Themes, Motifs, Issues,
Honors American Literature
A Response to Romanticism
– Think Trans. And Anti-Trans.
Tried very hard to capture life exactly as it was,
rather than romanticizing it
– Rather than focus on emotion or prize it, realists tried
to prevent their works from being filtered through
their emotional lenses
Characters came from poorer, super-rural or
– Included workers at factories, people living in slums,
etc. – the types of people who never showed up as
Questions to Think About
How is Twain’s Novel Romantic?
– In what ways does it defy romanticism?
How is it Realist?
– Shows the country/society as it exists,
versus the idealized portrayals in other
books (such as the ones Tom reads)
– It’s very practical, but it can come off as
harsh at times
Twain as a Realist
Twain is one of the greatest realists –
possibly The greatest – of all time.
One of the reasons he’s so great is that
he dares to examine the “whys” – why
does society have problems? Why do
characters experience conflicting
emotions? Why do we act the way we do?
Huck Finn Background Information
Author: Mark Twain/Samuel Clemens
Huck Finn was set in the Antebellum South, but it was published after
the Civil War
Very controversial because of racial words
Banned because it was an indecent novel and encouraged boys to do
Written in the vernacular language of antebellum South and
Book that focuses on satire (mocking criticism of society)
“Coming of Age” Novel
Adolescent period with a major revelation
– Huck’s major revelation was not turning in Jim, He believes it’s worth going to
Hell to do what he think is right
Huck, somewhat, becomes a hero because he learns to trust his
instincts and conscience
Huck Finn –
Unreliable Narrator and Outsider
Huck tells readers that he stretches the truth
He is a young boy which means he perceive events and people
He recounts the events with a certain bias
– He is kidnapped then he travels with Jim after faking his own death
– He is isolated from society for most of the book
– He befriends Jim, a black slave.
– Although he struggles with seeing Jim as his equal, he essentially comes to the
conclusion that they are equal
– He has a conscience and decides to give the money the duke and the dauphin
stole from the Wilkes sisters.
– He has no real family – his father is abusive and an alcoholic
– He does not want to be civilized
– He does not believe in God and finds Biblical stories foolish
Huck Finn - Characters
the protagonist and narrator of the story, Huck is a thirteen
year old boy who never receives formal education, but is
nevertheless intelligent and thoughtful. He analyzes situations
to come to his own conclusions, ignoring the boundaries set
up by his society.
Huck’s best friend in the novel, but Tom represents the society
in which Huck is running from. Tom is imaginative and wild,
often thinking up crazy plots and adventures. While he acts
spontaneous, in reality he strictly adheres to society.
Huck’s father in the novel, Pap is a lazy, abusive drunkard who
is always getting into trouble in the town. He is constantly
drunk and dressed in tatters, and disapproves of Huck’s
education and higher status. Pap Finn represents the lack of
family connections and values in the novel.
Huck Finn – Characters cont.
Jim is the runaway slave in the novel who teams up with Huck to
escape society. He is uneducated and superstitious, but is
nevertheless one of the most intelligent and mature adults in the
novel. He is a strong family man, loyal friend, and thoughtful character
in the novel.
The Duke and the Dauphin-
These characters are two con men who Huck and Jim run into during
their adventure. One claims to be the dauphin, or son of King Louis
XVI and heir to the throne, while the other claims to be the Duke of
Bridgewater. Huck quickly realizes they are frauds but plays along.
The two frauds often lie and steal while traveling down the river on the
Widow Douglass and Miss Watson-
Two wealthy sisters who adopt Huck. The two represent society’s
hypocritical religious and ethical values. Huck often worries about
disappointing the Widow Douglass.
Huck Finn – Characters cont.
The judge of the town who accepts the money found by Tom and Huck
at the end of Tom Sawyer to protect it from Pap.
The Wilks family-
While on their adventures, the duke and dauphin run into Peter Wilks,
who unintentionally gives up information about the rich estate he left
behind. Taking advantage of the goodhearted and foolish Wilks
sisters, the duke and dauphin pretend to be the two Wilks brothers
from England to earn some of the inheritance.
Grangerfords / Shepherdsons –
the Grangerfords accept Huck when a steamboat hits the raft and he is
separated from Jim. They are kind and offer Huck a home, but he soon
learns about the Grangerford’s long feud with another local family, the
Shepherdsons. Twain uses the two families to criticize the idea of
”a literary work holding up human vices
and follies to ridicule or scorn” –
Satirical Authors usually use humor or
Sarcasm to study an issue, or to attack
something they feel needs to be fixed
the point of satire is often to help point
out a way for us to improve.
Think Stephen Colbert, “South Park,”
“The Simpsons,” etc.
Satire: a formal definition
1. A literary work in which human vice or
folly is attacked through irony, derision, or
2. The branch of literature constituting such
works. See Synonyms at caricature.
3. Irony, sarcasm, or caustic wit used to
attack or expose folly, vice, or stupidity.
Example #1: Irony -- Verbal
Verbal Irony occurs when a speaker or
narrator says one thing while meaning
Example: It is easy to stop smoking.
I’ve done it many times.
Example #2: Irony -- Situational
Situational irony occurs when a
situation turns out differently from what
one would normally expect -- often the
twist is oddly appropriate.
Example: A traffic jam when you are
already late. A no smoking sign on
your cigarette break. A death row
pardon two minutes too late.
Example #3: Irony -- Dramatic
Dramatic Irony occurs when a character or
speaker says or does something that has
different meanings from what he or she
thinks it means, though the audience and
other characters understand the full
implications of the speech or action.
Example: Oedipus curses the murderer of
Laius, not realizing that he is himself the
murderer and so is cursing himself.
Example #4: Pun
A pun is a play on words that are
identical or similar in sound but have
sharply diverse meanings. Puns can
have serious as well as humorous
Example: When Mercurtio is bleeding
to death in Romeo and Juliet, he says
to his friends, “Ask for me tomorrow,
and you shall find me a grave man.”
Example #5: Oxymoron
Oxymoron is a form of paradox that
combines a pair of opposite terms into
a single unusual expression.
Examples: “sweet sorrow” or “cold
Example #6: Sarcasm
Sarcasm is the use of verbal irony in
which a person appears to be praising
something but is actually insulting it.
Example: “As I fell down the stairs
headfirst, I heard her say, ‘Look at that
Example #7: Hyperbole
Hyperbole is a deliberate, extravagant,
and often outrageous exaggeration. It
may be used for either serious or comic
Example: “The shot heard ‘round the
Example #8: Juxtaposition
Juxtaposition is comparing two items
side by side. It can be used to point out
the ridiculousness of one of the items.
Example: In Huck Finn, we see black
and white or old and young compared
side by side.
Satire In Huck
“Persons attempting 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.” – twain’s notice on the first page
Think of all of the things Twain takes on and
portrays as silly or exaggerated – realism,
honor, society itself!
Do you really believe there aren’t any
messages, meanings, or storylines in the book?
Huck Finn - Satire
Types of Satire
Reversal – things being the opposite of
Incongruity – out of place, uneven (juxtaposing
Exaggeration – blowing things out of
• Parody – making fun by imitation
Satire in Huck Finn
Huck Finn Satire
Huck’s conscience vs. what Huck has been taught
Huck’s conscience tells him not to turn Jim in even
though it was the “right” thing to do.
Society tells Huck that he is going to hell for not
turning Jim in.
Example of reversal because Huck believes he is
doing something wrong by saving Jim
Huck Finn Satire
Race – example of reversal satire
Black slaves are supposedly stupid, immoral, animal-like, and
less than human
Whites are supposedly smarter, more respectable, and more
superior than any other race
However, in Huck Finn…
The whites act stupid, animal-like, and immoral
• Pap yells and beats Huck for being educated and also when Pap
The blacks are more respectable than the whites
• Jim (a black slave) is smart enough to reason while Huck just
retaliates with everything he has been told
• Jim shows compassion for his children and family when he talks
about wanting to free them
• He also feels guilt when he yells at his daughter and later realizes
that his daughter is deaf
Huck Finn - Satire
Examples of reversal and exaggeration
Highest class: plantation owners (Wilks, Grangerfords,
– They have a great deal of flaws, little respect for life, and are not as
dignified as they claim to be
Lowest class: slaves
– They are more dignified
There were no examples of functional families throughout the
All of the fathers of the families were controlling (esp, Huck’s
– Aunt Sally Phelps did not recognize her nephew and mistook Huck
– The Wilks girls could not recognize that the duke and king were
not their uncles
This hovers over the text at all times,
most obviously when Jim is featured.
How does the text deal with racism? is
Check out the hypocrisy of the
slaveholders, many of whom are
supposed to be upstanding citizens
Twain published this after slavery was
abolished, but set the action before the
Huck is innocent in a sense; if nothing
else, he is deeply naïve
However, his naïveté is very different
from tom’s, which is usually
destructive and smacks of ignorance
Contrast living in nature with living in
Because Huck is Young, He has the
opportunity to grow and change
– Contrast this with Pap, who is old, ornery,
How are we reminded that Huck is
young? What does Huck’s youth
contribute to the book?
Honor has its place in the novel; Huck often
behaves honorably (although you’ll see by the
end of the book that Tom Sawyer doesn’t follow
Jim is also honorable, in a lot of different ways
– they are the only decent male figures
Huck “Sets aside his pride” when Jim rebukes
him, which shows a lot about him
However, the Grangerfords and the
Shepherdsons kill each other off over a
misplaced sense of wounded pride & honor
Disappointment – and the failure
People often lie to Huck
His hopes are dashed, but he bounces
His prayers go unanswered
No one protects him from pap
He doesn’t belong in school