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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
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THEMES

"What is the book about?" can be a tricky question. The plot of almost any novel can be summarized in a few sentences, but those sentences might tell very little about what goes on in the book.

Most good books are about dozens of things-plot, several characters, general setting, specific scenes, dialogue, symbols, description, implication, and on and on. And when you get to talking about a book that has been read and loved for more than a century, it's almost impossible to nail down exactly what it's about. Still, there are some general statements that can be made about the book, each of them at least partially true.

It's possible to read Huckleberry Finn with only one of these statements in mind and still get a lot out of it. But your reading will be more satisfying if you can keep them all in mind. After you've read the novel, you can decide for yourself which of them come closest to saying what Huck Finn is really about.

Here are some general statements about Huck Finn:

1. Huck Finn is an adventure book about the escapades of a boy who has run away from home. The main character is candid, trustworthy, and funny, and he offers us a boy's-eye view of the interesting characters he meets during his trip.


2. Huck Finn is a novel about growing up. Huck not only runs away from his father, he also undertakes to make it on his own. Before he can, he has to go through certain rites of passage, which will allow him to enter the adult world. Helping a slave to escape is one of these rites, since it forces Huck to make decisions about right and wrong, decisions that will determine the kind of adult he will be.

3. Huck Finn is a satire of the American South in the 19th century. Slavery is its main target, but it attacks many human traits and institutions. As likable as he is, even Huck is the object of satire, especially his attitude toward blacks.

4. Huck Finn is an allegory about God and man. The Mississippi River is a god that provides both beauty and terror. Huck represents mankind's need to retreat (at least from time to time) from the real world and to take solace in the pleasures of religion.

5. Huck Finn is an allegory about good and evil. Huck represents the forces of good, and most of the people he meets represent evil. Although he doesn't win all his battles against evil, he never gives in to it. The ending of the book is a pessimistic statement about man's ability to overcome evil.

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