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Irony in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Examples & Quotes

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  • 0:00 What Is Irony?
  • 0:35 The Grangerfords
  • 1:43 Jim
  • 2:46 Huck
  • 4:12 Society
  • 5:20 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Lauren Posey

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

Irony is prevalent throughout 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.' In this lesson, we'll look at some examples and quotes that show how irony affects the plot and the characters in the novel.

What Is Irony?

Have you ever paid a lot of money for something, only to realize it's worse quality than something much cheaper? Or used a study system that's supposed to help your grades, only to find it hurts them instead? These are examples of irony you might encounter in everyday life. Irony is when the expectations of something turn out to be the opposite of what really occurs. It's a very common literary device, and we see this in its prevalent use throughout The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain.

The Grangerfords

One storyline where we see irony used in a fairly comedic way is the subplot with the Grangerfords. The Grangerfords and Shepherdsons have been feuding for decades, and kill each other whenever they have a chance. However, every Sunday they set aside this animosity just long enough to go to church together, only to pick the feud up again right afterwards. They even take their guns to church with them!

Huck observes, 'Next Sunday we all went to church . . . The men took their guns along, ... and kept them between their knees or stood them handy against the wall. The Shepherdsons done the same. It was pretty ornery preaching - all about brotherly love, and such-like tiresomeness; but everybody said it was a good sermon, and they all talked it over going home, and had such a powerful lot to say about faith and good works.'

The irony here is that the sermon was about brotherly love, forgiving your neighbor, and living in harmony. The families all enjoy the sermon, and talk about good things that should be done. Yet, at the same time, they are all armed, and encounters with the Shepherdsons are met with violence in a feud that embodies the exact opposite of brotherly love.

Jim

We also see irony surrounding Jim's situation and, specifically, Huck's reaction to some of his comments. Huck is helping Jim escape, and knows that Jim would have been sold away from his family. Huck describes Jim talking about his plans for his freedom: 'He was saying how the first thing he would do when he got to a free State he would go to saving up money and never spend a single cent, and when he got enough he would buy his wife, which was owned on a farm close to where Miss Watson lived; and then they would both work to buy the two children, and if their master wouldn't sell them, they'd get an Ab'litionist to go and steal them.'

The expected response to this, given the situation, would be support or sympathy. However, Huck responds with this comment: 'I was sorry to hear Jim say that, it was such a lowering of him.' This is the exact opposite of what the reader might expect. How can it be a negative thing that Jim wants to save his family? This ties in to an overarching societal irony, which will be discussed later on.

Huck

Part of Huck's response to Jim's comment is tied up in his own personal ironic struggle. Throughout the novel, what society teaches is 'right' conflicts with Huck's own personal feelings. That is, society tells him that helping Jim to freedom is wrong, and that he's a bad person for doing so. Yet a loyal Huck can't give Jim up because of their friendship. This internal struggle is summed up nicely in this quote, which follows an opportunity Huck had to give Jim up:

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