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English 11 Honors: American Themes

The picaresque novel (Spanish:

"picaresca", from "pcaro", for "rogue" or "rascal") is a popular sub-genre of prose fiction which is usually satirical and depicts in realistic and often humorous detail the adventures of a roguish hero of low social class who lives by his or her wits in a corrupt society.

Ignatius J. Reilly

Raoul Duke

Candide Don Quixote

Mark Twains novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, is a picaresque novel:


episodic plot a unifying theme of the river characterization of Huck Finn as

a rogue hero

The novels periodic plot is demonstrated by

Hucks many adventures in separate episodes having independent conflicts. The conflicts that govern Hucks encounters with people are very different and disconnected from one another.
the dishonest and devious king and the duke:

involves two crooks the Grangerford family: involves a long-standing family feud between the Grangerford and Sheperdson families Colonel Sherburn: involves a Colonel defending his honor

Though episodic in nature, the story

nevertheless holds together because of the river and the constant presence of Huck as narrator.
Every episode in the book takes place

along the banks of the Mississippi River, as Huck and Jim travel down the mighty river, trying to find Cairo.

The River gives the book its form. But for the River, the book might be

only a sequence of adventures with a happy ending (T.S. Eliot)

Water diction is used to purvey a sense of the unifying river in the book. As Huck and Jim raft down the river from Jackson Island, Huck

comments: Two or three days and nights went by; I reckon I might say they swum by, they slid along so quiet and smooth and lovely (129).

The river physically holds the story together and also underlies the

whole novel.

The picaresque novel is a witty, satirical form that

revolves around the exploits of a lower-class hero of dubious morals, often called a rogue hero. This hero lives by his wits as he moves through the various strata of his society. The hero is constantly in and out of trouble but often uses his street-smarts to emerge from compromising situations.(Gary Weiner)

Huck can be characterized as having dubious morals through

his actions and reasoning.


Huck justifies some of his immoral actions, such as stealing,

by using his paps own actions as a precedent.

As Huck tells the reader during the preparations to help Jim

escape from the Phelps residence, Along during that morning I borrowed a sheet and white shirt off of the clothesline [] I called it borrowing because that was what Pap always called it [] (256).

Rogue heroes travel through

various social classes Through the episodes that Huck experiences, Twain presents the many levels of antebellum Mississippi valley American social classes.
Huck starts traveling with Jim, a runaway

slave, down the Mississippi river, and eventually befriends him, a lower class individual.

Another facet of the picaresque hero is Hucks constant entanglement

with trouble.
Each episode that Huck experiences, embroils him in that conflict until

he escapes to stumble into the next conflict.


In his attempts to escape from trouble, Huck often inadvertently

stumbles into more trouble.

Huck fulfills the fourth criterion for a rogue hero by

using wits and practical knowledge of the world to avoid or escape from trouble. Whenever Huck is tangled in a problem, he concocts a story for himself on the spot and manages his way out of trouble.

An episodic plot and Huck Finn as a rogue hero establish Mark Twains

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn as a picaresque novel.


The plot consists of many episodes with separate and disconnected

conflicts, all bound by the river.


Huck Finn can be characterized as a rogue hero, thus fulfilling all the

necessary criteria for the picaresque novel.


Dubious Morals Social Strata In and Out of Trouble Street Smarts