Archetypes in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Instructor: Monica Sedore

Monica holds a master's degree and teaches 11th grade English. Previously, she has taught first-year writing at the collegiate level and worked extensively in writing centers.

Huckleberry Finn, along with his best friend, Tom Sawyer, are two of the most well-known boys in literature. Read more about the people Huck meets in his travels in ''The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.''


People in Huckleberry Finn's time had no Internet or cellphones -- they didn't even have televisions! Cars weren't invented yet, and much of Huck's traveling involves floating on a raft down the Mississippi River. Huck's story takes places 'forty to fifty years ago,' according to author Mark Twain. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was published in 1884, so the most accurate time frame would be the early 1800s. Along the way, Huck meets many kinds of people. In literature, we call these categories of people archetypes.

The Hero

The hero is usually (but not always) the main character of the story. In this novel, Huck is the main character. He is also the hero of the story because he is the character who faces many challenges and overcomes them. One way of thinking about the hero is the classic fairy tale of a white knight riding in on his horse, slaying the dragon, and saving the princess. Other well-known heroes in literature are Robin Hood, Frodo Baggins, and Hercules.

Keep in mind that female characters can be the hero, too, like Katniss Everdeen, Scout Finch, and Nancy Drew.

The Sidekick

Also known as the best friend, the sidekick is the character who aids the hero in his or her quest. In this novel, Tom Sawyer is both Huck's best friend and archetypal sidekick. Tom and Huck get in (and out of) plenty of trouble together. With Tom's help, Huck is able to free the slave Jim from one of his owners, who incidentally turns out to be Tom's uncle.

In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Tom is the hero of the story, while Huck is the sidekick. Another example of a sidekick who is just as valuable as the hero is Hermione Granger. Without Hermione, Harry Potter might never have gotten through school.

The Martyr

The martyr (unfortunately) tends to take most of the blame for events that occur in the story. Usually, this person is innocent of the crime or wrongdoing. Jim, Miss Watson's slave who befriends Huck and joins him on the Mississippi River, is the martyr in Huck's story. By virtue of being a black man in the 1800s, he is treated like a piece of property, rather than a human, because of the color of his skin. Because of this, when Jim escapes Miss Watson's to travel down the river with Huck in an effort to avoid being sold and separated from his family, he becomes a fugitive. Additionally, Huck is accused of hiding Miss Watson's stolen property -- in this case, Jim.

Despite the challenges Huck and Jim face, they look out for one another and, at times, rescue each other. The martyr, in some ways, is very similar to the sidekick. A great example of a martyr is Simon in Lord of the Flies -- he takes all the blame from the other boys, but deserves none of it.

The Villain

Any story can have more than one villain, or more than one hero. Huckleberry Finn happens to have one hero and three primary villains.

The first is Pap Finn, Huck's father, who is an angry drunk. He is physically and verbally abusive to his son. It is only by faking his own death that Huck is able to escape his father.

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