Teaching Themes in Huckleberry Finn
The Themes at a Glance
Here are some of the common themes you will want to teach your students about Huckleberry Finn:
- Slavery: When Mark Twain wrote this book, slavery had been abolished; however, black people were still treated as second class citizens. The fact that Huck befriends Jim, a runaway slave, and saves him in the end plays on this theme.
- Freedom: Going hand in hand with the theme of slavery is freedom. Huck wants his freedom from his father. Jim wants his freedom to be a human being and be with this family.
- Adventure: One of the most entertaining Huckleberry Finn themes is the theme of adventure. At the beginning of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Huck is tired of "playing" at adventure with Tom Sawyer. Then his pa comes back and Huck's real adventure on a raft down the Mississippi River begins.
- Money/Greed: The characters in this Mark Twain book, who care more about money than people and are overcome by greed, are often suffering. This theme shows the reader that money and "being civilized" is not what is important in life--friends, family, honesty, loyalty--these are the important things. Huck's pa is a perfect example of the disastrous nature of greed.
Get Started Teaching
Finding and understanding themes is often a difficult skill for students; however, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has four themes that are fairly simple to identify. The most obvious theme to start teaching is slavery. When you are teaching Huckleberry Finn themes, start with the theme of slavery. Tell students that one of the themes of this Mark Twain book is slavery before they begin reading. Ask them to find examples of the theme when they are reading. They can jot down the page numbers or sentences about slavery on post-it notes or in their reading response journals while they are reading. Discuss students' findings periodically at the beginning of class during your unit on Huckleberry Finn.
When students finish reading the book, discuss the other three major themes: freedom, adventure, and money/greed. Since you have already told them one theme, ask them if they have identified any other themes in the story. Lead the discussion to these three remaining themes. Ask students to give specific examples from the text of the three themes. Examples: Freedom--Huck wants freedom from his pa. Adventure--Jim and Huck are on a raft in the Mississippi, and they are hit by a steamboat. Money/greed--Huck's time at the Hangleworfs.
Once you and your students have decided on these remaining three Huckleberry Finn themes, ask them to pick one of the four and write about it in their reading response journals. When they are writing about Mark Twain books, they can discuss events in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and connect these events to current events or their personal lives.