‘The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn’: Masterpiece Or Controversial Relic?

As the classical piece of English literature celebrates its 138th anniversary, we take a look at the novel that embodies the essence and character of 19th century America.

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Following the positive reception of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Samuel Langhorne Clemens, more commonly known as Mark Twain, would follow up with a sequel to Tom Sawyer with The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Set in the Midwestern state of Missouri, the novel introduces us to Huckleberry Finn, the son of an alcoholic who stages his murder in an attempt to escape from home. The book follows his adventures and touches heavily upon the relevant themes of race, identity, and the entrenched attitudes regarding the concepts of slavery and freedom.

The classic novel has faced both positive reviews and sharp criticism since its initial publication; even having been censored and banned in schools across the US due to its offensive nature. Despite its divided reception, is The Adventures of Tom Sawyer still worth reading after 138 years? We examine what Mark Twain’s novel has to offer and the message it carries.

The Pursuit of Freedom

Huckleberry Finn, or “Huck”, is a run-away from home who reunites with an escaped slave by the name of Jim. Jim is an intelligent, well-spoken, honorable, and loyal individual despite not having received an education. Huck, on the other hand, is of good nature and serves as a sharp contrast to the glaring prejudice often faced by African-Americans. The two become close on their travels along the Mississippi River as they are shown to share similar dreams of freedom.

An illustration of Huckleberry Finn and Jim on their makeshift raft floating along the Mississippi River. 

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

Slavery Huck Freedom


The initial reviews for The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn varied in their degrees of praise or outright criticism. Some labeled Mark Twain’s latest novel as yet another example of his literary proficiency and excellent sense of humor condensed into this satirical take on the common American tropes of freedom and identity. The author’s ability to entrance the readers into following the pair on their adventures and against all pre-existing notions regarding race relations is nothing short of Mark Twain’s genius.

Others criticized the book as nothing more than hapless fiction with an incredibly volatile array of vocabulary unsuitable for a literary piece. Indeed, Mark Twain’s novel contains many coarse, vulgar, and outright racist expressions as was typical in American society during most of the 19th century as well as following the post-Civil War era. Additionally, it was thought that the portrayal of Jim contained many stereotypical traits, contributing to its widespread dismissal by critics.

Illustration taken from the novel to demonstrate a potential stereotypical portrayal of the character.

In Defense of Mark Twain

The inclusion of racial epithets, while not acceptable in any sphere of society, does a fine job of demonstrating the accuracy of the Southern atmosphere and state of prejudice that towered over the Black population during the age of slavery. It is important to keep context in mind with the usage of such vocabulary, considering the fact that these words were seen as nothing out of the ordinary for Americans at the time, despite their unacceptable nature today.

The stereotypical portrayal of Jim does not appear to contain malice from the author, who in turn, chooses to show Jim as an honest man with dignity amidst his predicament as a runaway slave. To understand history, curious minds should be aware of all sides of the story. Banning books serves to inspire ignorance in the face of reality, no matter how controversial it can prove to be. It is important to understand the historical significance of why we consider certain phrases or ideas to be unacceptable today.

Book Title Image.

Final Thoughts

Should you still read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in an age where the past is subject to heavy scrutiny and strict judgment? Absolutely. Mark Twain’s novel serves to inspire confidence in humanity by bridging together two worlds through the relationship between Huckleberry and Jim while dismantling the preconceived notions about race held by the author’s contemporaries. The book has stood the test of time and remains one of the Great American Novels.

To read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn for yourself, be sure to check it out here! For more information on Mark Twain, Bookstr has what you need.