Education in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Instructor: Lauren Posey

Lauren has taught intermediate reading in an English Language Institute, and she has her Master's degree in Linguistics.

In this lesson, you'll learn about education as it is portrayed in ''Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.'' You'll also get to see different emphases that characters placed on formal education.

Basic Education and Importance

These days, basic education is often taken for granted. In the US, children have to go to school until they're 16, and many continue on beyond that, in community college or universities. Mark Twain's novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, took place in a very different time, in the 1840s, and education was not set up the way it is now. We see some of how it was set up through the eyes of the main character, Huckleberry, or Huck, Finn. Huck's mother died when he was young, and his father was completely uneducated and many in the novel referred to him as 'uncivilized.' As a result, Huck didn't go to school until a little later in life, when he was taken in by the Widow Douglas. She was an elderly woman in his town, and part of what Huck referred to as 'civilized folk.'

In Huck's world, not everyone goes to school, especially those in the lowest classes. Those that do go learn the basics. Huck talks about learning math, which he hates and deems useless, and learning to read and write. He never mentions learning art or history or any of the other now commonly-taught subjects, like Civics. While these basics are regarded as important to a degree, many characters in the novel cannot read or write. Others learn it at home, rather than by going to school for a formal education. We see this in particular during the feud between the Shepherdsons and the Grangerfords. The feud has taken precedence, and the son, Buck Grangerford, tells Huck that school has been canceled, but the children all know how to read and write. However, there is little mention in the novel of education other than basic schooling, and it's clear, to Huck and many he meets, that school is just not the most important thing, beyond basic reading and writing.

Just for some contrast, think about school as it is today. Everyone, up to 16 at least, learns multiple levels of math, history, literature, and science at the very least. Many also learn music, and physical education is almost always part of the curriculum. Huck learned only basic reading and writing, and very little math. Many other people may have learned even less. Clearly, the education system, and therefore the characters' views of education, were very different from our own.

Education and Perceived Status

Despite the general lack of emphasis on education itself, education is frequently used as a status marker in the novel, as far as perceived by Huck. When Huck's father finds him at the widow's house and sees that he can read and write, he gets angry. He accuses Huck of thinking that he's better than his father, and tells him that he's going to take him down a notch. Huck's father clearly believes, and says it outright several times, that educated people think they're better than everyone else. In this case, seeing someone, especially his son, with more education than him makes him feel inferior, and this makes him angry. In general, Huck's father is an angry and violent man, so his reaction matches that.

To unlock this lesson you must be a Study.com Member.
Create your account

Register to view this lesson

Are you a student or a teacher?

Unlock Your Education

See for yourself why 30 million people use Study.com

Become a Study.com member and start learning now.
Become a Member  Back
What teachers are saying about Study.com
Try it risk-free for 30 days

Earning College Credit

Did you know… We have over 200 college courses that prepare you to earn credit by exam that is accepted by over 1,500 colleges and universities. You can test out of the first two years of college and save thousands off your degree. Anyone can earn credit-by-exam regardless of age or education level.

To learn more, visit our Earning Credit Page

Transferring credit to the school of your choice

Not sure what college you want to attend yet? Study.com has thousands of articles about every imaginable degree, area of study and career path that can help you find the school that's right for you.

Create an account to start this course today
Try it risk-free for 30 days!
Create an account
Support