Study Guide for Huckleberry Finn themes
One of the most prominent Huckleberry Finn themes is racism and slavery. Mark Twain wrote The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn after slavery had been abolished, and he was known to be against slavery. While reading the novel, think about one of the main characters and what he has to do with slavery. The character is Jim, and he is a runaway slave.
When thinking or writing about this theme, you should explore the entire book and the events that surround Jim. For example, Huck struggles with his friendship with Jim or getting a reward for him when he dresses up like a girl and goes into town to see how people are mourning his death. What does Huck decide to do? How does this emphasize Mark Twain's feelings about slavery?
Another example is at the end of the story when Jim is sold to some of Tom Sawyer's relatives, and Tom and Huck decide to rescue Jim from slavery. When thinking about these events in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, ask yourself why it is so important for Huck to rescue Jim from slavery. What does this say about Huckleberry Finn and his character?
Another important Huckleberry Finn theme is freedom. Mark Twain explores freedom right along with slavery in this novel. Freedom is important to both Jim and Huck Finn. It's obvious that freedom would be important to Jim since he has spent his life as a slave, and he is running away from his master. But why is freedom so important to Huck Finn?
Think of the what Huckleberry Finn goes through in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to get his freedom. He fakes his own death to get away from his drunk, mean pa. He runs away from the widow who is trying to civilize him and take care of him, so he can be free. He risks his life on the Mississippi River on a raft with a runaway slave, so he can be free. Obviously, Huckleberry Finn is willing to risk just about anything for his freedom, just like Jim, even though their circumstances are completely different.
Another obvious theme in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, one of the most popular Mark Twain books, is adventure. Think about the basic plot of the novel. Jim and Huck Finn are looking for their freedom on a raft, sailing down the Mississippi River. That's an adventure right there. But then all kinds of things happen to them while they are on the raft, including a steamboat running into them and separating them. They meet up with criminals and become wrapped up in their schemes -- more adventure.
Ironically, at the beginning of the novel, Huckleberry Finn is complaining to Tom Sawyer that he is tired of just "playing" adventure with Tom and his friends. He wants a real adventure. Think about the fact that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; and in the first book, Tom and Huck come away with a treasure--quite an adventure. So, it is natural for a boy, who has had a such a great adventure, to be bored with just playing. Soon after Huck complains, his pa shows up, and the real adventure begins!
Another theme of Huckleberry Finn is money and greed. Money and greed are problems for Huck Finn and Jim throughout The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. When reading Mark Twain books, it is fairly easy to see how Mark Twain felt about certain topics. In this novel, it is easy to see that he doesn't think rich people always make the best choices, and money can often cause more problems than people need.
What are some examples in the story where money or greed cause problems for the characters? Look at the beginning of the book. Why is Huck Finn's pa back? What does he want? He wants Huck's money. Think of the rich people who "adopt" Huckleberry Finn after his raft is hit by a steamboat. How do these people act? What does Huck Finn think about his "new family?"
At the end of the novel, Jim is sold into slavery for money! Again, money and greed cause problems. What other examples can you find of this theme in the novel?