Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is widely regarded as one of the cornerstones of American literature. Mark Twain wrote this novel during the Reconstruction era after the Civil War, in response to the newly enacted Jim Crow laws. Teaching students about this background, as well as the historical context of slavery, Sentimentalism, and the Second Great Awakening will help them better understand the novel. Students should also know what satire is, so they can elucidate how Twain satirizes these aforementioned institutions and movements.

In recent decades, Huck Finn has become controversial for its use of the n-word. Before starting this book, your class can discuss race in America, with particular focus on the nineteenth century. This conversation will place the dialogue in historical context and help students understand why Twain, an abolitionist, would use such a racial slur in his book. After reading the novel, students can discuss how race and racism are portrayed in the book, with particular focus on Jim, his humanity, his degree of agency, and how he is racially stereotyped.

1. Summarize Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

After Huckleberry Finn acquires money and is adopted by Widow Douglas, who tries to civilize him, he is kidnapped by his drunken father. Huck runs away to avoid his father's abuse and encounters Jim, a runaway slave. Together, the two journey down the Mississippi River, where they deal with slave catchers and con artists. Over the course of their adventures, Huck gains new insight on slavery and morality.

Content Warning: This novel contains some profanity, including racial slurs.

2. Identify Objectives for Teaching Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:

  • Trace Huck's maturity and understanding of his world.
  • Discuss the cruelty of slavery and the dehumanizing of African Americans by the white nineteenth-century culture.
  • Discuss the restrictions on one's freedom in town life, as opposed to the freedom to live outside civilization.
  • Note and discuss the objects of Twain's satire.
  • Point out differences between the author's and the narrator's point of view.
  • Determine how the second half of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn seems like a different book

3. Pinpoint Key Facts and Literary Elements

Key Facts

  • Allusion
  • Dialect
  • First-Person Point of View
  • Hyperbole
  • Irony
  • Malapropism
  • Metaphor
  • Satire
  • Symbolism

Literary Elements

  • Length: 288 pages
  • Lexile Measure: 980
  • Publication Date: 1884
  • Recommended Grade Band: 9 – 10

4. Understand Themes and Motifs

  • Racism — During his journey on the river with a runaway slave, Jim, Huck confronts the realities of racism within society.
  • Identity — Huck's journey is one of growth; he learns about where he fits in his Southern society.
  • Morality —  The ethical issues of slavery are brought into full focus as Huck experiences the negative aspects of his world.

5. Explore Related Works

Theme of Racism

Theme of Identity

Theme of Morality

6. Employ Films and Other External Resources

  • There are a number of film adaptations; the best-known version is the 1993 movie, The Adventures of Huck Finn, directed by Stephen Sommers. However, while this film is true to the spirit of the book, it focuses primarily on the first half and leaves out large chunks of the novel, including Tom Sawyer.
  • Mark Twain Biography
  • Historical context
  • PBS Teacher's Guide
  • Teaching Resources

7. Consider What Your Students Will Love

  • Understanding the historical context of the story and the harsh racism that was present in the South
  • The amount of adventure in the story
  • The themes that are still relatable in today's world

8. Anticipate What Your Students May Struggle With

  • Understanding the historical context of the story and the harsh racism that was present in the South
  • Understanding the regional dialects

9. Order Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Resources from Prestwick House:

Resource Format
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Paperback Student Edition
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn AP Teaching Unit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Activity Pack Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Response Journal Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Multiple Critical Perspectives Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Complete Teacher's Kit Reproducible Downloadable 30-Book Set

More Teacher's Guides to Literature:

See all our Teacher's Guides to Literature here.