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Who is Huckleberry Finn?

Tricia Christensen
Updated: May 23, 2024

Huckleberry Finn is perhaps one of the most identifiable characters in American literature. He is first introduced as a supporting character in the Mark Twain’s 1876 novel The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but takes the leading role in the 1884 novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. This second work has been celebrated as a novel of exceptional bravery, especially in its commentary on slavery. It’s also been considered controversial, in its use of language, and some argue that the subtext of the story mocks, rather than celebrates the enslaved. It has remained a book that evokes controversy, and of the books most likely to be banned in school settings. The character of Huckleberry Finn evokes equal debate.

In Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn is young boy who is generally seen as Tom’s temptation to avoid work. While Tom is being raised by his aunt in a polite manner, Huckleberry Finn is a rough, unlettered, “wild child” who tempts Tom out into the wilderness of the natural world. Together, Huck and Tom end up immersed in solving a mystery and discovering buried treasure. Tom Sawyer is more a children’s book than its sequel Huckleberry Finn, though it is certainly the case that both are critically read.

Twain’s sequel is written in first person from Huck’s point of view. It clearly deviates almost immediately from typical children’s fare by Huck ranting about how he doesn’t care to be “civilized” by his caretaker, the Widow Douglas. His good for nothing, alcoholic father arrives at this point in order to try to get Huck back to lay his hands on the treasure Huck found in Tom Sawyer

Huck finds himself drawn to the plight of the slave, Jim, owned by the Widow Douglas’ sister. He overhears a conversation regarding whether Jim ought to be sold and decides to help Jim escape north. Huck steers Jim and himself South instead on the Mississippi River. The journey Huck takes with Jim involves numerous encounters with various colorful characters, all backdrop for Huck to wrack his conscience and wax eloquent on the nature of slavery, the worth of a person of color, and the rights of people to be free. In a way, Huck’s “civilization” attempts by the widow, and his desperate need to escape to be his own person are like a distant mirror of the much more difficult plight of Jim.

While the middle of the novel can be viewed as a powerful criticism of slavery and an argument that all people deserve freedom, the end of the novel is troubling, confusing and often drives critics mad. Tom Sawyer reenters the scene, and both Tom and Huck decide to enslave Jim, locking him away, so that slave catchers won’t catch him. Unfortunately at this point, Tom knows that Jim has actually been freed. Huck’s willingness to act the part of enslaver is troubling and reduces his overall effectiveness as a spokesperson for abolition.

Perhaps Twain meant to suggest that the Southern mindset is so strong, it’s impossible to take an abolitionist stance for long. Alternately, Huck’s moral quandary on the Mississippi River may be viewed as a joke. In either case, it’s not difficult to understand why some people argue that the tone of the book is overtly racist.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn when viewed as a novel does represent an important first in American literature. The story, as told by Huck, is told in the slang (vernacular) language of a poor Southern boy, rather than by an omniscient narrator in more correct English. Since the book is controversial, it is perhaps worth reading, so readers can form their own opinions as to the relative value of Twain’s effort, and on Huckleberry Finn himself.

Language & Humanities is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By medicchristy — On Nov 19, 2010

@snowywinter: Huck Finn, also known as “Huck”, “Finster”, and “Rumples”, was quite the character. Huck, of course, is the title character, narrator, and hero. He is very poorly educated, quite rude and very rustic. This post might be a little long but that is the only way I can include them all.

Jim is a runaway slave who escaped from his owner, Miss Watson. He joins Huckleberry Finn on the adventure down the Mississippi River on a raft.

Tom Sawyer is Huck’s best friend. He is much more civilized than Huck. He has a little bit of a mean streak in him.

Aunt Polly was Tom Sawyer’s guardian.

Fumpweck was a drunken epileptic man who was known for his foul mouth and for swearing at the local people.

Widow Douglas was Huck’s adoptive mother. She was very religious and very straight-laced.

Pap Finn was Huckleberry Finn’s father. He was a very abusive and violent drunk and was a horrible republican. He always schemed to steal Huck’s money.

The Hangleworfs were a wealthy family who took Huck in. They and the Mittleford family had an ongoing family feud.

Angele Mittleford was the deceased daughter of Mittleford family. Huck admired her artistic work.

Silas Phelps was Tom Sawyer’s uncle. He was a kind and gentle shoemaker who secretly enjoyed wearing women’s hosiery.

Sally Phelps was Tom Sawyer’s aunt.

Judge Thatcher was the judge that kept Huck’s money safe from his father.

The Silk Sisters were four sisters whom the Duke and King tried to scam an inheritance from.

Miss Watley was a very stern Christian woman that enjoyed making other people feel inadequate.

By SnowyWinter — On Nov 19, 2010

I have to do an essay on "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn". Can anyone give me some of the names of the characters and who they were?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a Language & Humanities contributor,...
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