Teaching the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Term Paper

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Education - Teaching Methods

Teaching the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn stands apart from other great literature, making it a prime text for students from junior high to adulthood. The text forces discussion on many levels, and teaching it requires in-depth looks at history, satire / humor, and realism in literature. Additionally, preparation for the subject requires at least some discussion of race, as it cannot be avoided when teaching Huckleberry Finn. Those who have worked with the text offer many theoretical and methodological frameworks to assist teachers in the classroom.

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Fishkin argues that Huckleberry Finn remains difficult to read and teach despite its prevalence as a classic literature text in schools (133). This in no way means that the text is too difficult to teach or that it is not worth teaching. Rather, it is a challenge for teachers to address Huckleberry Finn in a methodical manner, incorporating tested classroom tools to explain the key elements of the text. Since satire and realism are the two prime teaching objectives of teachers who have chosen Huckleberry Finn, it is important to understand how other factors contribute to that understanding. By giving students a working knowledge of Twain's life and a historical perspective on the book's setting they will better be able to grasp the more challenging concepts surrounding satire and realism. Finally, the discussion of race must also be addressed in the discussion of Huckleberry Finn; not only does Twain's use of race in the story serve as a literary device on many occasions, but it also becomes an incredible distraction for students if it is not properly talked about before reading the book.

Historical Perspective

TOPIC: Term Paper on Teaching the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Assignment

Fishkin argues that historical perspective in one of the primary difficulties in understanding Huckleberry Finn (par. 1). This is particularly true in the understanding of Twain's satire. As such, historical context should be discussed before and after the reading of Huckleberry Finn in all age-level classrooms. Three topics should be addressed in the classroom: a biographical sketch of the author; society and the social / geographical setting of Huckleberry Finn; and race in terms of society at the time of the novel.

Teaching Huckleberry Finn without looking into Twain's life denies students the chance to fully understand the satire and intentions of the book. Married to the daughter of an abolitionist, Twain was outspoken about slavery and lynching (Webb 1-5). Many facts about Twain's life, including his family's ownership of slaves during his childhood, should be presented to the class so that they can understand how he developed the stories and people in Huckleberry Finn.

After looking briefly at Twain's life, it will become obvious to students that life was drastically different in nineteenth century America. Finn is also a historical text, showing students how life in their own country has changed so drastically since the nineteenth century (4). Students will immediately recognize some of the differences between present day and the society of Huckleberry Finn. It is unnecessary to discuss historical facts in detail here. However, a topical discussion of the nineteenth century, including the development of slavery and Southern society is useful to students. Since setting is critical to Twain's novel, students should discuss and address how Twain's choice of location and setting affects the story as it develops (Edgar and Padgett 164-166).

Huck's abusive father is one example of how society was different during the book's timeframe than it is now. Differences should be identified in the classroom and discussed. Chapter Five is especially useful for exercises related to social differences; Huck's father's abuse, his abduction of Huck, his beliefs about the government and black people, and his opinions about school are all subjects of discussion for society (Edgar and Padgett 161-162).

Any discussion on the social aspects of Huckleberry Finn will arrive at the subject of race. Commonly teachers spend a great deal of time addressing Twain's portrayal of racial issues (Bollinger 32). In combination with historical perspective and Twain's biographical information, it should be established early that Twain was not a racist and that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is actually an anti-racist text (Webb 2). The use of the word nigger having been covered during a historical perspective, students should be directed toward the irony of a text with a strong anti-slavery moral being accused so frequently of racism (Webb 1-3).

Twain is most commonly accused of prejudice in his treatment of Jim. Jim is portrayed in many cases to seem stupid or to make up stories, including his tale about witches after Tom played a practical joke on him (Webb 3; Twain 6). There is no doubt that these portrayals are stereotypical; however, they are no more stereotypical than Twain's portrayal of Pap Finn as the southern hick. Additionally, teachers should explain that both stereotypes are necessary if Twain is to succeed in his satire of society (Webb 5). Additionally, Jim's emergence as a good man who has been deprived of personal freedom yet does not lack integrity defend the book against any claims of racial prejudice and also assist in the overall moral of Twain's tale (Ferris 4). In other words, the stereotypes are plot devices like any other.

Ferris argues that much of the concern and debate over race depends on the racial makeup and comfort of the local community (4). Webb confirms that classroom experience shows students react to the novel in accordance with their own cultural background (5). Climate and comfort in the classroom are important, too, particularly when teaching the text in mixed-race classrooms (Ferris 4). If a comfort level is achieved, teachers still should discourage students from using the word nigger in the classroom since the word no longer takes on the same meaning as it did when Huckleberry Finn was written (Ferris 4). By discussing the text openly without the use of inflammatory language and by focusing on the anti-slavery undertones, students are able to critically assess the text rather than focus on the non-issue of race.

Humor and Satire

Mark Twain's use of humor, satire, and irony in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is crucial to understanding why the novel is so important (Fishkin, 133). Addressing these attributes in the classroom takes a variety of approaches, many of which should be tailored to the individual students and classroom environment (Edgar and Padgett 158). However, many tools, including focus on various instructive passages, can assist the teacher in pointing out the humor and satire in the text. While it should go without saying, teachers should begin all Huckleberry Finn classes with a review of the differences between satire and irony ("Huck Finn in Context," par. 1).

Students will pick up on many different things depending on their age. Teachers can prepare for classroom discussion by choosing age-appropriate examples of humor tailored to what different age groups will find interesting and amusing. Younger children, for example, will find more humor in the superstition of many of Twain's characters, including the "farcical low comedy" of Tom and Huck's antics (Webb 1). More adept students will be able to understand and address the overall pointed social satire and Twain's commentary on southern life in general (Webb 1).

Particular attention should be paid to the early pages of the book in terms of humor and irony. From the very beginning Twain introduces Huck's innocence as humor (Carter 131). His style as a narrator is not boastful or even concerned with how he looks to others. By establishing himself as an unconcerned, realist narrator, Huck Finn allows to reader to see what he sees, no matter how simplistic. In his simplicity Huck often describes events that the reader can understand better than Huck, and this should be pointed out in the classroom. In fact, much of what Huck does not realize becomes the basis of Twain's humor and irony even from the first pages of the book. Before continuing deeper into the text, classroom discussion should identify what parts of Huck's initial narration strike them as odd, funny, or absurd. Carter points out that some strong examples are the very first sentence and Huck's reference to $6,000 "all gold" (131-132; Twain 1).

Similar absurdity continues throughout the text, as Huck comments on things without fully understanding them. Perhaps the best way to address the underlying humor in these situations is to have students identify what sections of the text are plainly absurd. Some students may not find these sections humorous because they initially may seem inappropriate. Carter points out the scene when Huck and Jim find the house of death and emerge from it in a joyful mood and with many bizarre objects (133). Perhaps most bizarre is Huck's commentary on the wooden leg, which neither he nor Jim could use but was recognized as being a perfectly good wooden leg (Carter 133).

Teachers many have an easier time pointing out the straightforward comedy of the text, including Tom's tricks and the incompetence of many of the novel's characters. Again, students… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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