The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
What parents need to know
Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that this classic 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?
Is Huck a racist? Why does he believe he'll go to hell for doing what we now consider the right thing? Why does he do it if he thinks it's wrong?
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 reappears in the story? Does it fit with the rest of the book? Why or why not?