-down and ornery." (23)
  • Literally, he is haunted by a dead body found in river (24), supposedly the body of his father.

- What's it like being part of 'Tom Sawyer's Gang'?

  • Sneaking out at night and sailing a skiff to the scar in the land where their cave hideout is located: signing blood oaths, planning robberies and killings, 'ransoming' captives (even if no one knows what 'ransom' means), playing hookey, hunting for buried treasure, sneakin' smokes, gettin' into scuffles, raiding kindergarten classes: all in 1840's America (pre Mexican War, pre civil war)
  • American readers during the 1870's were yearning for the innocence of childhood after the carnage of civil war (Louisa Mae Alcott, Uncle Remus, Winslow Homer)
  • Where does Tom get his ideas for adventures, like the attack against the Spanish Merchants and rich A-rabs? (24-25)
  • Why does Huck find being in Tom's gang finally unsatisfying? How is it like 'Sunday School'? (genie's lamp) (26)
  • How will Huck's moral and imaginative self (23) develop differently?
- What kind of relationship does Huck have with Jim at the beginning of the action?
  • What does Huck make of  the hat story (19)? Look deeper: How does slave religion make use of the supernatural? Tom's attitude? Huck's? Twain's point? (Slave Religion) ; (For further information on African American religious beliefs, see Yronwode, "Hoodoo, Conjure, and Rootwork: African American Folk Magic"; see Index of 19th Century Southern Texts - An archive of texts by Charles W. Chestnutt, Joel Chandler Harris, and Mary Alice Owen that mention African-American hoodoo beliefs that derive from African religious sources. Also included at the site are extracts from Mark Twain's works that mention European-American witchcraft beliefs; see also "Southern Spirits: Ghostly Voices from Dixie Land")
  • What does Huck make of the hair ball story (29) How does Jim comfort Huck when Huck tells him of the return of his father? Is his advice good? 
  • first mention of the river (20)

- Pap: (Twain's representation of the adult world, ie America)

  • first mention of Pap: the drowned man (24)
  • a heel print in the snow with a cross on it (27-28) (Huck's first reaction to seeing it?)
  • first description of Pap; Why does Pap want Huck back? (31)
  • What can be done to protect Huck from him? (33) (anything in Tom's books? Miss Watson's book? Judge Thatcher's law books?) Huck goes to Jim for help: the hair ball story (29)
  • What comes of Pap's attempt to get off the jug? (33-34)
  • What does Pap do when the Widow takes out a restraining order against him?
  • What can be done about people like him?
  • The nightmare: life with Pap (the saddest thing: what does Huck think of it? What doesn't he realize?)
  • What does Huck plan to do with himself once he has escaped?(38-39)
  • Pap on the nigger and the guv'ment (39) (What is the link between poverty and racism?)
  • the D.T.'s (41)
- Huck's Escape
- Jim and Huck on Jackson's Island (Twain's use of the uncanny to represent psychological states. See Freud on "The Uncanny".)