Literature: Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
aka: The Adventures Of Huckleberry Finn
"Notice. Persons trying to find a motive in this narrative will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a moral in it will be banished; persons attempting to find a plot in it will be shot."
The Even Better Sequel
to Mark Twain
's The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
After his worthless father shows up to demand a fortune Huck has found, Huck escapes to Jackson's Island in the Mississippi River. From there, Huck and Jim, a fugitive slave, float down the river on a raft. They have several adventures and are joined by two men claiming to be the Duke of Bridgewater and the Dauphin of France
, at which point things start to get a little hairy for our heroes.
A satire first and foremost, genre-savvy
readers tend to find it even more entertaining, and knowing a good deal of history doesn't hurt either
. Huck Finn
has also whipped up a veritable firestorm due to its copious use of the n-word and controversial characterization; nevertheless, it remains widely considered to be a pillar of American literature.
The book is in public domain, and the full text is available for free at Project Gutenberg
- Abusive Parents: Old Finn.
- Alas, Poor Villain: This is Huck's reaction to seeing the Duke and the King tarred and feathered.
- The Alcoholic: Again, Old Finn.
- And the Adventure Continues:
But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she's going to adopt me and sivilize me, and I can't stand it. I been there before.
- The Artful Dodger: As in Tom Sawyer, Huck is never more miserable than when he's being "sivilized". He eventually gets used to it, until he ends up on the run again, vowing to never go back.
- Black Best Friend: Jim is the Ur Example.
- Bowdlerize: An edition has recently been released with every incidence of the n-word changed to "slave". In their piece on it, The Daily Show pointed out a 1955 TV adaptation that wrote Jim out entirely.
- Civilian Villain: Old Finn (Huck's father) is a perfect example.
- Complaining About Things You Haven't Paid For: Employed to set up a Stealth Insult—"He didn't charge nothing for his sermons; and it was worth it, too."
- Complexity Addiction: Tom apparently suffers from this; his plan for freeing Jim is needlessly complicated and based on fiction he's read. Of course, it's later revealed that the whole rescue was pointless, since Jim was supposed to be a free man, and Tom knew it the whole time and was only having fun. But telling him that the moment he arrives would kill the potential of an epic prank.
- Conscience Makes You Go Back
- Content Warning: For the Royal Nonesuch. "The biggest line of all" on the advertising handbills read, "LADIES AND CHILDREN NOT ADMITTED."
- Creator Breakdown: Twain ran into writer's block at several points during the writing process; the Ending Fatigue was one result.
- Curious Qualms of Conscience: It's his duty to turn Jim in. Obviously.
- Delinquents: Huck and (even more so) Tom.
- Demoted to Extra: Becky Thatcher. Twain even goes so far as to misplace her name, referring to her as "Bessie Thatcher".
- Dirty Old Man: The Dauphin; this is, interestingly, not played for laughs at all—Huck is outright disgusted.
- Direct Line to the Author: It's explained near the beginning that Huck has told his story to Mark Twain, the same as Tom Sawyer did. One of the first novelists to use the trope, with Huckleberry Finn predating Sherlock Holmes by three years.
- Disguised in Drag: At one point, Huck dresses as a girl to keep the townspeople from recognizing him.
- Does Not Like Shoes: Huck.
- Emo Teen: Emmeline Grangerford in a rare Unbuilt Trope example. Her death-obsessed and maudlin poetry and art was meant to be Twain's lampoon of the death-obsessed and maudlin poetry of the notoriously awful and now-forgotten 19th century American poet, Julia A. Moore (a.k.a., "the Sweet Singer of Michigan").
- Even Evil Has Standards: When the Dauphin and the Duke are plotting to steal the inherited property of the orphaned Wilks sisters, whose rich uncle has just died, the Duke mentions to the Dauphin that he's having some moral qualms about stealing all the belongings besides money (i.e. their house and their slaves). The Dauphin assures him that the "property" will be returned to the family as soon as the townspeople realize they were impostors; i.e. after Duke & Dauphin have escaped with the loot. Thus, the only money the girls will be out is their uncle's gold stash; the rest of the con will only burn "all the fools in town" — which is the majority in any town, the Dauphin says.
- External Retcon / Start of Darkness: Jon Clinch's Finn, which is mostly about Pap Finn.
- Faking the Dead: How Huck escapes from Pap's cabin.
- Feuding Families: The Grangerfords and Shepardsons; Huck stops by just before the tipping point in their feud.
- First Love: Huck finds her, unrequited of course, in Mary Jane Wilks. Their last moments together make this obvious:
"'Good-bye. I'm going to do everything just as you've told me; and if I don't ever see you again, I sha'n't ever forget you and I'll think of you a many and a many a time, and I'll pray for you, too!'"—and she was gone. Pray for me! I reckoned if she knowed me she'd take a job that was more nearer her size. But I bet she done it, just the same—she was just that kind. She had the grit to pray for Judus if she took the notion—there warn't no back-down to her, I judge. You may say what you want to, but in my opinion she had more sand in her than any girl I ever see; in my opinion she was just full of sand. It sounds like flattery, but it ain't no flattery. And when it comes to beauty—and goodness, too—she lays over them all. I hain't ever seen her since that time that I see her go out of that door; no, I hain't ever seen her since, but I reckon I've thought of her a many and a many a million times, and of her saying she would pray for me; and if ever I'd a thought it would do any good for me to pray for her, blamed if I wouldn't a done it or bust."
- Flanderization: Tom Sawyer in this book is defined by his love of adventure stories, which was only one aspect of his character in Tom Sawyer.
- Funetik Aksent: Literally everyone, including Huck in the narration. There's an author's note at the beginning pointing out that several different Funetik Aksents are being demonstrated, lest the reader think "that all these characters were attempting to talk alike and not succeeding."
- Gaslighting: Tom insists they do this as part of his infamous and unnecessarily convoluted scheme to rescue Jim the "proper" way. He and Huck hide spoons while Aunt Sally counts them, and then replace them when she tries to re-count, as well as sending mysterious threatening messages.
- Good Angel, Bad Angel: Jim telling Huck's dad's fortune:
Dey's two angels hoverin' round 'bout him. One uv 'em is white and shiny, en t'other one is black. De white one gits him to go right a little while, den de black one sail in en bust it all up.
- Groin Attack
- The Duke and the Dauphin were punished by tarring and feathering and being ridden out of town on a rail. This means that they were stripped naked, covered in tar and feathers, and been paraded around town straddling a fresh-cut, splintery fence rail. To be fair, they deserved it.
- Hell of a Heaven: Huck's religious tutelage is a bit hampered by the fact that he doesn't want to spend eternity playing a harp.
- Honor Before Reason: The head of the Grangerford family thinks that ambushing your opponent, even when you're in a death feud that has been going on for decades, isn't what a gentleman should do. His opponents, the Shepherdsons, think differently. This may be the reason why they win at the end.
- I'm Going to Hell for This: In a rare non-comedic example, Huck says this before tearing up a letter to Miss Watson to save Jim himself.
- Inconvenient Itch: Lampshaded early in the book, when Huck and Tom hide from Jim.
There was a place on my ankle that got to itching, but I dasn’t scratch it; and then my ear begun to itch; and next my back, right between my shoulders. Seemed like I’d die if I couldn’t scratch. Well, I’ve noticed that thing plenty times since. If you are with the quality, or at a funeral, or trying to go to sleep when you ain’t sleepy—if you are anywheres where it won’t do for you to scratch, why you will itch all over in upwards of a thousand places.
- Innocent Bigot: Huck. Actually, practically every white person in the book, to some degree. Except the villainous ones, who are just ordinary bigots.
- Intergenerational Friendship: Huck and Jim are 13 and 33, respectively.
- Jerkass: Tom Sawyer, at least until he gets a karmic shot in the leg, called out on his BS, and starts to finally realize the error of his ways afterwards.
- Laser-Guided Karma: The Duke and the Dauphin when their conning catches up to them.
- Lighter and Softer: The last chapters of the novel, which were written after a hiatus of several years, abandon the relative seriousness of the story until then and become exaggerated slapstick comedy.
- Manly Tears: Huck spies Jim crying, thinking about his wife and child. Huck begins to realize that Jim is a real person with real emotions at that point.
- Measuring the Marigolds: As seen in the page quote.
- Misaimed Fandom: Tom takes inspiration for his adventures at the beginning of the book from Don Quixote, believing it to be a story of a great adventure.
- Mood Whiplash: Huck has just seen a man get shot to death for no real reason, and the lynch mob that goes after the killer is dispersed by a Breaking Lecture. What's his reaction? Go to the circus!
- Mutual Envy: Both Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn put each other on pedastals, thinking the other the smartest person they know and wishing that they had the other's life.
- Narm: In-universe, with the poems and pictures made by Emmeline Grangerford alas.
- Nobody Here But Us Birds: As in Tom Sawyer, Tom and Huck use cat cries as signals.
- No Celebrities Were Harmed: The Dauphin is loosely based on Emperor Norton, whom Mark Twain personally knew when he worked as a newspaperman in San Francisco.
- Not So Different: Huck sees Jim crying one night over not knowing where his family was, and starts to realize that Jim has the same feelings white people do, and it's the start of his unlearning of everything he's been taught.
- N-Word Privileges: Jim has them. But then, since this is pre-Civil War rural America, everyone has them.
- One Riot, One Ranger: In this case, it's a criminal rather than a law enforcement official who acts this way - but the dialogue Twain chooses simply drips this attitude.
Colonel Sherburn: ...Your mistake is, that you didn't bring a man with you; that's one mistake, and the other is that you didn't come in the dark and fetch your masks. You brought part of a man — Buck Harkness, there — and if you hadn't had him to start you, you'd a taken it out in blowing.
- Parental Abandonment: Pap.
- Parental Substitute: The Widow Douglas.
- Plot Hole / Retcon: Or something. The first chapter of Huck Finn states that Tom Sawyer was more or less accurate. Huck then spends the rest of the chapter recapping the ending of Tom Sawyer, only with a mind-boggling number of trivial details changed. Notably, over the course of about a week in-story, Tom Sawyer apparently forgets what ransom means and that he ever knew it. There are a fair number of other little differences.
The Adventures of Tom Sawyer
Huck: What's ransom?
Tom: Money. You make 'em raise all they can off'n their friends...
sometime in the next few weeks, in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Ben Rogers: Ransomed? What's that?
Tom: I don't know. But that's what they do.
- Political Correctness Gone Mad: The book is scathingly anti-slavery, but is often banned from schools for supposed racial insensitivity—it has the n-word in it. In response to NewSouth Books' plans to release an edition that replaces Twain's many uses of "nigger" with the word "slave", there are plans to replace the above with the "robot" instead. Do see Fair for Its Day on the YMMV page, though.
- Road Trip Plot: Huck and Jim, fleeing on a raft.
- Rule of Cool: Parodied to pieces by Tom's plan to free Jim, which could be done simply and quickly, but Tom insists on engineering around the Rule of Cool. It goes badly.
- The Runaway: Huck's escape from his alcoholic father sets up the rest of the plot.
- Punny Name: A "granger" is a cattle rancher; cattle ranchers and sheepherders were old rivals in the 1800s, thus the Grangerfords and Shepardsons don't get along.
- Screw the Rules, I'm Doing What's Right: Huck helps the fugitive slave Jim escape from being sold back into slavery even though he is told (and he believes!) he would go to hell for such actions.
- Shout-Out: Tom models his adventures on the stories he's read. The careful reader can identify the specific stories even when he doesn't mention the titles—for example, "Why, look at one of them prisoners in the bottom dungeon of the Castle Deef, in the harbor of Marseilles, that dug himself out that way."
- Snake Oil Salesman: The Duke and the Dauphin are this and just about every other kind of Con Man, except maybe the competent sort.
- Spotting the Thread:
- Huck disguises himself as a girl but is ultimately undone by his inability to thread a needle, his unusual way of catching a ball of yarn and the fact that he does not Throws Like A Girl.
- In the Disney film, he is caught after throwing a pot to hit a mouse, and nails it—a girl wouldn't know how to throw the thing.
- Stockholm Syndrome: Discussed. When Tom and his gang are playing robbers, Tom mentions that if they capture any young women, they'll have to hold them in their cave and treat them nicely, and by and by they'll fall in love and never want to leave.
- Stylistic Suck: Emmeline Grangerford's sappy poetry. Huck likes it, though.
- Take That: Huck and Jim run into a sunken, decayed steamship called Walter Scott.
- Tar and Feathers: The Dauphin and the Duke, later.
- To Be Lawful or Good: Huck's main conflict is the story is whether to do what he's been told is good, that is follow the rules and the law, or to follow what his own awakening morals tells him is right. His speech stating 'All right, I'll go to hell' is him choosing to do what he thinks is right even though his community has confused what is lawful with what is good to the point he believes he's risking hell by freeing Jim from slavery.
- Took a Level in Dumbass: In Tom Sawyer, Tom is pretty clever, but The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn gives his character a Wrong Genre Savvy makeover.
- Two Roads Before You: Huck deciding whether to do the right thing and turn in Jim.
I was a-trembling, because I'd got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it.
- Unreliable Narrator: Lampshaded in the famous opening paragraph.
- Villain Decay:Inverted by the Duke and the Dauphin. They start out as a couple of bumbling con artists, but become more and more sinister as the book progresses.
- Walking the Earth
- Wham Line: "I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: "All right, then, I'll go to hell"- and tore it up."
- Write What You Know: Twain incorporated many events from his own life and adventures on the Mississippi into the fictional narrative. Two of the best examples are Colonel Sherburn's killing of Boggs and Huck finding the runaway Jim on the island, both of which were based on things that Twain actually witnessed firsthand. Both of these incidents were worse in Real Life, however. The Expy of Colonel Sherburn was acquitted on self-defense charges, and the slave Twain found on the island had been tortured to death by slavehunters and left to rot.note
- Write Who You Know: Most of the townsfolk in St. Petersburg are based on members of Twain's family and his childhood friends from Hannibal, Missouri. Huck and Jim themselves are Expys of the son of the town drunk and a slave Twain's uncle owned.
- Wrong Genre Savvy: Tom Sawyer, who, among other things, insists that Jim tunnel out of his prison with a spoon rather than unlocking the door and walking out.
- You Are Worth Hell: A platonic example. Huck genuinely believes that he'll go to Hell for rescuing Jim, but decides he doesn't care.
- You Can't Go Home Again: At the end, Huck reunites with Tom and returns to childlike scheming, just to drive home that it's time to get past all that.