Literary Devotional: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain’s The Adventure of Huckleberry Finn (1884) remains one of the most widely read piece of nineteenth-century American literature.  Though much has been made of its history as a banned book, it is an entertaining, moving story that appeals to younger and older readers alike.

Huck Finn is a young boy from the town of St. Petersburg, Missouri.  Because Huck’s father, Pap, is a violent drunk and often absent, Huck lives in the care of an old widow, whose attempts to “sivilize” Huck cause the boy much consternation.  When Pap returns to town, he kidnaps the boy to a remote cabin, beating him viciously.  To escape, Huck fakes his own death and ventures onto an island in the middle of the Mississippi River, where he encounters Jim, a runaway slave owned by the sister of Huck’s caretaker.

Huck and Jim set off down the river in the raft, encountering a rogues’ gallery of criminals, slave hunters, con men, and other examples of the worst society has to offer.  After myriad misadventures, Jim is captured but eventually rescued by Huck and his friend, Tom Sawyer.  Ultimately, all are returned to safety, and at the end of the novel, Huck decides that he wants to go off and explore the still untamed American West.

The novel centers on Huck’s development and his struggles to reconcile the dictates of society with his own feelings and instincts, especially regarding his relationship with Jim.  Growing up in the South, Huck has long been taught that it is wrong to help an escaped slave.  But Jim—by far the most caring and decent character in the novel—quickly becomes the object of Huck’s trust and almost a father figure.  In the end, Huck comes to understand that society’s rules are not always correct and that his own sense of right and wrong is often the more valuable guide.

Note: This excerpt is taken from The Intellectual Devotional by David S. Kidder and Noah D. Oppenheim. ©2006 Rodale

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