Huckleberry Finn Discussion Questions

One quick note: I accidentally wrote Tom Sawyer in one place on last week’s post.  We are discussing Huckleberry Finn on Wednesday night and not Tom Sawyer — I apologize for any inconvenience. I just noticed my error.

Questions on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

  • Why does Twain warn us not to analyze the story? (Dare we discuss the novel for an hour?)
  • Why did Twain write in dialect? Did you like or dislike reading in dialect?
  • If you’ve read Tom Sawyer, how is Huck’s story similar or different? Did reading Tom Sawyer or not matter to your reading of Huck Finn?
  • In what ways is the novel a satire of society?
  • How are Tom and Huck similar/different? How are Jim and Huck similar/different?
  • What role does superstition play in the story?
  • When Huck finds out that searchers are headed to Jackson Island to search for Jim, he doesn’t hesitate to return to Jim. He says, “they are after us!” when really, the searchers are after Jim. Why does he, too, flee down the river?
  • What do we learn about Huck after the episode of the wreck? What do we learn about Jim?
  • Grangerford and Shephersons: Why does Twain include this violent episode?
  • The Duke and the King: Who are they? Why are they on the river? Why do they stay with Huck? Why does Huck stay with them?
  • How does the tone of the novel change when Tom reappears in it?
  • Jim’s escape from the Phelps’ farm is a farce. Why did Twain write it as such?
  • To help Jim escape, Tom wants to do things they way they’ve always been done, even if tradition doesn’t make logical sense. How were other characters in the novel similar?
  • Huck Finn is a thirteen-year-old boy. Why does Twain use a child as the center of consciousness in this book?
  • Consider the role of lying in the book. Why is there so much lying? Is this an “immoral” book?
  • Consider the role of family units. Huck and Widow Douglass/Miss Watson; Huck and Pap; Huck and Jim; the Grangerfords; etc.
  • Discuss the place of morality in Huckleberry Finn. In the world of the novel, where do moral values come from? The community? The family? The church? One’s experiences? Which of these potential sources does Twain privilege over the others? Which does he mock, or describe disapprovingly?

Main themes/issues

  • Slavery and racial division (Example: Consider Huck’s relationship to Jim throughout the novel)
  • Christianity (Example: Consider Huck’s spiritual progress throughout the novel)
  • Superstition (Example: Consider Jim’s expertise in superstition and how it influences Huck)
  • Freedom versus civilization (Example: Consider the raft versus the towns on the river)

Characters

  • Tom Sawyer
  • Huckleberry Finn
  • Miss Watson & Widow Douglas
  • Pap Finn
  • Jim
  • Grangerfords and Shephersons
  • The Duke and the King
  • The Wilks’ family (Mary Jane, Peter Wilks, Harvey and William Wilks)
  • The doctor in the Wilks’ town
  • Aunt Sally Phelps

Chapter Summaries

If you haven’t reread the book but you’ve read it in the past, here is a chapter summary to refresh your memory. I hope you still come to the discussion Wednesday night!

Explanatory Note: Twain warns not to analyze the story for “motive” or “moral” or “plot.” He explains that he writes the characters in dialect.

Chapter 1: Huck refers to Tom Sawyer’s story (which was in Twain’s Tom Sawyer).  Huck talks about his new life with the Widow Douglas.

Chapters 2-3: Tom Sawyer’s Gang and their dealings. Widow Douglas teaches Huck about prayer. Pap Finn is supposedly found drowned.

Chapter 4: Fortune telling with Jim. Huck gives money to Judge Thatcher. Pap returns.

Chapters 5-6: Pap is given custody of Huck, and at first Huck likes “freedom.” Huck tries to escape because Pap’s beatings are so bad.

Chapters 7: Huck finds a canoe on the river and stages his own murder.

Chapter 8: Huck contemplates prayer and superstition when he finds a loaf of bread that was meant to find him. He meets Jim on the island and rejoices in the companionship, all the while struggling with the fact he’s not turning in an escaped slave.

Chapters 9-10:  It rains for 12 days and Huck and Jim stay sheltered on an island. A house floats by with a dead man inside. They take supplies. Jim gets a rattlesnake bite when Huck tempts their luck.

Chapter 11: Huck sneaks to town for news. When he finds out searchers are headed to the island, Huck quickly returns and the two escape down the river.

Chapters 12-14: Huck and Jim travel nights. Stopping to search a wreck, they lose their raft, and then take the skiff of criminals also on the wreck. Huck leaves word with a ferryman to save the others. Then, Huck reads to Jim from books about royalty and they debate Solomon’s wisdom.

Chapter 15: Huck and Jim are separated in a deep fog and Huck plays a joke on Jim when the fog clears. Jim declares that friends should not treat each other like that, and Huck apologizes.

Chapter 16: Huck determines to turn Jim in, but when he gets the chance, he continues to hide Jim. The raft is destroyed and Jim and Huck are separated.

Chapter 17-18: Huck stays with the Grangerfords, who are in the middle of a feud with the Shepherdsons. This feud only stops for church. A Grangerford daughter elopes with a Shepherdson and war breaks out. Huck and Jim escape together (Jim has repaired the raft).

Chapter 19-20: The Duke and the King. Huck finds two con artists looking for escape and he lets them on the raft. One claims he is a duke, and the other claims he is the rightful King of France. The King cons money from those at a camp meeting.

Chapters 21-23: The con men practice Shakespeare. In a small town, a man kills a townsman who has been bothering him and the town wants to lynch him. The Duke and King con the town into a “show” and then flee on the raft with the money. Huck is amazed at Jim’s emotions for his family.

Chapters 24: The Peter Wilks’ fortune. The con men scam a town into believing they are the English brothers arrived to inherit Peter Wilks’ fortune.

Chapters 25-28: Huck is increasingly uncomfortable with the scam. The servant asks him about England; he can’t keep his lies straight. He finds where the con men hid the gold and hides it in the coffin (unintentionally). The Duke and the King sell the estate. Mary Jane is heartbroken at the break-up of a slave family, and Huck admits the scam and promises to help.

Chapters 29-30: The true brothers arrive in town; the fraud is discovered. Huck is told he is not good at lying. When the gold is discovered on the dead man’s chest, Huck and the con men flee. Huck and Jim are disappointed when they find they still aren’t free from the con men.

Chapter 31: The con men sell Jim for $40. Huck feels guilty for caring about Jim. He prays to be better and writes a letter to Miss Watson telling where Jim is. Then, he recalls the good moments he had with Jim and tears up the letter: “You can’t pray a lie.” He plots to steal Jim free.

Chapter 32-33: The Phelps’ Farm. Huck goes to the house where Jim is held and is welcomed as Tom Sawyer. He intercepts the true Tom Sawyer, who promises to help get Jim out of slavery.  Huck wants to warn the con men but is too late. “Human beings can be awful cruel to each other.”

Chapters 34-38: Huck has a logical plan for getting Jim out but Tom insists they do it as in the prison novels he’s read. They resort to “make-believe” when the “traditional” way is too hard.

Chapters 39-40: The boys captures animals for Jim’s “prison” and plan an escape. A crowd of townsmen come to stop it. Tom is shot and Jim refuses to leave, sacrificing his freedom for his friend.

Chapter 41-end: Injured Tom is brought back, and Jim re-jailed. Tom brags of his role in the escape; tells that Jim is free, as the late Miss Watson freed him. Huck says he’ll run so he won’t be “sivilized.”

3 Comments

Filed under Book Discussion

3 responses to “Huckleberry Finn Discussion Questions

  1. siham

    i want an answer for lhe last question please.Discuss the place of morality in Huckleberry Finn. In the world of the novel, where do moral values come from? The community? The family? The church? One’s experiences? Which of these potential sources does Twain privilege over the others? Which does he mock, or describe disapprovingly?

  2. Our moral values come from within. Think about how Huck feels about Jim? Does he know Slavery is wrong? Is Huck a bad person? What constitutes a bad person. This is something we must all figure out for ourselves; however, society often likes to dictate this for us. Hope this helps Siham.

  3. Amanda

    Great questions! I will work with these questions when I read the book during the holidays for a course at school :)

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