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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Suggested Essays

by Mark Twain

Suggested Essay Questions

  1. Select five characters that Twain does not admire in Huck Finn. Name and describe the specific traits that each possesses that makes him or her not an admirable person.
  2. Select five characters that Twain does admire. Name and discuss the specific traits that each possesses that makes him or her admirable.
  3. Violence and greed are motivations of much of the action in this book. Discuss, giving at least three examples of each.
  4. Mark Twain was able to find humor in situations that most people would regard as serious. Discuss and provide specific references from the novel.
  5. Some critics claim that Jim is Huck's "true father." Defend or refute this statement.
  6. Discuss the qualities Huck posesses which are necessary for survival on the frontier. Give specific examples from the novel.
  7. What is the symbolic importance of the setting of the novel (land vs. river)?
  8. What does the reader infer about Twain's attitude towared slavery and racism?
  9. Discuss how the river provides freedom for Huck.
  10. What is "civilization" in the mind of Huck?
  11. Discuss how Huck grows as a person; what life lessons does he learn from his encounters on the river?
  12. Although Mark Twain, in his introductory "notice" to the novel, denies that there is a moral or motive in the story, the work itself contradicts its author. How?
  13. Discuss the role of religion in the novel.
  14. Discuss Huck as an archetype hero.
  15. What does Twain admire in a man and what is he contemptuous of?
  16. This novel is also a satire on human weaknesses. What human traits does he satirize? Give examples for each.
  17. What evidence do you find of Twain's cynicism?
  18. Discuss three recurring motifs (any idea, object, feeling, color, pattern, etc. which repeats itself) in the novel. Give specifics.
  19. Discuss the role of superstition in the novel. Explain how Twain criticizes superstitious beliefs and give specific examples.
  20. Appearance versus reality is a major theme in Huckleberry Finn. Using specifics from the book, discuss this very prevalent theme.
  21. How does Huck search for a family? What does he find and what does he learn?
  22. How is Huck's trip down the river actually a passage into manhood?
  23. How would you defend Huckleberry Finn against charges of being a racist novel?
  24. Huckleberry Finn has been called the "Great American Novel." However, it is the sixth most frequently banned book in the United States. Discuss why this masterpiece is banned mostly in Christian academies and in all black institutions.
  25. Explain how the American Dream is or is not achieved by three characters in this novel. Begin by explaining what each character holds as his or her American Dream.
  26. Discuss how Huck displays several textbook characteristics of the child of an alcoholic.
  27. Analyze and trace the moral maturation of Huck Finn. Discuss the events that disgusted and depressed him, the coping skills that he learned, and his actions and the circumstances for such.
  28. "Picaresque" is a word used to describe a character who comes from a low class of society, is poor, lives by his/her wits, travels, and has eposodic adventures. Using specific examples and quotes from the novel, explain how Huck is a picaresque figure.
  29. A persona is an alternate name and personality uses for many different reasons. Discuss the many personas used in the novel.
  30. Discuss the similarities and differences between Jim and Pap, as parents.
  31. If you had to name a modern day Huck Finn who would it be?
  32. Explain how Huck's loss of innocence as a boy is symbolic of America as the country moves towards the Civil War.
  33. Compare and contrast Realism and Romanticism in the novel.
  34. Select two of the social institutions (i.e. democracy) at which Twain pokes fun. Use specific references to show how he accomplishes this.
  35. What do you think makes this novel an important record of American culture?
  36. Point out the weak and strong character traits in Huck. How do his character and personality compare with those of Tom Sawyer?
  37. Lionel Trilling says that Huck possesses a sense of humor. Do you think this is so? Site examples for a yes or no answer.
  38. A major unifying element in the novel is illusion (pretense) vs. reality. Find examples. Explain their significance to Twain's overall themes.
  39. Identify the literary techniques used by Mark Twain in Huckleberry Finn. Consider techniques such as: figures of speech, language, narrative techniques, sentence structure, diction, organization, syntax, detail, structure, imagery, irony, and tone.
  40. How does Mark Twain create a humorous effect (exaggeration, irony, satire, understatement)?
  41. How does Twain use satire to expose and criticize human failings?
  42. Discuss Jim as a Christ figure.
  43. As a way of illustrating his theme, Twain deliberately sets certain events with Huck and Jim on the river and others on the shore. Compare and contrast the major events on the river with those on the shore and develop a supportable thesis for why you think he makes the choices he does. How do these choices subtly reinforce his theme? Back up your thesis with specific quotes and detailed explanations.
  44. Discuss how Twain criticises the values of Southern society by showing the difference between Huck's acquired values and his own innate sense of goodness.
  45. Discuss the theme of individual conscience verses society and how it relates to the theme of freedom in the novel.
  46. Authors often use dramatic irony to define something. Describe how Mark Twain uses dramatic irony to define "freedom."
  47. In some ways Huck's story is mythical but it is also an anti-myth -- a challenge to the deceits which individuals and cultures use to disguise their true natures from themselves. In the midst of this deceitful culture, Huck stands as a peculiarly honest individual. Discuss, referencing the novel.
  48. Discuss the Civilized, Primitive, and Natural Man in Huck Finn.
  49. Huck is born into nature, but is morally influenced by society.How does the book show Huck's development into trusting his natural morals again?
  50. Discuss historical revisionism and whether Huck Finn should be part of a high school curriculm.
  51. The overall American critical reaction to the publishing of The Adventures of Huck Finn in 1885 was summed up in one word: "trash". Louisa May Alcott (author of Little Women and Little Men) said, "If Mr. Clemens cannot think of anything better to tell our pure-minded lads and lassies, he had better stop writing for them." The Public Library Committee of Concord, Massachusetts excluded the book as "a dangerous moral influence on the young." Defend or refute the position that the novel is indeed "trash" with evidence from the text to support your claim.
  52. Compare and contrast Rule of the Bone by Russell Banks with Huckleberry Finn.
  53. Twain's writings were directly affected by him growing up in Hannibal. How did Twain write about himself through the characters Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer as well as through many others?

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