Realism in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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  • 0:02 ''The Adventures of…
  • 1:15 Setting
  • 1:56 Characters
  • 3:10 Societal Issues
  • 4:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amanda Benson

Amanda has taught college literature and composition courses and has a master's degree in English.

In this lesson, we'll learn about the use of realism within Mark Twain's 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.' Realism will be defined and we'll discuss several examples of how Twain utilized it within the novel.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

As children, most of us can remember reading fantastical stories about larger-than-life heroes who swoop in to save the day, sometimes through the use of magical powers or forces, and often ending with all of the good characters living happily ever after. For a long time, romantic stories like these were common among writers because they captured their readers' imaginations with elaborate tales that couldn't be found in real life. However, in America around the time of the Civil War, big changes for the country also meant big changes in literature. With huge increases in immigration, technological developments, and war on the horizon, writers began to shift their focus from romantic depictions of life to stories that more accurately represented life as it really was. Writing in a style known as realism, authors like Mark Twain now included real-world settings that actually existed or could exist, used realistic characters that could be compared to everyday, average people in America, and presented societal issues that those people really struggled with. In his novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain uses several elements of realism to tell his tale.


One way Twain depicts realism in Huck Finn is through the use of a realistic setting. The story begins in St. Petersburg, Missouri, a fictional town that is based on Twain's own hometown. From there, the setting moves to various places along the banks of the Mississippi River. Much of the story takes place on a raft floating south on the river itself. Also important to the setting is the time period in which the tale takes place. According to Twain, Huck's adventures occur just before the American Civil War, roughly between 1835 and 1845, a time when slavery and racism were perfectly acceptable aspects of society, especially in the South.


The story also demonstrates realism through its use of lifelike characters. Our hero, Huckleberry Finn, is a young teen-aged boy, the son of the town drunk, who faces real, everyday struggles that teenagers often encounter such as peer pressure, developing a moral compass, and the tendency to rebel. Jim, Huck's first mate on the raft, is an average black slave who possesses realistic characteristics like superstition and (unfortunately) ignorance. Miss Watson and the Widow Douglas, along with several other characters in the story, are typical white Christians of that time, always stressing the importance of having manners and living a pious life.

Characters in the story are also realistic in that they are not perfect in all that they do or say. Huck, for example, often strives to do what he believes is right but sometimes slips up, such as when he participates in Tom Sawyer's game to free Jim at the end of the story. Additionally, Twain is known for depicting realistic language and dialects for his characters that were true to their time and location. For instance, Huck speaks like a poorly educated country boy while Jim uses broken English and slang typical of a black slave in that time.

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