Cultural Context

In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Jolly Flat Boat Men
What values or emotions does this image depict? According to this image, what was life on the river like?

Some say this engraving captures the real frontier spirit of the mid1800s in America. What do you suppose is meant by this? Do you agree?

The Robert E. Lee Steamboat
Many steamboats in the South were named after famous people from the past. What does this tell you about Southern culture or values in the 1800s?

How would you compare the idea of the Mississippi in this picture with the idea conveyed in the Jolly Flat Boat Men ?

Southern Lifestyle
Why would Americans moving west in the mid-1800s have especially wanted to settle and develop towns along the Mississippi river?

In Huck Finn, the river is Huck s escape route to get away from his father and the town. But escape down the river could never have taken Huck far from civilization. Why?

What do these images of southern plantations tell you about what people in the south valued at this time in history?

The Southern Family

What does this image tell you about life in the South?

In what ways did life differ for white families vs. black families in the South?

When you think of Southern Ladies what do you think of? How does that perception compare to the view expressed in the images below?

God bless you massa! You feed and clothe us. When we are sick you nurse us, and when we are too old to work, you provide for us!

These poor creatures are a sacred legacy from my ancestors and while a dollar is left to me, nothing shall be spared to increase their comfort and happiness.

Most historians would say this drawing gives a very romantic view of plantation life. What do they mean by this? Do you think this drawing s view of slavery was sometimes true or never true?

If this drawing s view of slavery were true, would that make slavery more acceptable? Why or why not?

What do these images tell about slavery in the South that the last image did not?

This illustration shows one of the saddest and most frightening moments that could occur in the life of any slave in the U.S. Can you explain what is happening ?

This editorial cartoon is about the South in the years just after the Civil War. What is going on in the image?

The shield in the center shows an African American family and the words Worse than slavery. What problems do you think former slaves faced after the Civil war that were worse than slavery? Do you think conditions were actually worse?

1808: Illegal to import slaves 1835: Twain born 1835-1845 :Setting of the novel 1863:Emancipation Proclamation 1865: end of Civil War 1870-1880: period in which Twain wrote Huck Finn 1910: Twain dies

The issue of slavery is central to the entire novel. Yet Mark Twain wrote the novel in the 1870s and 1880s, after slavery was abolished. Why would Twain write a book about slavery after it was over?

Three possibilities: ‡ The book is a historical novel meant to remind people about the injustice of slavery. ‡ The novel is actually about on-going racial injustice in the South and the nation as a whole in the late 1800s. ‡ Slavery is used in the novel as just one example of humanity s ability to accept various forms of cruelty and injustice.

Good readers consider the context of a novel as well as the novel itself. Thinking about the times in which Twain wrote Huck Finn will help you understand the reason he wrote it and what we, as readers, are supposed to take away from our reading of the novel.

The Controversy

Why are books banned?
‡ Look at the list of 50 of the most banned books. Circle any you ve read, underline any you ve heard of before. Why do you think these books were banned? ‡ Should books be banned?

Should books be banned?
‡Some books contain such evil or harmful messages that the public needs to be protected from them. (e.g. Mein Kampf ) ‡Children and teenagers are impressionable and are more likely to believe or behave in a certain way if the see or read about someone else doing it first. (e.g. violence in video games) ‡School is not the appropriate place for books that can be considered offensive or prejudiced.

‡It is not the role of the government, schools, or libraries to decide what people can and cannot read. People should be allowed to decide for themselves. ‡If we try to outlaw books or protect people from certain ideas, they will only try harder to seek them out.

‡School is the appropriate place for books that are controversial because controversial books can teach us a lot about the world we live in.

What does this have to do with Huck Finn?
‡ "Huckleberry Finn" was ranked as the fifth most frequently challenged book in the United States by the American Library Association. ‡ Controversial in death as he was in life, Mark Twain has been seriously accused by some of being a "racist writer," whose writing is offensive to black readers, perpetuates cheap slave-era stereotypes, and deserves no place on today's bookshelves.

Why is the book considered racist?
Mark Twain uses the n word over 200 times. ‡ Who uses it? ‡ Why do you think Twain chose to use it? ‡ Does the time period it was written in matter? ‡ Does the time period it takes place in matter?

A few more things to consider while you read:
‡ Society s laws vs. Higher Moral Values ‡ How do personal journeys help us discover our values? ‡ How are stereotypes reinforced/combated? ‡ Is the book racist? ‡ Is it a children s book? ‡ If you can use the ideas in the novel to answer these questions, congratulations! You ve got the right idea!

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