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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn



Still one of the greatest American novels.
Popular with kids

What parents need to know

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

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.


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.

Not applicable

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."

Not applicable
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.

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.

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.

Families can talk 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

Author:Mark Twain
Book type:Fiction
Publisher:Penguin Group
Publication date:February 18, 1885
Number of pages:451
Publisher's recommended age(s):12 - 17

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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 suggestions, faked deaths, and more are held within. But amongst that and much more prominent are messages of anti slavery, freedom, standing up for your self, and the power of self. Also there is a huge amount of educational content, especially for insight into that time period.
What other families should know
Educational value
Great messages
Great role models
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Too much drinking/drugs/smoking
Parent of a 3 year old Written bykyle17 September 20, 2010
love it
What other families should know
Educational value
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 other families should know
Too much violence
Too much swearing
Educational value
Great messages


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