Book Review: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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Rarely is a sequel better than the original, but The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn certainly surpasses its predecessor (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer) in a way a Scary Movie sequel can’t.

What it's about

Meet Huckleberry Finn, a boy who was taken in by a town widow and her sister (guess they didn’t have child services in those days; just widows that did good deeds). Huck is not really a fan of being told what to do, but he tolerates his guardian and goes to school and learns to read.

Keep in mind that child custody wasn’t easy in those days, and soon Huck’s alcoholic father comes back to town in order to get the money that Huck received in the first book. A local judge rules that Huck gets to stay with the widow, and the dad doesn’t like this one bit…so he kidnaps his own son.

Huck doesn’t like being a prisoner (obviously). He fakes his death and hides out on an island in the river. That’s where he runs into a slave named Jim, who is also in hiding. We gotta respect Huck at this point – during the height of American slavery, the kid doesn’t tell on Jim but rather decides to help him run away.

The buddies head down the river, seeking a passageway to the Free states like Ohio. Without GPS in those days, navigation was tricky and the guys accidentally end up farther down the Mississippi river and deeper into the slave-ridden South.

Along the way, the guys meet two white con artists who cause a lot of trouble in the towns the group visits, eventually going as far as to sell Jim into slavery. Huck takes action and decides to free Jim.

Now things get a little soap opera-ish: the family that owns Jim is Tom Sawyer’s aunt and uncle. To free Jim, Huck pretends to be Tom, and when Tom actually arrives for a visit, Tom pretends to be his younger brother Sid.

Nevertheless, after a mission to free Jim that ends up with Tom getting shot in the leg, Tom reveals that Jim was actually free all along (his former owner’s decision), and Tom was just playing around. Needless to say, Huck is a little more emotionally invested in the well-being of Jim than Tom is.

Your favorite part will be…

Huckleberry Finn is gutsy. He doesn’t necessarily do what adults always tell him because he thinks for himself and weighs what is best for him.

The cause-y angles

Human Rights

Huck knows that the law defines Jim as property, but he feels like helping the man to freedom is the right thing to do. This leads Huck to often lie to slave-hunters and others, pretending that Jim is his slave in order to protect the man.

Discrimination

Huck struggles to shed the prejudice that his world has ingrained in him; surrounding characters use racial slurs dozens of times to refer to Jim and other slaves. Ultimately, the boy knows that Jim is his friend. He makes it his mission to free the man toward the end of the novel due to the relationship that they have developed.

Similarly, Jim breaks down racial barriers in the name of friendship and decency. After he and Huck are separated, Jim could’ve continued on his way with the raft but instead saves Huck from the Granderford and Sheperdson quarrel. Also, when Tom Sawyer is shot, Jim makes the difficult choice to return to slavery in order to nurse Tom back to health.

Child Abuse

People keep adopting Huck right and left because they recognize how badly his father mistreats him. The dad physically beats his boy, and at one point kidnaps him and locks him up in a cabin for days.

Education

Huck has been homeless often in his life, and he has had little opportunity for schooling. In the beginning, his guardian Widow Douglas makes sure he goes to school. For a time, Huck even enjoys that he’s learning to read.

Though the author ultimately makes an case for real life education over formal schooling. Huck is street smart – he hatches plans to help Jim to freedom, creates plots to restore the Wilks sisters’ fortune, and escapes dangerous or violent situations.