The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Book review by
Matt Berman, Common Sense Media
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Book Poster Image
Still one of the greatest American novels.
Popular with kidsParents recommend

Parents say

age 14+
Based on 6 reviews

Kids say

age 10+
Based on 13 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

This is considered by many to be the greatest work of American literature, and much of modern literature owes it a debt. It offers a depiction of a society long gone and much despised now and will be a revelation to modern children. The book is written in dialect, which can make reading it a challenge for modern readers, but it gives a vivid image of life in that time and place.

Positive Messages

While this novel is set in a racist society, and there is much racist talk (always in a way that makes the speaker look ignorant and/or to show how that sort of thinking is foolish), the book was revolutionary for its time (and much criticized) because the message is clearly anti-racist and anti-slavery.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Huck and Jim are characters of great nobility and heart, and their friendship is deep and loving. Jim is patient, kind, caring, and wise. Huck, though he has been taught and believes that slavery is right -- and that he will go to hell for helping a slave run away -- makes a conscious decision to do so anyway. Though he has been taught that black people are inferior, Huck brings himself, in an especially moving scene, to apologize to Jim for thoughtless behavior, and he "warn't ever sorry for it afterwards, neither." All of that said, Huck does lie and steal, and he cheerfully rationalizes both.

Violence

Huck's father kidnaps him, holds him prisoner, beats him, and tries to kill him with a knife. Several people are killed, including two boys, and a man shoots another man in cold blood. Men torment dogs, make them fight, and set them on fire. A father smacks his young daughter and knocks her down. A woman hits dogs with a rolling pin.

Sex
Language

As was typical of the time the novel was written and set, the "N"-word is used frequently and casually, as is the term "Injun." Black men are also referred to as "bucks" and women as "wenches."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

People take snuff and chew tobacco, and adults drink and get drunk, sometimes to extremes. Boys are given a bit of whiskey with sugar.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a classic by Mark Twain. The novel includes frequent use of the "N"-word (and other now-dated terms), but the book is clearly anti-racist and anti-slavery. Children, especially younger ones, may need some help seeing how Twain uses the racist talk to show the stupidity of racism and the characters who espouse it. Huck has been taught to be racist, too, but he overcomes this, even though he thinks doing so is wrong -- a clever approach that may be too sophisticated for some young readers to understand without help. There's also some violence and several deaths, including two children.

User Reviews

Parent of a 3 year old Written bykyle17 September 20, 2010
love it
Parent of a 9 year old Written bySonofKatieElder January 23, 2012

great read

N_gger references now inappropriate yet well used by the author to show the crass stupidity and ignorance prevelant at the time. Discuss how words become ina... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old June 11, 2011

Great book, iffy 13+

Extremely good. It can be very iffy though, regular uses of the N word, Huck smokes, adults get drunk, child abuse, killings, animal abuse, racism, violent sugg... Continue reading
Kid, 12 years old April 25, 2011

The only problem is the n word

I love this book, but it has 156 uses of the N-word. But aside from the mind-numbing overload of racism, this is a great classic any 5th grader should read.

What's the story?

Huck Finn, cruelly abused by his drunken father, joins up with Jim, a runaway slave, and heads down the Mississippi River on a raft. Along the way, they encounter a deadly feud, a pair of con artists, and other characters from the pre-Civil War South. All the while, Huck's conscience and basic decency wrestle with his society-bred ideas about race and slavery and right and wrong.

Is it any good?

There's a reason why many consider THE ADVENTURES OF HUCKLEBERRY FINN to be one of the great -- if not the greatest -- American novel. It broke many of the literary rules of its time and thus set the pattern for much of American literature ever since. It's told in first-person dialect by a great-hearted but ignorant bumpkin of a boy who understands far less than the reader but who knows how to follow his heart over his head. And it deals forthrightly, and scathingly, with racism, the great American problem.

Those who attempt to ban this book (and it is one of the most frequently challenged, year after year) can't see the forest for the trees. They see the liberal use of the "N" word and assume it's racist, when in fact it's just the opposite -- it's a powerful, and powerfully moving, statement against racism (as well as slavery, war, and a host of other American problems). Despite its flawed final section, when Tom Sawyer reappears and the author reverts to the style of that lighthearted, lightweight book, this remains, more than 100 years after its publication, a book that every teen should read.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the book's racist characters. Why did Twain put them there? Did he agree with what they're saying? How have feelings about the "N"-word (and other words used here) changed since Mark Twain's day?

  • What do you, the reader, understand in this story that Huck doesn't understand? How does Twain use Huck to convey his messages? What are those messages?

  • Why do you think so many people consider this to be a great work of American literature? What do you think of the final section, when Tom Sawyer reappears in the story? Does it fit with the rest of the book? Why or why not?

Book details

For kids who love coming-of-age reads

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