By: Mark Twain Level: High School Grades: 11-12
Teaching Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
Although The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn can be read as a children's adventure story, its real value lies in the exploration of its deeper themes, which is most appropriate for students in high school. Humor, satire, dialect, figurative language, and Twain's masterful style can all be studied while students also study the themes relating to religion, friendship, education, social class, the nature of man, and more.
Controversial because of the portrayal of Jim, the Negro slave, and the use of "the N word," this American classic novel is often shelved in favor of more politically correct novels. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is, however, an accurate portrayal of life at the time the book was written. If you approach teaching the book in that light (and weave in an appreciation for the civil rights strides that have been made since that time), the benefits of studying the whole book--not just that one aspect--are well worth the fight you might face from those who see the the book only in a negative way. In fact, through the relationship between Huck and Jim, we see true friendship. When you study Twain's work it actually celebrates the value and humanity of Jim as a person at a time when that wasn't always such a popular opinion.
The guides, novel units, and other teaching resources below will give you many options for helping your students better understand Twain's American Classic, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.
Summary of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
At the beginning of the story, Huck lives with his father, Pap Finn, who is a drunk and a terrible father. Eventually Huck moves in with the Widow Douglass, who wants to "civilize" him. He can't stand that, so he runs off, and in his travels, meets a runaway slave named Jim on Jackson's Island. The two hook up and travel together, on a raft down the Mississippi River, having many adventures, including adventures with the king and duke, a couple of con artists. In the end, Jim is set free in Miss Watson's will and Huck plans to take off out west to avoid being civilized by Aunt Sally.
A Brief Biography of Mark Twain
Mark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in 1835, led one of the most exciting of literary lives. Raised in the river town of Hannibal, Missouri, Twain had to leave school at age 12 and was successively a journeyman printer, a steamboat pilot, a halfhearted Confederate soldier, and a prospector, miner, and reporter in the western territories. His experiences furnished him with a wide knowledge of humanity, as well as with the perfect grasp of local customs and speech which manifests itself in his writing.
With the publication in 1865 of The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, Twain gained national attention as a frontier humorist, and the bestselling Innocents Abroad solidified his fame. But it wasn't until Life on the Mississippi (1883), and finally, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), that he was recognized by the literary establishment as one of the greatest writers America would ever produce.
Toward the end of his life, plagued by personal tragedy and financial failure, Twain grew more and more pessimistic--an outlook not alleviated by his natural skepticism and sarcasm. Though his fame continued to widen--Yale & Oxford awarded him honorary degrees--Twain spent his last years in gloom and exasperation, writing fables about "the damned human race."