The Literature of Realism with
Huckleberry Finn as Exampe
May 14, 2013
• General knowledge of realism: time span,
historical background, features and
representative writers
• Mark Twain (1835 – 1910) as a
• Life and works of Twain
• The
Time Span
• The period covers the time from the end of the
Civil War to the beginning of World War I.
• During this time, artists contributed to the idea
of realism in the American setting. Each,
though slightly different in concept or subject,
was defining what was going on in front of his
or her eyes, without imagining a past or a
Social Background
• 1. Industrialization wins over agrarianism with the
end of the Civil War, and the resultant development
of industry makes it possible that machines win over
human beings.
• 2. The population of the urban increases and the
resenmtment pervades. The growth of business and
industry widens the gap between the rich and the
• 3. Americans become opener to the outside world as
a result of more convenient transportation and
communication. American communication with
Europeans are greated promoted.
• 4. Westward movement of the frontier helps
facilitate the pioneering spirit of exploration.
• 5. A continuous wave of European immigrants
and the rising potential for international trade
brought prosperity to America.
Cultural and Literary Expressions
• 1. Economic prosperity brought about worship of
materialism. The Emersonian self-reliance
evolved into admiration for driving ambition, a
lust for money and power.
• 2. The romantic desire of “moving to the west”,
or “moving to California” is called to a stop with
the American power extended to the western
coast of the continent. The values emboided in
the idealized American dream became
objectified and concreted into the confrontation
with reality. Disillusionment and frustration were
The change in the Literary Circle
• By the 1870s, the age of romanticism and
transcendentalism was over with the death
of Hawthorne and Thoreau, and the
declination of Emerson, Longfellow and
• Younger writers fought to the stage, with
William Dean Howells, henry James, Mark
Twain, Bret Harte, Stephen Crane and
Edward Eggleston.
Major Ideas
• 1. Writers sought to portray American life as it
realy was, insisting that the ordinary and the
local were as suitable for artistic portrayal as
the magnificant and the remote.
• 2. The representation of life was considered
the primary object of the novel. An objective
and realistic reflection of human existence
was advocated rather than the idealized view
as advocated by romanticism and
• 3. The style is characteristic of the
combination of the gentle and graceful prose
and the vernacular diciton and rough frontier
• 4. Characterization also witnessed typical
shift from “flat characters” to “round
characters”. Writers sought to describe the
wide range of American experience and to
present the subtleties of human personalities,
to portray characters who were not simply all
good or bad.
From Realism to Naturalism
• In the 1890s, Howells spoke against the description of
bleak fiction of failure and despair, and advocated the
writing of the “smiling aspects of life”, since he
believed that America was a land of hope and
• But the turn of the century just witnessed a generation
of writers whose understanding of lack of orders,
beliefs and values helped facilitated the growth of
• Naturalists dismissed the validity of values and truths
and attempted to present the extreme objectivity and
frankness of life. They described people from lower
classes dominated by their environment.
In-group Variations
• Although Howells, James and Twain all worked for
realism, there were obvious differences between them.
• In thematic terms, James wrote mostly of the upper
reaches of American society; Howells concerned himself
chiefly with middle class life; Mark Twain dealt largely
with the lower strata of society.
• Technically, Howells wrote in the vein of genteel realism,
James pursued an “imaginative” treatment of reality or
psychological realism, but Mark Twain’s contribution to
the development of realism and to American literature as
a whole was partly through his theories of localism in
American fiction, and partly through his colloquial style.
Mark Twain --- his life
• Mark Twain, pseudonym of Samuel Langhorne Clemens,
was brought up in the small town of Hannibal, Missouri, on
the Mississippi River.
• He was twelve when his father died and he had to leave
school. He was successively a printer’s apprentice, a tramp
printer, a silver miner, a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi,
and a frontier journalist in Nevada and California.
• With the publication of his frontier tale, “The celebrated
Jumping Frog of Calaveras County”, Twain became
nationally famous.
• His first novel, The Gilded Age written in collaboration with
Charles Dudley Warner, was not successful, but it gave its
name to the America of the post-bellum period which it
attempts to satirize.
Representative of Local Colorism
Local colorism: It is a type of writing that was
popular in the late 19th century, particularly among
authors in the American South of the particular region
in which the story took place. Local color fiction
“exploits the speech, dress, mannerisms, habits of
thought which are peculiar to a certain region. Local
color writing exists primarily for the portrayal of the
people and life of a geographical setting” (Holman
295). Local colorism is the detailed representation in
prose fiction of the setting, dialect, customs, dress and
ways of thinking and feeling which are distinctive of a
particular region.
Local colorists: Mark Twain, Bret Harte, Harriet
Beecher Stowe, Willa Cather, John Steinbeck and
William Faulkner.
Major Works
• The Adventure of Tom Sawyer was an immediate
success as “a boy’s book”.
• Its sequel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn became
his masterpiece, the one book from which, as Ernest
Hemingway noted, “all modern American literature
• Life on the Mississippi is another masterpiece,
autobiographical in traditional sense.
• In his later works the change from an optimist and
humorist to an almost despairing determinist is
unmistakable. Some critics link this change with the
tragic events of his later life, the failure of his
investments, his fatiguing travels and lectures in order to
pay off his debts, and added to this, the death of his wife
and two daughters which left him absolutely
List of works
• The Notorious Jumping Frog of Calaveras County (1865)《卡拉维拉斯县
• Innocents Abroad (1869) 《傻子出国记》
• Roughing It (1872) 《艰难岁月》
• The Gilded Age (with Charles Dudley waenner, 1873) 《镀金时代》
• The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (1876)《汤姆·索耶历险记》
• The Prince and the Pauper (1882) 《王子与贫民》
• Life on the Mississippi (1883) 《密西西比河上的生活》
• The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) 《哈克贝利·费恩历险记》
• The Tragedy of Pudd’nhead Wilson (1894) 《傻瓜威尔逊》
• A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court (1889) 《亚瑟王朝廷里的康涅
• The Man that Corrupted Hadleyburg (1900) 《败坏了哈德莱堡的人》
• What Is Man? (1906) 《人是什么》
• The Mysterious Stranger (1916) 《神秘的陌生人》
• Following the Equator (1897) 《赤道旅行记》
The Adventures of Huckleberry
• Theme: humanism will finally win
• The novel used vivid details from actual life successfully.
• Special point of view: serious social problems discussed
through the narration of a little illiterate boy
• Features of the language used in the novel: mostly
Anglo-Saxon in origin, short, concrete and direct in effect;
sentence structure is mostly simple or compound;
repetition of words; ungrammatical elements
• Colloquial style: a very important contribution of this
novel to American literature
• Mark Twain made the colloquial speech an accepted,
respectable literary medium in the literary history of
Twain’s Influence in History of
• One of Mark Twain’s significant contributions to American
literature lies in the fact that he made colloquial speech an
accepted, respectable literary medium in the literary history
of the country. Its influence is clearly visible in twentiethcentury American literature.
• Sherwood Anderson was the first writer after Twain to take
the vernacular as a serious way of presenting reality. Ernest
Hemingway was the direct descendant of Mark Twain.
• William Faulkner declared, “In my opinion, Mark Twain was
the first truly American writer, and all of us since are his
heirs, who descended from him.”
• J. D. Salinger, E. A. Robinson, Robert Frost, Carl Sandburg,
William Carlos Williams, E. E. Cummings, and even T. S.
Eliot and Ezra Pound were all influenced by him.
• Mark Twain was a social critic as well.
The Story(1884)
• The Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn is often considered Twain's
greatest masterpiece. Combining
his raw humor and startlingly
mature material, Twain developed
a novel that directly attacked many
of the traditions the South held
dear at the time of its publication.
Huckleberry Finn is the main
character, and through his eyes,
the reader sees and judges the
South, its faults, and its redeeming
qualities. Huck's companion Jim, a
runaway slave, provides friendship
and protection while the two
journey along the Mississippi on
their raft.
• The novel opens with Huck telling his story.
Briefly, he describes what he has experienced
since, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, which
preceded this novel. After Huck and Tom
discovered twelve thousand dollars in treasure,
Judge Thatcher invested the money for them.
Huck was adopted by the Widow Douglas and
Miss Watson, both of whom took pains to raise
him properly. Dissatisfied with his new life, and
wishing for the simplicity he used to know, Huck
runs away. Tom Sawyer searches him out and
convinces him to return home by promising to
start a band of robbers. All the local young boys
join Tom's band, using a hidden cave for their
hideout and meeting place. However, many
• YOU don't know about me without you have
read a book by the name of The Adventures of
Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. That book
was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the
truth, mainly. There was things which he
stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is
nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time
or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the
widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly -- Tom's Aunt
Polly, she is -- and Mary, and the Widow
Douglas is all told about in that book, which is
mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I
said before.
• Now the way that the book winds up is this: Tom
and me found the money that the robbers hid in
the cave, and it made us rich. We got six thousand
dollars apiece -- all gold. It was an awful sight of
money when it was piled up. Well, Judge Thatcher
he took it and put it out at interest, and it fetched
us a dollar a day apiece all the year round -- more
than a body could tell what to do with. The Widow
Douglas she took me for her son, and allowed she
would sivilize me; but it was rough living in the
house all the time, considering how dismal regular
and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so
when I couldn't stand it no longer I lit out. I got
into my old rags and my sugar-hogshead again,
and was free and satisfied. But Tom Sawyer he
hunted me up and said he was going to start a
band of robbers, and I might join if I would go back
to the widow and be respectable. So I went back.
• The widow she cried over me, and called me a
poor lost lamb, and she called me a lot of other
names, too, but she never meant no harm by it.
She put me in them new clothes again, and I
couldn't do nothing but sweat and sweat, and feel
all cramped up. Well, then, the old thing
commenced again. The widow rung a bell for
supper, and you had to come to time. When you
got to the table you couldn't go right to eating, but
you had to wait for the widow to tuck down her
head and grumble a little over the victuals, though
there warn't really anything the matter with them, - that is, nothing only everything was cooked by
itself. In a barrel of odds and ends it is different;
things get mixed up, and the juice kind of swaps
around, and the things go better.
• Pretty soon I wanted to smoke, and asked the
widow to let me. But she wouldn't. She said it
was a mean practice and wasn't clean, and I
must try to not do it any more. That is just the
way with some people. They get down on a
thing when they don't know nothing about it.
Here she was a-bothering about Moses, which
was no kin to her, and no use to anybody, being
gone, you see, yet finding a power of fault with
me for doing a thing that had some good in it.
And she took snuff, too; of course that was all
right, because she done it herself.
Characterization in Huck Finn
• Huck Finn
• A boy coming from the lowest levels of white
society: His father is a drunk and a ruffian who
disappears for months on end. Huck himself is
dirty and frequently homeless.
• Little education: Although the Widow Douglas
attempts to “reform” Huck, he resists her
attempts and maintains his independent ways.
Though the Widow finally gives Huck some of
the schooling and religious training that he had
missed, he has not been indoctrinated with
social values.
• Skepticism about the society: Huck's distance
from mainstream society makes him skeptical
of the world around him and the ideas it passes
on to him.
• Rebels of social rules: Because of his
background, however, he does more than just
apply the rules that he has been taught—he
creates his own rules. For instance, in his
treatment of Jim. According to the law, Jim is
Miss Watson's property, but according to Huck's
sense of logic and fairness, it seems “right” to
help Jim.
• Travel as a process of learning and selfunderstanding: As he travels down the river
Huck's instinctual distrust and his experiences
force him to question the things society has
taught him. Huck's natural intelligence and his
willingness to think through a situation on its own
merits lead him to some conclusions that are
correct in their context but that would shock
white society. For example, Huck discovers,
when he and Jim meet a group of slave-hunters,
that telling a lie is sometimes the right course of
Humanity in Huck. Imperfect as he is, he
represents what anyone is capable of becoming:
a thinking, feeling human being rather than a
mere cog in the machine of society.
• Pursuit or exploration of identity: Huck definitely
struggles with his own sense of identity. In the
beginning of the novel, he oscillates between his
comfort living in the woods and his realization that,
actually, gettin’ civilized ain’t so bad. He seems to
make his living on the river out of pretending to be
other people, and he certainly displays a penchant for
telling lies all the time.
• He constantly refers to Tom Sawyer as his foil while
he’s on his journey; he repeatedly expresses a desire
to be like Tom, wonders how Tom would act, hopes
he’s doing as good of a job as Tom would, etc.
• In the end, he is acting upon his own choice,
presumably quite different from that of Tom.
• Defiance against the authority: Huckleberry
Finn tells the story in first-person point of view. His
narration, including his accounts of conversations,
contains regionalisms, grammatical errors,
pronunciation errors, and other characteristics of
the speech or writing of a nineteenth-century
Missouri boy with limited education.
• In the form of language: The use of patois bolsters
the verisimilitude of the novel.
• As an “bad” boy in contrast to model boy: With his
many bad habits, Huck lies, cheats, steals, and
defrauds his way down the river. These traits are
part of the reason that Huck Finn was viewed as a
book not acceptable for children.
• Huck's companion and surrogate father: Jim
is a man of remarkable intelligence and
compassion, as discovered by Huck in their
journey down the river. He taks care of Huck
and shelters him from some of the worst
horrors that they encounter, including the
sight of Pap's corpse. At first glance, Jim
seems to be superstitious to the point of
idiocy, but a careful reading reveals that Jim's
superstitions conceal a deep knowledge of
the natural world and represent an alternate
form of “truth” or intelligence.
• Humanity in Jim (from the point of the
white): Moreover, Jim has one of the few
healthy, functioning families in the novel.
Although he has been separated from his
wife and children, he misses them terribly,
and it is only the thought of a permanent
separation from them that motivates his
criminal act of running away from Miss
Tom Sawyer
In comparison with Huck who lives in poverty
and on the margins of society, Tom has been
raised in relative comfort. As a result, his beliefs
are an unfortunate combination of what he has
learned from the adults around him and the
fanciful notions he has gleaned from reading
romance and adventure novels. Tom embodies
what a young, well-to-do white man is raised to
become in the society of his time: self-centered
with dominion over all.
• Tom believes in sticking strictly to “rules,”
most of which have more to do with style
than with morality or anyone's welfare.
Tom is thus the perfect foil for Huck: his
rigid adherence to rules and precepts
contrasts with Huck's tendency to
question authority and think for himself.
• Although Tom's escapades are often funny,
they also show just how disturbingly and
unthinkingly cruel society can be. Tom knows
all along that Miss Watson has died and that
Jim is now a free man, yet he is willing to
allow Jim to remain a captive while he
entertains himself with fantastic escape plans.
Tom's plotting tortures not only Jim, but Aunt
Sally and Uncle Silas as well.
Huck’s conscience troubles him
deeply about helping Jim escape from his
“rightful owner,” Miss Watson, especially after
all she has done for Huck. Jim talks on and on
about going to the free states, especially about
his plan to earn money to buy the freedom of
his wife and children. If their masters refuse to
give up Jim’s family, Jim plans to have some
abolitionists kidnap them. When Huck and Jim
think they see Cairo, Huck goes out on the
canoe to check, having secretly resolved to
give Jim up. But Huck’s heart softens when he
hears Jim call out that Huck is his only friend,
the only one to keep a promise to him.
• It most froze me to hear such talk. He wouldn't
ever dared to talk such talk in his life before.
Just see what a difference it made in him the
minute he judged he was about free. It was
according to the old saying, "Give a nigger an
inch and he'll take an ell." Thinks I, this is what
comes of my not thinking. Here was this nigger,
which I had as good as helped to run away,
coming right out flat-footed and saying he
would steal his children -- children that
belonged to a man I didn't even know; a man
that hadn't ever done me no harm.
• I was sorry to hear Jim say that, it was such a
lowering of him. My conscience got to stirring
me up hotter than ever, until at last I says to it,
"Let up on me -- it ain't too late yet -- I'll paddle
ashore at the first light and tell." I felt easy and
happy and light as a feather right off. All my
troubles was gone. I went to looking out sharp
for a light, and sort of singing to myself. By and
by one showed. Jim sings out:
• "We's safe, Huck, we's safe! Jump up and crack
yo' heels! Dat's de good ole Cairo at las', I jis
knows it!"
Morality in perspectives
• Throughout the story, Huck is in moral
conflict with the received values of the
society in which he lives, and while he is
unable to consciously refute those values
even in his thoughts, he makes a moral
choice based on his own valuation of Jim's
friendship and human worth, a decision in
direct opposition to the things he has been
• Mark Twain in his lecture notes proposes
that "a sound heart is a surer guide than an
ill-trained conscience", and goes on to
describe the novel as "...a book of mine
where a sound heart and a deformed
conscience come into collision and
conscience suffers defeat".
Racism involved in the novel
• Much modern scholarship of Huckleberry Finn has
focused on its treatment of race. Many Twain scholars
have argued that the book, by humanizing Jim and
exposing the fallacies of the racist assumptions of
slavery, is an attack on racism. Others have argued
that the book falls short on this score, especially in its
depiction of Jim. According to Professor Stephen
Railton of the University of Virginia, Twain was unable
to fully rise above the stereotypes of black people that
white readers of his era expected and enjoyed, and
therefore resorted to minstrel show-style comedy to
provide humor at Jim's expense, and ended up
confirming rather than challenging late-19th century
racist stereotypes.
• In one instance, the controversy caused a drastically
altered interpretation of the text: In 1955, CBS tried to
avoid controversial material in a televised version of
the book, by deleting all mention of slavery and having
a white actor play Jim.
• Another example involves the disputes on the
appropriateness of teaching the book in the U.S.
public school system—this questioning of the word
“nigger” is illustrated by a school administrator of
Virginia in 1982 calling the novel the "most grotesque
example of racism I’ve ever seen in my life". According
to the American Library Association, Huckleberry Finn
was the fifth most-frequently-challenged book in the
United States during the 1990s.
Historical Background
• By the time that Mark Twain completed The
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the U.S. Congress
had amended the Constitution to do the following:
• Abolish slavery (Thirteenth Amendment, 1865),
• Guarantee citizenship rights to every person born in
the U.S. (Fourteenth Amendment, 1868)
• Grant all citizens the right to vote regardless of "race,
color, or previous condition of servitude" (Fifteenth
Amendment, 1870).
• However, beginning in 1877, some state
legislatures began passing segregation laws
that limited or denied blacks access to whitecontrolled schools, restaurants, restrooms,
cemeteries, theaters, parks, and other facilities.
Consequently, Twain's theme of racism in
Huckleberry Finn remained current when the
book was published. It remains current today
because, even though segregation laws have
been struck down, racism persists as a serious

The Literature of Realism