THE ADVENTURES OF HUCK FINN
SUBJECTS — U.S./1812-1860, Diversity & Missouri; Literature/U.S;
SOCIAL-EMOTIONAL LEARNING — Breaking Out; Running Away; Friendship;
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS — Trustworthiness and Caring.
AGE: 10+; MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some mild violence and language;
Drama; 1993; 108 minutes; Color. Available from Amazon.com.
FILM WORKSHEETS & STUDENT HANDOUTS
TWM offers the following movie worksheets to keep students’ minds on the film and to focus their attention on the lessons to be learned from the movie.
Teachers can modify the movie worksheets to fit the needs of each class. See also TWM’s Movies as Literature Homework Project.
Additional ideas for lesson plans for this movie can be found at TWM’s guide to Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories or Plays.
The film recounts most of Mark Twain’s classic story of an errant boy and his adventures on the Mississippi River prior to the Civil War. Huck can be seen as a young hero in a successful search for true individuality.
SELECTED AWARDS & CAST
Elijah Wood, Courtney B. Vance, Robbie Coltrane, Jason Robards;
BENEFITS OF THE MOVIE
Mark Twain’s novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn reveals the process by which a boy comes to the realization that despite the teachings of peers and elders, slavery is wrong and that true friendship transcends race and age. The 1993 version of the film holds the attention of young people and enables them to understand several of Twain’s powerful lessons whether or not they have read the book.
Using the discussion questions and writing assignments set out below students will be introduced to the themes of Mark Twain’s classic story and exercise analytical and writing skills.
Mark Twain’s novel faces considerable controversy because of the language, specifically the word “nigger.” The meaning of the word has changed over time and is now considered offensive hate speech or, ironically, a cool part of hip-hop culture. The character of Jim is somewhat stereotyped as an ignorant slave but he is also shown as a father who wants to be reunited with his family.
Give your child age-appropriate background about slavery in the U.S. and some geographical information about the Mississippi River. You may want to prepare your child for the use of the word “nigger” and make it clear that this word is never to be used, no matter the intention.
In the U.S., before 1860, almost everyone in the South and many in the North thought that slavery was a good institution. Most were taught in their churches that it was sanctified by the Bible and ordained by God. The abolitionists were a vocal minority in the North. While they had control of a few states their ideals were not popular with most Americans. In 1860, Abraham Lincoln was elected on a platform that would allow slavery to exist in the South; he just didn’t want it to extend to any new states that were to be formed from the Western territories. In the community in which Huck Finn grew up, as in all areas of the South, a belief in the righteousness of slavery was an important shared value.
The Mississippi River is the largest river in the United States flowing 2,348 miles from North to South. It begins in Minnesota and empties into the Gulf of Mexico below New Orleans. The Mississippi’s chief tributaries are the Ohio and Missouri Rivers. The Mississippi has been a major transportation artery of the United States since before the Louisiana Purchase. During the period of this story, steamboats were the principal means of transportation on the Mississippi.
Rivers have long served as symbols for freedom, escape, and new beginnings. In his writings, Mark Twain frequently used the Mississippi to help his readers visualize these concepts.
The United States is arguably the greatest democracy in the world. It was created by the first popular democratic revolution and inspired the French Revolution. Together, the American and French revolutions have served as inspiration for many other modern democratic revolutions, extending through to the Arab Spring of 2011. However, in the Continental Congress and the Constitutional Convention, the founding fathers of the United States found that a bargain with a peculiar type of devil was required to establish the new nation. That devil was slavery. In 1776, leaders of the Southern states saw that Great Britain would soon outlaw slavery in its colonies — it did so in 1833. In the Continental Congress, they demanded that the institution of slavery be protected as the price for agreeing to join the rebellion. This is why the Congress deleted from Jefferson’s draft of the Declaration of Independence a reference to slavery as an evil institution foisted on the colonies by the English king. The Constitution continued this bargain with the devil, failing to recognize slaves as citizens and protecting the property rights of slaveholders. In the Constitution, the abominable international slave trade was protected until 1801.
Until 1857, were an escaped slave to reach a free state, one that did not recognize the “right” of one individual to own another, the slave would be considered free. In 1857, however, the U.S. Supreme Court determined that the Fugitive Slave Law required public officials in the free states to catch, hold and then return runaway slaves to their owners. This ruling was intolerable to fair-minded people in the North and helped to ignite the Civil War.
Another law that worked against the elimination of slavery made it a crime to teach slaves to read. Slaveholders knew that if slaves became educated they would be more difficult to control and more likely to rebel. Huck’s companion on his adventure, an escaped slave named Jim, was illiterate. Jim and his family communicated with each other through letters written by others on their behalf. This is a common practice when many people cannot read. See Learning Guide to Roots Vol. IV and a short excerpt from Frederick Douglass’ autobiography detailing his decision to learn to read at whatever cost.
USING THE MOVIE IN THE CLASSROOM
Teachers can use the film in three ways: as auxiliary to a formal reading of the novel; as a story with all of the important elements of conflict, resolution and theme; and as an example of the Hero’s Journey of internal growth and development in a boy struggling with notions of individuality and righteousness. The first step for all three ways of using the movie is to make sure that the class knows the information in the Introduction section above.
The Movie as an Auxiliary to Reading the Novel
or as a Story on Its Own
As auxiliary to the novel, teachers should consider showing the film only after the book has been read and then having the students compare and contrast ideas presented in the movie and in Twain’s novel, noting especially ideas that the film does not address as well as shifts in characterization, complication, and resolution. Watching and talking about the movie can bring into sharp focus the lessons and ideas in the story.
The Huck Finn Film Study Worksheet
The Huck Finn Film Study Worksheet can be used by students who have read the book and by those who are experiencing Twain’s story through the movie. It will help focus viewers/readers on the ideas in the story.
Show the movie with two breaks. When Huck has escaped alone after having faked his own death, stop the movie and distribute the Huck Finn Film Study Worksheet. Give students a few minutes to make quick notes to themselves about the answers to questions 1 – 6. The second break should be when Huck has escaped to the river after the death of Billy Grangerford. Ask the class to quickly make notes on the responses to questions 7 – 11. When the film has been completed give the class a few minutes to take notes on the responses to the remaining questions. The full answers can be written out as class work or for homework. Another alternative is to ask students to provide answers in a class discussion.
The prompts in the Huck Finn Film Study Worksheet and suggested responses are set out below:
1. In the voiceover at the beginning of the film, Huck says that he had never known anyone who wouldn’t lie a little when the situation suited him. What specific situation was he talking about?
Huck lies so that he can spend his days as he desires instead of going to school.
2. Huck is in a fistfight, which ends when he sees a boot print in the mud. He knows that the boot belongs to his father, who has apparently been away and has now returned. What is the feeling engendered in Huck at this moment?
Huck fears his father more than anything; the anxiety he feels when he realizes that his father has returned causes him to drop everything and run even though he’s winning the fight.
3. At the séance, Huck is told that his father has two spirits, one good and one bad. His father listens to both voices and pays attention to the one that is more convincing. Later in the film Huck listens to two voices in his head as he must make important decisions. When do you hear Huck arguing with himself about what he should do?
The evening after he realizes that his father is back in town, one voice tells Huck to pack and run from his father while the other tells him to go on an adventure with his friends.
4. Huck makes a mistake that he says changed his life forever the evening after he sees his father’s boot print in the sand. What is the mistake and what does Huck learn from it?
Huck learns that he must take care of himself and forgo pleasure when important interests are at stake.
5. On the island, it appears that Huck may have to shoot his father in order to survive. Is it chance or a reasoned decision that keeps him from killing his father?
Huck seemed prepared to pull the trigger, however, luck was with him and his father passed out. It appears that Huck would have killed his father in order to survive, revealing the boy’s resilience and strength.
6. Huck says, “Now that I was dead I could go where I wanted and do what I wanted.” In what ways is this true and in what ways is this incorrect?
Huck can run away where his father can’t find him and beat him. He will also escape from the people who want to civilize him. Thus, he is free to be whom he pleases and to develop his own individuality. At the same time, he is not free to simply be Huckleberry Finn; he must disguise himself and he cannot go back home, except in disguise.
7. Jim and Huck have a conversation about the fact that Jim has run away from slavery. Huck, too, has run away. In what ways are their escapes alike and in what ways are they different? How do their motives for escape differ?
Huck could be seen as oppressed by his drunken father who beats him, imprisons him, and makes him work like a slave. Huck also feels oppressed by the many forces in his town that try to raise him up as a civilized boy. Huck escapes through the ruse that he was murdered. Jim escapes from slavery and wants the freedom to work on his own behalf, bring his family together, and learn to read. The difference is due to their age and circumstances. Huck is a child. Jim is a grown man with a family. Huck is white and free. Jim is black and a slave.
8. Huck and Jim steal and call it borrowing. When Jim said he felt guilty about stealing, Huck told him he would get over it. Later, Jim says he would steal his wife and children if he couldn’t work to buy them. This is a problem for Huck. What causes Huck to begin to change his mind about the morality of stealing things and saving a family from slavery?
Huck begins to see the impact on people of these two situations. He realizes that Jim’s family should be free and that stealing things from people causes pain and suffering and is therefore wrong. At the end of the story, he will no longer steal and he disrupts the plans of the King and the Duke to steal the inheritance from the Wilkinson girls.
9. On the river, when Huck worries about the fact that he is helping Jim escape from slavery he says he feels wicked and that he could feel the hand of God about to take a swing at him. This scares Huck into deciding to turn Jim into the authorities. The people Huck had known in his young life had used religion to justify slavery. There is an irony here. What is it?
One way to put it is that Huck was not a church-going religious person. He is not an avid church-goer and he would be fidgety and uncomfortable if he had to sit through a sermon. Yet when it comes to putting a man back into slavery, he fears the hand of God and gets all religious. This is a comment by Twain on religious people who do not act ethically. Another way to describe the irony of this scene was that in the name of religion Huck was about to do a terrible thing, put a man back into slavery where he would be separated from his family and whipped.
10. The feud seen in the episode between the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons shows Huck something important about himself and others. What does he learn during this time?
There are two good responses. First, Huck learns that the deadly feud has been going on for 30 years and his young friend does not know how it started. He sees that Sophie has no freedom to marry the boy she loves. He begins to learn the value of throwing off the constraints that society places on people. Second, this episode shows Huck how being a runaway slave seems to be a worse crime than murder. People Huck cares about are being hurt and this is intolerable to him.
11. Once Huck is back on the river he begins to feel better. What does he say about how the river makes him feel? What is it about the river that makes Huck feel this way?
Huck says that other places feel cramped and smothered while the river feels warm and safe and free. The river is wide and beautiful and always moving forward. It can move both Huck and Jim away from their troubles at least for a while. He sits and smokes his pipe and relaxes when he is on the river. The river is the strongest force of nature in Huck’s life and his love of the river shows his affinity for nature and the healing powers of nature.
12. The Widow Douglas tells Huck that just because an idea is popular, like slavery, it is not necessarily right. Huck seems to have learned this lesson earlier. What does Jim learn at the end of the story?
Jim learns that some white people can be righteous. He watched Huck change from someone who objected to a slave running away to someone who would risk his own life to help a friend, whether slave or free. He has been granted his freedom and given enough money to purchase his family out of slavery. Thus, Jim learns that not all white people are bad.
13. Huck hears the steamship at the film’s end. What does he do? What is he leaving behind that he had grown to appreciate during his adventure?
He throws his jacket off while he runs toward the river. He is running to his freedom; he does not want to be civilized. However, Huck had developed a deep friendship with Jim. He also learned to respect the very people who tried to civilize him and he has enjoyed the comfort and care they offered. By returning to the river, Huck leaves all of this behind.
14. Describe Huck’s parents. What bearing does this have on the universality story and on its description of a change in American attitudes?
Huck’s mother is dead and his father is the antithesis of everything that a father should be. The two sisters who are trying to raise Huck are a pale substitute for a mother. It’s a lot easier for Huck to run away from this situation. If he had a mother who loved him and cared for him, he would have responsibilities to her and his desire to run away would be much reduced. This argues against the universality of the story. However, to the extent that Huck stands for the American people and the development of his attitudes toward slavery mirror the journey of the nation’s attitude toward slavery, then Huck’s family situation works. The American people have no mother or father.
Huck Finn on a Hero’s Journey
Huck’s development follows the stages of the Hero’s Journey described by Joseph Campbell as the “Monomyth”. Huck’s Journey is one of internal growth and discovery. He goes from the view that slavery was ordained by God, a bedrock belief in his small Missouri town, to a realization that enslaving another is wrong and unjust. He grows from a child to a maturing individual who thinks for himself. To get there Twain takes Huck through many of the stages that Campbell later identified as the Hero’s Journey. Teachers can expand a classes’ experience of the movie beyond a basic “watch and compare” lesson by introducing this interpretation of the story.
Before showing the movie, have students read TWM’s handout The Hero’s Journey – Stages and Archetypes. This article describes a version of the stages and archetypes of the hero’s journey often used in film and will prepare students to identify those aspects of the story. Then have students review TWM’s Hero’s Journey Film Study Worksheet which summarizes the stages and archetypes of the Monomyth in a format that allows students to take notes. Show the film with several three to five-minute breaks to allow students to make their notations.
Once the film is completed the worksheets will support a number of activities or assignments. Students can write out responses to the worksheet prompts in sentences or paragraphs. They can work in class, alone or in teams, or they can formalize the responses as homework. The prompts can also serve as the basis for class discussion or the worksheet can serve as a test. Teachers can also beef up the assignment and turn it into a longer project requiring independent research and formal essays on topics suggested by the worksheet. See Hero’s Journey Projects below.
Suggested Responses to the prompts on the Worksheet are set out below:
I. Write a short single-paragraph description of the Hero’s Journey described in this story.
There are several possible ways to put it. One is that the journey is from being a child living in a community that tries to restrict Huck to having freedom and being his own person. Another is that the journey is to from blindly following the beliefs and customs of his community about slavery to thinking for himself and rejecting slavery.
II. For each stage of the Hero’s Journey describe the action of the film, if any, which manifests the stage. Specify the attributes of the stage to which these actions relate.
SECTION ONE — Introduction to Setting, Characters & Conflict
1. The Ordinary World: “What is life like for Huck before his father comes home and he is forced to run away?”
Huck’s ordinary world involves a life of playing hooky, fighting boys at the river’s edge, resisting the civilizing efforts of Miss Watson and the Widow Douglas, avoiding his father, and gathering help from practitioners of voodoo.
2. The Call to Adventure: “At what moment does Huck decide to run away and what calls him to make this decision?”
The call to adventure could be the appearance of Huck’s father after an absence of over a year. A better possibility would be meeting Jim on Jackson’s Island and hearing how much Jim wants to buy his family’s freedom.
3. Refusing the call: “What does Huck do to refuse the call to adventure?”
If the call to adventure is the decision at the séance to run away, the refusal of the call is when Huck leaves the raft to turn Jim in. Huck’s journey is to break from the conventions of his community and reject slavery. Fortunately, before it is too late, Huck realizes his error and pulls back.
4. Meeting with the Mentor: “Who does Huck meet that becomes a friend and a guide on his adventure?”
Huck’s mentor is Jim. Not only does Jim save Huck and give him advice, it is just knowing Jim that helps Huck along on his journey.
5. Crossing the First Threshold: “When does Huck first decide to go along with Jim on the adventure?”
This occurs when they meet up on Jackson’s Island and just after the call to adventure (when it is clear how much Jim wants to buy his family out of slavery). Huck agrees to help Jim get to Cairo so that Jim can reach the free states.
SECTION TWO — Action, Climax, Triumph
6. Tests, Allies, and Enemies: “Who helps Huck and who makes matters worse for him and Jim?”
Huck meets and bests enemies in the King and the Duke. He finds an ally in Billy Grangerford. The youngest Wilkinson girl is an enemy while the oldest is an ally.
7. Approach to the Inmost Cave: “When is the turning point, the moment in which Huck seems to decide completely what he must do and to accept all accompanied risks including the possibility of death?”
This occurs in the incident with the Wilkinson sisters. When he was with the Grangerford’s, Huck could accept seeing Jim enslaved again while Huck developed his friendship with Billy and enjoyed the hospitality of the family. However, with the Wilkinsons he can no longer steal or tolerate Jim being in prison. Another good response would be that the approach to the inmost cave occurs when Huck sees the wounds from the lashing on Tom’s back.
8. Ordeal: “What is the climax, or the peak experience in Huck’s adventure?”
This is the last adventure in the film (although not in the book), when Huck is trying to break Jim out of jail and help the Wilkinson sisters.
9. Reward: “What is Huck’s reward for supporting Jim in his search for freedom and making sure that the Wilkinson sisters are not robbed?”
Huck realizes the full value of both courage and friendship.”
SECTION THREE — Resolution and Denouement
10. The Road Back: “When Huck is shot as he and Jim are trying to escape, he is well on his way back to his own life. What new choices must he make now that he is being taken care of by the Widow Douglas and Jim has been set free?”
Huck now needs to decide whether to return to the river and keep his adventure going without Jim as a companion or to remain in the comfort of the care of Miss Watson.
11. Resurrection: “What happens to Huck when he gives the money he got from the Wilkes’ family to Jim so that Jim can buy his family out of bondage?”
The money will help Jim bring his family together as free people and Huck does not need the money to be free himself. This shows that Huck now completely understands the injustice in slavery and how friends must do whatever possible to help one another live free lives.
12. Return with the Elixir: “The scene that shows Huck listen to the boat whistle, run outside and throw off his jacket reveals an idea that Mark Twain thinks is the most important message in his story. This is the elixir that Huck Finn has brought back from his adventure for all of us. What does this scene mean to you?”
Answers will vary. Twain wants his readers to throw off the restraints, whatever they may be, that keep them from being the people they would choose to be. For Huck, the jacket is a symbol of the civilization that he wants to avoid and the river, towards which he runs, is a symbol for the freedom he longs to experience.
III. Identify the archetypes of the Hero’s Journey that appear in the movie and, for each, describe the function it performs in telling the film’s story. The following are the archetypes associated with the story of a quest.
1. The Hero:
Huck Finn is the hero of this story.
2. The Mentor:
Huck’s mentor is Jim. Not only does Jim save Huck and give him advice, it is just knowing Jim that helps Huck along on his journey.
3. Threshold Guardians:
Huck’s father, the widow Douglas and Miss Watson.
4. The Herald:
Jim serves this role, telling Huck to leave town to avoid his father.
The Duke and the Dauphin are shapeshifters, or at least, they try to be. However, they are not shapeshifters to Huck. He knew they were villains shortly after they shipped out on the raft. There are no real shapeshifters in this story.
6. The Shadow:
Huck’s shadow is the desire for conformity and the belief in the wrongheaded ideas of his community. This almost leads him to turn Jim in.
7. The Trickster:
Huck himself is the Trickster. He makes everyone think he’s been murdered.
IV. Describe any other archetypes that appear in the story and the functions they perform:
1. The Father:
In this story, the father archetype is turned on its head. Huck’s father is not nurturing or caring nor is he a stern disciplinarian trying to get Huck to walk the straight and narrow. He is, in fact, the exact opposite. In the story, there is no substitute father figure for Huck.
2. The Mother:
Not present in this story.
3. The Child:
Huck is the child of the story.
4. The Maiden:
The older girl in the Wilkinson family is the maiden.
Hero’s Journey Projects:
1. In order to become a hero, Huck must change. Write an essay in which you show the changes he undergoes.
Good responses will include his attitude toward slavery, his sense of loyalty in friendship and/or his willingness to sacrifice in order to achieve his freedom.
2. Select three stages of the Hero’s Journey you have addressed in the worksheet and write about how these specific stages are the most important in terms of Huck’s experience in moving toward increased awareness of what is important in life.
2. Write an opinion paragraph about whether Jim remains consistently a mentor to Huck throughout the journey. Consider whether Jim crosses a line and becomes an enemy when he holds back from Huck the news about his father’s death. Did Jim withhold this information for the sake of Huck or for himself? Be sure to justify your opinion.
3. Write a personal essay about how the elixir Huck shares with the audience at the film’s end is important in your own life. You may want to consider the symbolic value of the elixir’s meaning rather the literal value; in other words, you may not toss away your fine clothing and head for a river, but you nonetheless know the significance of the gesture itself.
5. You could argue that Huck has not completed a Hero’s Journey at all and that he has in fact simply done what his innate character required in order to achieve his personal freedom. Write an essay in which you support or refute this notion.
In the alternative, students can create a class presentation on any of the topics described above with posters, diagrams, PowerPoint presentations, or even clips from the film to back up their conclusions.
After the film has been watched, engage the class in a discussion about the movie.
1. Jim and Huck are alike in that both have run away in order to gain freedom. How are their journeys similar and how do they differ, either in motivation, physical circumstance or social consequence.
Here are a few suggestions. Students will come up with others. Both Huck and Jim are fleeing abusive situations; they both have to learn how to survive in nature and they both must watch out for unscrupulous people and the law. In terms of differences, although Huck is young and therefore in considerable danger as a runaway, he is white and thus safer than Jim whose skin color makes him suspect as the runaway slave that he is. Huck is running from family relationships whereas Jim is running in pursuit of family — Jim wants to make it to a free state and earn enough money to purchase his family and thereby reunite them. At the beginning of the story, Huck thinks it is a crime to be a runaway slave whereas Jim thinks slavery itself is a crime.
2. Jim and Huck learn important lessons in their adventure together. Describe one lesson for each and how that lesson was learned.
Answers will vary. The discussion should include a description of how Jim learns that white people can be righteous because Huck treats him that way and because a white person, the Widow Douglas, gives Jim his freedom. Huck learns that slavery is wrong because he cannot deny Jim’s humanity and once he accepts Jim as a human being, Huck sees the evils of slavery.
3. Some think that Huck’s story is about a boy who matures into what it takes to be a true individual freed from the restraints of undue social norms. What is your opinion of this viewpoint?
Answers will vary. All reasoned and supported answers are acceptable.
1. Can you think of a situation in which you or anyone you know made a radical change in their life from what they were expected to do by their family or their community?
2. What would have happened to Huck if he had run away without Jim to back him up?
His survival would have been sheer luck. That’s true for all runaway children. They cannot maintain themselves and so they depend upon the people they meet. If they meet predators, they will suffer. If they are fortunate and meet good people, they may get taken care of.
3. Huck and Jim were friends. What benefit did Huck get from the friendship?
Huck got all the support that Jim gave him on the trip but most importantly it was this friendship that caused Huck to understand that slavery was evil.
MORAL-ETHICAL EMPHASIS (CHARACTER COUNTS)
Discussion Questions Relating to Ethical Issues will facilitate the use of this film to teach ethical principles and critical viewing. Additional questions are set out below.
ASSIGNMENTS, PROJECTS & ACTIVITIES
Any of the discussion questions can serve as a writing prompt. Additional assignments include:
1. Twain’s criticism of society and its values are an important part of the narrative found in the novel and in the film. The following is a list of topics for his criticism. Select three of the topics as they are addressed in the film and then research commentary about Twain’s values that clarify and explain his position. Write an expository essay in which you refer to the topic as it appears in the film and then deepen the understanding of the topic with references to the commentaries you researched.
- social rules
- social and personal morality
2. Freedom is a constant motif in both the novel and the film and is clearly symbolized by the Mississippi River. Write an essay in which you analyze this river in terms of what it means to Jim and to Huck, two individuals who define freedom in very different terms. Cite the imagery as well as dialogue about the river and the action that occurs as the two characters move along its reaches.
3. Write a narrative about some time in Huck Finn’s future, more than 25 years after Huck and Jim complete their adventure. Describe the setting, characters, and circumstance that show what has become of Huck as he moves into middle age. Be sure to address the social changes that would have happened in the passage of time. Show meaning through action, dialogue, comparison, thoughts, and descriptive language.
4. Huck tries to flee from those who would “civilize” him. They want him to be less primitive and become refined and mannerly. Yet he lives in a time and place in which “civilized” society supports slavery, feuding, and narrow-mindedness and in which his father is an outlaw who imprisons and beats Huck. Irony can be seen in these facts. Write an essay in which you look into this irony. End your essay with a clear statement of your opinion about whom or what in the story actually is in need of “civilizing.”
Appropriate writing assignments can be presented to the class as oral reports by one or a group of students. See also TMW’s Assignments for use with any Film that is a Work of Fiction and TWM’s guide to Lesson Plans Using Film Adaptations of Novels, Short Stories or Plays.
CCSS ANCHOR STANDARDS