Teaching Adventures of Huckleberry Finn | National Humanities Center

Humanities in Class: Webinar Series

Teaching Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Shelley Fisher Fishkin (Professor of English, Stanford University)

February 19, 2015

Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was controversial from the moment it appeared. Banned in 1885 for being sacrilegious, the book has been objected to for being “racist” since 1957, and still frequently appears on annual top ten lists of books challenged in US schools. Many objections to the novel stem from readers’ failure to separate the views of the author from those of the narrator. What can teachers do to help students recognize the difference between the two, and how can this awareness shape their understanding of Jim as a character? How can Twain’s early writings help students understand his satirical strategies in Huck Finn? What role might black voices, speakers and rhetorical traditions have played in shaping the book? How can one deal with the frequent appearance of the word “nigger”? How can historical, biographical, and cultural contexts that inform the book help illuminate both its strengths and weaknesses? What is the novel’s—and Twain’s—relationship to traditions of minstrelsy? How can understanding the historical period in which the book was written help students understand its ending? This webinar will give teachers a toolkit for approaching the challenges of teaching Huck Finn today.


Literary Criticism / Fiction and Poetry / Education Studies / American Literature / Racism / Novels /