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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

Hilariously picaresque, epic in scope, alive with  the poetry and vigor of the American people, Mark  Twain's story about a young boy and his journey  down the Mississippi was the first great novel to  speak in a truly American voice. Influencing  subsequent generations of writers -- from Sherwood  Anderson to Twain's fellow Missourian,  T.S. Eliot, from Ernest Hemingway and William  Faulkner to J.D. Salinger --  Huckleberry Finn, like the river  which flows through its pages, is one of the great  sources which nourished and still nourishes the  literature of America.

Excerpt

CHAPTER 1

You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly--Tom's Aunt Polly, she is--and Mary, and the Widow Douglas is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before.

Now the way that the book winds up is this: Tom and me found the money that the robbers hid in the cave, and it made us rich. We got six thousand dollars apiece--all gold. It was an awful sight of money when it was piled up. Well, Judge Thatcher he took it and put it out at interest, and it fetched us a dollar a day apiece all the year round--more than a body could tell what to do with. The Widow Douglas she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldn't stand it no longer I lit out. I got into my old rags and my sugar-hogshead again, and was free and satisfied. But Tom Sawyer he hunted me up and said he was going to start a band of robbers, and I might join if I would go back to the widow and be respectable. So I went back.

The widow she cried over me, and called me a poor lost lamb, and she called me a lot of other names, too, but she never meant no harm by it. She put me in them new clothes again, and I couldn't do nothing but sweat and sweat, and feel all cramped up. Well, then, the old thing commenced again. The widow rung a bell for supper, and you had to come to time. When you got to the table you couldn't go right to eating, but you had to wait for the widow to tuck down her head and grumble a little over the victuals, though there warn't really anything the matter with them--that is, nothing only everything was cooked by itself. In a barrel of odds and ends it is different; things get mixed up, and the juice kind of swaps around, and the things go better.

After supper she got out her book and learned me about Moses and the Bulrushers, and I was in a sweat to find out all about him; but by and by she let it out that Moses had been dead a considerable long time; so then I didn't care no more about him, because I don't take no stock in dead people.

Pretty soon I wanted to smoke, and asked the widow to let me. But she wouldn't. She said it was a mean practice and wasn't clean, and I must try to not do it any more. That is just the way with some people. They get down on a thing when they don't know nothing about it. Here she was a-bothering about Moses, which was no kin to her, and no use to anybody, being gone, you see, yet finding a power of fault with me for doing a thing that had some good in it. And she took snuff, too; of course that was all right, because she done it herself.

Her sister, Miss Watson, a tolerable slim old maid, with goggles on, had just come to live with her, and took a set at me now with a spelling-book. She worked me middling hard for about an hour, and then the widow made her ease up. I couldn't stood it much longer. Then for an hour it was deadly dull, and I was fidgety. Miss Watson would say, "Don't put your feet up there, Huckleberry"; and "Don't scrunch up like that, Huckleberry--set up straight"; and pretty soon she would say, "Don't gap and stretch like that, Huckleberry--why don't you try to behave?" Then she told me all about the bad place, and I said I wished I was there. She got mad then, but I didn't mean no harm. All I wanted was to go somewheres; all I wanted was a change, I warn't particular. She said it was wicked to say what I said; said she wouldn't say it for the whole world; she was going to live so as to go to the good place. Well, I couldn't see no advantage in going where she was going, so I made up my mind I wouldn't try for it. But I never said so, because it would only make trouble, and wouldn't do no good.

Now she had got a start, and she went on and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do there was to go around all day long with a harp and sing, forever and ever. So I didn't think much of it. But I never said so. I asked her if she reckoned Tom Sawyer would go there, and she said not by a considerable sight. I was glad about that, because I wanted him and me to be together.

Miss Watson she kept pecking at me, and it got tiresome and lonesome. By and by they fetched the niggers in and had prayers, and then everybody was off to bed. I went up to my room with a piece of candle, and put it on the table. Then I set down in a chair by the window and tried to think of something cheerful, but it warn't no use. I felt so lone-some I most wished I was dead. The stars were shining, and the leaves rustled in the woods ever so mournful; and I heard an owl, away off, who-whooing about somebody that was dead, and a whippowill and a dog crying about somebody that was going to die; and the wind was trying to whisper something to me, and I couldn't make out what it was, and so it made the cold shivers run over me. Then away out in the woods I heard that kind of a sound that a ghost makes when it wants to tell about something that's on its mind and can't make itself understood, and so can't rest easy in its grave, and has to go about that way every night grieving. I got so downhearted and scared I did wish I had some company. Pretty soon a spider went crawling up my shoulder, and I flipped it off and it lit in the candle; and before I could budge it was all shriveled up. I didn't need anybody to tell me that that was an awful bad sign and would fetch me some bad luck, so I was scared and most shook the clothes off of me. I got up and turned around in my tracks three times and crossed my breast every time; and then I tied up a little lock of my hair with a thread to keep witches away. But I hadn't no confidence. You do that when you've lost a horseshoe that you've found, instead of nailing it up over the door, but I hadn't ever heard anybody say it was any way to keep off bad luck when you'd killed a spider.

I set down again, a-shaking all over, and got out my pipe for a smoke; for the house was all as still as death now, and so the widow wouldn't know. Well, after a long time I heard the clock away off in the town go boom--boom--boom--twelve licks; and all still again--stiller than ever. Pretty soon I heard a twig snap down in the dark amongst the trees--something was a-stirring. I set still and listened. Directly I could just barely hear a "me-yow! me-yow!" down there. That was good! Says I, "me-yow! me-yow!" as soft as I could, and then I put out the light and scrambled out of the window on to the shed. Then I slipped down to the ground and crawled in among the trees, and, sure enough, there was Tom Sawyer waiting for me.

CHAPTER 2

We went tiptoeing along a path amongst the trees back toward the end of the widow's garden, stooping down so as the branches wouldn't scrape our heads. When we was passing by the kitchen I fell over a root and made a noise. We scrouched down and laid still. Miss Watson's big nigger, named Jim, was setting in the kitchen door; we could see him pretty clear, because there was a light behind him. He got up and stretched his neck out about a minute, listening. Then he says:

"Who dah?"

He listened some more; then he came tiptoeing down and stood right between us; we could 'a' touched him, nearly. Well, likely it was minutes and minutes that there warn't a sound, and we all there so close together. There was a place on my ankle that got to itching, but I dasn't scratch it; and then my ear begun to itch; and next my back, right between my shoulders. Seemed like I'd die if I couldn't scratch. Well, I've noticed that thing plenty times since. If you are with the quality, or at a funeral, or trying to go to sleep when you ain't sleepy--if you are anywheres where it won't do for you to scratch, why you will itch all over in upward of a thousand places. Pretty soon Jim says:

"Say, who is you? Whar is you? Dog my cats ef I didn' hear sumf'n. Well, I know what I's gwyne to do: I's gwyne to set down here and listen tell I hears it ag'in."

So he set down on the ground betwixt me and Tom. He leaned his back up against a tree, and stretched his legs out till one of them most touched one of mine. My nose begun to itch. It itched till the tears come into my eyes. But I dasn't scratch. Then it begun to itch on the inside. Next I got to itching underneath. I didn't know how I was going to set still. This miserableness went on as much as six or seven minutes; but it seemed a sight longer than that. I was itching in eleven different places now. I reckoned I couldn't stand it more'n a minute longer, but I set my teeth hard and got ready to try. Just then Jim begun to breathe heavy; next he begun to snore--and then I was pretty soon comfortable again.

Tom he made a sign to me--kind of a little noise with his mouth--and we went creeping away on our hands and knees. When we was ten foot off Tom whispered to me, and wanted to tie Jim to the tree for fun. But I said no; he might wake and make a disturbance, and then they'd find out I warn't in. Then Tom said he hadn't got candles enough, and he would slip in the kitchen and get some more. I didn't want him to try. I said Jim might wake up and come. But Tom wanted to resk it; so we slid in there and got three candles, and Tom laid five cents on the table for pay. Then we got out, and I was in a sweat to get away; but nothing would do Tom but he must crawl to where Jim was, on his hands and knees, and play something on him. I waited, and it seemed a good while, everything was so still and lonesome.

As soon as Tom was back we cut along the path, around the garden fence, and by and by fetched up on the steep top of the hill the other side of the house. Tom said he slipped Jim's hat off of his head and hung it on a limb right over him, and Jim stirred a little, but he didn't wake. Afterward Jim said the witches bewitched him and put him in a trance, and rode him all over the state, and then set him under the trees again, and hung his hat on a limb to show who done it. And next time Jim told it he said they rode him down to New Orleans; and, after that, every time he told it he spread it more and more, till by and by he said they rode him all over the world, and tired him most to death, and his back was all over saddle-boils. Jim was monstrous proud about it, and he got so he wouldn't hardly notice the other niggers. Niggers would come miles to hear Jim tell about it, and he was more looked up to than any nigger in that country. Strange niggers would stand with their mouths open and look him all over, same as if he was a wonder. Niggers is always talking about witches in the dark by the kitchen fire; but whenever one was talking and letting on to know all about such things, Jim would happen in and say, "Hm! What you know 'bout witches?" and that nigger was corked up and had to take a back seat. Jim always kept that five-center piece round his neck with a string, and said it was a charm the devil give to him with his own hands, and told him he could cure anybody with it and fetch witches whenever he wanted to just by saying something to it; but he never told what it was he said to it. Niggers would come from all around there and give Jim anything they had, just for a sight of that five-center piece; but they wouldn't touch it, because the devil had had his hands on it. Jim was most ruined for a servant, because he got stuck up on account of having seen the devil and been rode by witches.

Well, when Tom and me got to the edge of the hilltop we looked away down into the village and could see three or four lights twinkling, where there was sick folks, maybe; and the stars over us was sparkling ever so fine; and down by the village was the river, a whole mile broad, and awful still and grand. We went down the hill and found Joe Harper and Ben Rogers, and two or three more of the boys, hid in the old tanyard. So we unhitched a skiff and pulled down the river two mile and a half, to the big scar on the hillside, and went ashore.
Mark Twain

About Mark Twain

Mark Twain - Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Mark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in 1835, led one of the most exciting of literary lives. Raised in the river town of Hannibal, Missouri, Twain had to leave school at age 12 and was successively a journeyman printer, a steamboat pilot, a halfhearted Confederate soldier, and a prospector, miner, and reporter in the western territories. His experiences furnished him with a wide knowledge of humanity, as well as with the perfect grasp of local customs and speech which manifests itself in his writing.

With the publication in 1865 of The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County, Twain gained national attention as a frontier humorist, and the bestselling Innocents Abroad solidified his fame. But it wasn't until Life on the Mississippi (1883), and finally, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), that he was recognized by the literary establishment as one of the greatest writers America would ever produce.

Toward the end of his life, plagued by personal tragedy and financial failure, Twain grew more and more pessimistic—an outlook not alleviated by his natural skepticism and sarcasm. Though his fame continued to widen—Yale & Oxford awarded him honorary degrees—Twain spent his last years in gloom and exasperation, writing fables about "the damned human race."
Praise

Praise

This slender graphic adaptation of the Great American Novel preserves some of Twain’s language, most of his plot and a good sense of his sardonic take on human society. Mixing dialogue balloons with enough boxed narrative to evoke Huck’s distinctive voice, Mann packs in all of the major incidents and tones down at least some of the violence — the two con men are only “punished” here rather than specifically tarred and feathered, for instance. Similarly, though Huck gets viciously slapped around by his father in the pictures, in general there isn’t much other blood visible. . . . A good choice for readers who aren’t quite up to tackling the original, with perfunctory but well-meant notes on Twain’s life and the history of slavery in the United States. Co-published with its prequel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

Kirkus Reviews

"I highly recommend Campfire’s comics. They do what they are intended to do and do it in  a way that excites kids about classic literature."

— Chris Wilson, The Graphic Classroom (a resource for teachers and librarians)
Discussion Questions|Teachers Guide

Discussion Guides

1. Critics have long disagreed about exactly what role Jim plays in Huckleberry Finn. Some have claimed, for example, that his purpose is solely to provide Huck with the opportunity for moral growth, while others have argued that he is a surrogate father figure to Huck. What do you think is Jim's role in the novel?

2. The ending of Huckleberry Finn has been the source of endless critical controveryse. Though no less than T.S. Eliot and Lionel Trilling defended the ending on the grounds that it is structurally coherent ("It is right," Eliot stated, "that the mood of the book should bring us back to the beginning"), many critics feel that the return of Tom Sawyer and his elaborate scheme for Jim's escape reduces what had been a serious quest for freedom to a silly farce. Bernard de Voto wrote, "In the whole reach of the English novel there is no more aburpt or more abrupt or chilling descent." How does the ending strike you?

3. The Mississippi can be considered a character in its own right in Huckleberry Finn. Discuss the role of the river in the novel.

4. How do humor and satire function in the book?

5. Critic William Manierre argued in a 1964-65 essay that "Huck's 'moral growth' has...been vastly overestimated," noting for example, that when his conscience begins to give him trouble, he decides he will "do whichever came handiest at the time," and that while Huck can be seen to achieve a kind of moral grandeur when he tears up the note he's written to Miss Watson, that achievement is underminded by his easy acceptance of Tom Sawyer's scheme in the last ten chapters. Do you agree or disagree?

6. In "The Greatness of Huckleberry Finn," Lionel Trilling stated that the style of the book is "not less than definitive in American literature," and Louis Budd has noted that "today it is standard academic wisdom that Twain's precedent-setting achievement is Huck's language." Discuss the effect of Twain's use of colloquial speech and dialect in the novel.

Teacher's Guide



NOTE TO TEACHERS

A Note to Teachers

"The Mississippi is well worth reading about. It is not a commonplace river, but on the contrary is in all ways remarkable."

The first two sentences of Mark Twain's Life on the Mississippi--written concurrently with Adventures of Huckleberry Finn--are a fitting introduction to Huck's book. They apply not only to the river that flows through Twain's great novel, shaping its form and action, but to the book itself and its main character. Both Huck and his wonderful book are "in all ways remarkable."

This Comprehensive Edition of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn includes passages, episodes, and variations present in Twain's first handwritten manuscript--the first half of which was long lost but rediscovered in 1990. The chronology of Twain's composition of the book is, briefly, as follows. In 1876, while reading proofs of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, he began work on "another boy's book" and completed a first draft through Chapter XVI. He wrote five more chapters in 1879 and 1880, through the Grangerford-Shepherdson feud and the Sherburn-Boggs incident. Stymied once more, he laid the manuscript aside. In 1882, a long summer trip on the Mississippi resulted in renewed inspiration, and he completed the book over the next eighteen months.

Included in this edition are thirty facsimile pages of Twain's rediscovered manuscript, as well as a 31-page "Textual Addendum," which discusses "some of the more exciting, amusing, significant, and thought-provoking variations now available..." Each item in the "Textual Addendum" is keyed to the appropriate facsimile manuscript page(s) for convenient reference.

Today, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn stands as a central document--some would say the central document--of American literature and as an acclaimed classic of world literature. Its impact on American writers who came after Twain has been enormous. In his "Introduction," Justin Kaplan articulates the essential point: "By writing in Huck's voice and from Huck's point-of-view and raising the boy's first-person, semiliterate regional vernacular to an astonishing level of naturalness, descriptive power, and lyricism, Mark Twain not only revolutionized the art of American storytelling but also enlarged its social range." Perhaps V. S. Pritchett, the eminent British short-story writer and critic has put it most succinctly: "Huckleberry Finn takes the breath away."

Ideally, your students will have completed some preparation before reading Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. That is to say, they will have acquired some understanding of the history and consequences of slavery in the United States, of the tradition of humor in American literature and journalism, and of the social realities of life on the American frontier. Such study and discussion are not necessary, but will facilitate a fuller understanding of this American classic.

The most frequently attacked aspect of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is its wholesale use of the word, nigger. As Justin Kaplan points out, the word appears 215 times in the book. Its use in any but the most formal and serious of contexts is as objectionable today as it was unremarkable in the nineteenth century. The best approach here, we believe, is one of honesty and historical accuracy. In Huck's and Jim's society, the word was used by blacks and whites alike to identify anyone of African heritage (and frequently of any nonwhite heritage). As used by whites, it was a term of disparagement and degradation. As used by blacks, it was a term sometimes of identification, sometimes of contempt; as either, it carried the burden of degradation imposed by the white masters and rulers. The fact is, the word was used by everyone, white or black. Mark Twain would most likely scoff at today's politically correct euphemism ("the 'N' word") and prefer to confront head on the word itself, its accumulated meanings, and the social, economic, and personal realities from which it sprang and which it continues to reflect.

As does every great novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn opens itself to a variety of approaches. Designed to guide your students through the richness of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the questions and topics that follow, organized in critical categories, are designed for a combination of approaches, including in-class discussion, individual study, and written or oral assignments. Suggested activities and research projects are included. Key themes in the novel--including the benefits and costs of individual freedom, the need for stable and nurturing family and social life, the values of caring and mutually respectful relationships, the charge to discern the truth behind surface appearances, the perception of the beauties, powers, and treasures of the natural world--will engage students in terms of their own lives and aspirations.

ABOUT THIS BOOK

About the Book

Now, in this extraordinary literary uncovering, the original first half of Mark Twain's American masterpiece is available for the first time ever to a general readership. Lost for more than a century, the passages reinstated in this edition reveal a novel even more controversial than the version Twain published in 1885 and provide an invaluable insight into his creative process. A breakthrough of unparalleled impact, this comprehensive edition of an American classic is the final rebuttal in the tireless debate of "what Twain really meant."

DISCUSSION AND WRITING

Comprehension & Discussion Questions

1. Why did Twain include the "Notice" on the opening page?

2. Can the book's 43 chapters be grouped according to distinct action sequences? Are there correspondences among chapters or groups of chapters?

3. Each stage of Huck's moral growth culminates in a crisis of conscience and a decision to assist Jim (as when Huck tells the two slave hunters that there is "only one" man on the raft and that "He's white"); and each decision is more consequential than the previous. What are these stages and decisions; when do they occur; and what are their consequences?

4. What are the consequences of Huck's and Jim's going past the mouth of the Ohio River in the fog? (Chapter XV)

5. Among the novel's great ironies is that Huck's and Jim's quest for freedom takes them farther and farther into the deep South, the heart of slavery. How and why does this happen? What are the implications?

6. The primary movement of Huck's and Jim's journey and of the novel is linear, from north to south. A back-and-forth pattern of movement between river and shore also occurs. How is this pattern important in terms of plot? How is it related to the north-to-south movement? Does it reflect any other kind of movement experienced by Huck or Jim?

7. How do the king and the duke impact Huck's and Jim's life on the raft, their quest for freedom, and the novel's movement?

8. What are the parallels between the king's and duke's treatment of Jim in Chapter XXIV and Tom Sawyer's treatment of him in the final chapters?

9. The cemetery passage in Chapter XXIX is one of the few times when Huck is in immediate danger of actual harm or death. What are some similar incidents? What threatens his safety and well-being in each instance--other people or forces of nature? How does he escape in each instance?

10. Do the final chapters, beginning with Huck's arrival at the Phelps farm, rely too much on coincidence? Do Tom Sawyer's elaborate escape stratagems indicate that Jim's and Huck's goals are unobtainable?

Is there any justice in the fact that only Tom is wounded in the final chase through the swamp?

The story is told by a fourteen-year-old Huck, who admits to elaborate lies and fabrications. Can we trust him? Can we accept his version of things, or must we read between his lines?

ABOUT THIS GUIDE

This teacher's guide was written by Hal Hager. Hal Hager, presently director of Hal Hager & Associates, taught American literature for ten years at the college level, including courses and seminars on the American novel and on Mark Twain. He received his bachelor's degree, summa cum laude, from Fordham University and his M.A. from New York University, where he was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow. He is a member of Phi Beta Kappa. He has been active for more than twenty years in editing, marketing, reviewing, and writing about books. Immediately prior to establishing Hal Hager & Associates, he was Editorial Director at Baker & Taylor.


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