Views of Mark Twain and Literary Criticism of Huckleberry Finn: Analytical Essay

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Samuel Langhorne Clemens, now known as Mark Twain, was born in Florida, Missouri on November 30, 1835. His father, John Marshall, was a lawyer and his mother, Jane Clemens, took care of Mark and his six siblings. Although his father was a lawyer, his income was low and the family lived in poverty so his oldest brother, Orion, was forced to work at a newspaper press to make more money for the family. They now had the money they needed to survive comfortably until 1847 when John Marshall fell gravely ill with pneumonia and passed later that year. Orion then moved to Iowa to pursue a career in printing. His mother had to provide income for six children.

After his father’s death, he could no longer attend school but at age 14, he was sent to work with newspaper publishers and had to teach himself everything. In the late 1840s, Samuel Clemens joined his brother Orion in Iowa to work for newspapers companies. Shortly after, their business crashed and were forced to move around. Three years later, Samuel left the printing business to pursue his lifelong dream of traveling to South America to acquire riches for himself and his family. During his travel down the Mississippi River, he met a man named Bixby, who owned a Mississippi River sailing company. He joined him and sailed up and down the river for many years, writing down his experiences with the outdoors and different societies. In 1861, the Civil War broke out and all travel along the river was shut down. Now known as Mark Twain, he joined the Confederate Army and briefly served as a second lieutenant.

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After the war, Twain won a position in the Nevada government after writing works on President Lincoln’s second campaign. He met his brother Orion again and started to run the Charles L. Webster Company. While running the business, Twain ran into a rival journalist and was said to be challenged to a duel. In order to save his own life, he fled to San Francisco, California, and published his first book, The Celebrated Jumping Frog, in 1865. The following year, he went on the “Quaker City” steamboat to Europe to take account of sailor’s lives. This event and the book he published made his name popular and successful.

During his travels to different companies and to explore the new and emerging country, he met his wife, Olivia Langdon. Her father owned a newspaper company and he immediately began running it. They settled at Quarry Farm after Olivia’s father’s tragic death. As soon as they settled, Twain was writing every day and published a bunch of books. The American Realistic Movement from 1850 to 1900 heavily influenced Twain and his works. This period focused on the realistic side of life and society after the Civil War. Twain’s books, such as Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer, reflected these ideas the most. The thought of slavery and its unjust morality hit the nation during this time period and Twain encompasses this idea in both these stories.

Literary Criticism

Throughout Twain’s life, people saw him as a pessimist and always depressed. This possibly was caused by his childhood and being poor, but some say it was just him not being satisfied with what he had in life. They say he had a lot more potential in writing, but wasted some of his life overthinking and not working. Twain even claimed himself as a “divine amateur” and his books as “inferior quality” (Phelps). Even though he looked at his works as less than others, other people compared Huckleberry Finn to Moby Dick and The Sound and the Fury.

The criticism put on his books mainly revolve around one topic, but there are other little flaws pointed out that some did not like. For instance, The Huckleberry Finn that appears in Tom Sawyer is not the same person as in Huckleberry Finn. This is confusing and does not show the true identity of the characters. This also led to people saying that there was no plot in the stories because the books do not relate although the characters show up in both.

In his major works, people claim that there are too many unexpected scenes and he forgets to include major details that move the story along; he assumes the reader knows the information already. Since Twain moved around multiple times when writing novels, the slang and dialect from all these areas mixed together and at some points did not make sense.

In most of his novels, he puts indirect messages, comparisons, and symbolism. In Huckleberry Finn, he alludes to Noah’s Ark in the boat he sailed down the Mississippi by mentioning a naked man inside. Also to unbrotherly love in the nation by having mass fights, shootings, attacks, and torture. One author said, . The great Gertrude Stein said that Twain had an attachment to all his characters and did not kill them off or stop using them in the story when needed.

On the other hand, other great authors protected Twain and his works. Ernest Hemingway said and that all American authors were in some way influenced by Huckleberry Finn. Twain was a 19th century author connecting with 19th century readers.

The main idea that people criticized Twain on was being a racist. At the beginning of his career, he invaded onto Native lands, almost burned down their village, and referred to them as the “digger tribe” because they dug for food in roots. The tribe was located in New England and in recent years people have tried to get a cave named after Mark Twain, but descendants of the tribe fought against it and the decision came out deeming Twain was a racist.

Throughout the country, Huckleberry Finn is banned in some high schools and libraries because of its offensiveness. Professor John H. Wallace said, . Wallace believed that Twain showed slavery as a nice and pretty thing with running away as an east solution. The book is claimed to be offensive to young African Americans due to the inferior ideas of blacks being “subhuman”. The racist word, nigger, is used over 200 times in the novel. Langston Hughes said, . Some authors defended Twain saying that use of that word was common in the time the book was written. The one quote that summarizes the criticism and defending of Huckleberry Finn was said by James Hulse, a professor at the University of Nevada. He said, AUTHORS WORDS

The overall story is based on the journey on the Mississippi River and the childhood of Mark Twain. He was the first author in American history to write using regionalism, a type of realism. Regionalism focuses on the problems in a specific society. Throughout his novel, he spoke like someone from that time period would speak, using slang, many curse words, uneducated, and the n-word. Slavery is the major theme of the book and had an impact on every decision through the story. People against the use of the n-word said that it was inappropriate, offensive, and problematic. On the other hand, people for it said that it reflects the time period, the injustices, and puts the reader into the shoes of the people affected by it.

In Huckleberry Finn, Twain uses symbolism to express certain ideas. For example, the objects symbolizes freedom, such as the raft and the river. The character Jim symbolizes slavery while Huck symbolizes the helping and mixing of races. He says, . This shows that Huck knows it is right to free Jim from being sold to another slave family.

The themes on the novel are maturity, racism, hypocrisy, and cruelty. Throughout the story, Huck grows up and matures with influences from other characters. The idea of racism is shown through the shooting, fights, and torture. It says, . The biggest hypocrite in the story is Sally. She claims that she is very caring and respectful, but does not associate with the black community. The cruelty of physical and verbal is prevalent everywhere in the book. For example, Huck says, (#). This showed the abuse and cruelty of Pap.

All the characters of Huckleberry Finn have the personality and ideas of the people from the time. Huck was a young, uneducated boy who was heavily influenced by others. Jim was a mistreated and inferior slave. Widow Douglas was a wealthy and feared old lady. Pap, Huck’s father, was a cruel and abusive white father. Polly was a caring and loving woman. Finally, Tom was a stubborn, but civil man.


Throughout Twain’s hard fought and ridiculed life, he became one of the greatest authors of all time. His books Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn inspired thousands American authors after him and still do to this day. Despite all the criticism thrown at his books, they are truly works or art and mastery that should be studied for ages to put into perspective the lives of other during the American Civil War.

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Views of Mark Twain and Literary Criticism of Huckleberry Finn: Analytical Essay. (2022, August 12). Edubirdie. Retrieved July 23, 2024, from
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