Religion 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.

Religion is a recurring theme in ''Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.'' In this lesson, you'll look at the different ways religion shows up in the novel, and how the different characters have it as part of their daily lives.

Church and Religious Education

When you were little, did you ever go to church or Sunday school with your parents? Or maybe you do now, on your own or with your family. If so, regardless of the kind of church or other center of worship you go to, you probably consider yourself to be religious. Religion is the worship of or belief in a god or gods, and in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the religion we see overwhelmingly is Christianity.

Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is all seen from the point of view of Huck Finn, a rough-and-tumble scamp by anyone's definition. Huck is not a character that can really be called 'pious,' but religion still shows up as a significant part of his life, and in the lives of many characters throughout the novel. One way religion shows up regularly is the more formal aspect of it: church, and Christian religious education in the form of Sunday school. Huck regularly mentions Sunday school, sometimes comparing it to the fantastic stories created by his best friend, Tom Sawyer. With this comparison we see that Huck may not believe some of the particulars of what he learns in Sunday school, but the fact that he uses it as a comparison is significant. That means that he goes, probably regularly, and that it is a common comparison that would be understood by anyone listening. Huck mentions Sunday school several times throughout the novel, and makes it clear that Sunday school is regularly attended by the vast majority of people, and certainly it is something expected for children.

Regular church attendance is also expected of many of the characters in the novel. The Grangerfords are the best example of this. Because of their feud with the Shepherdsons, school has been canceled. However, both families still go to church regularly, and Buck, the youngest Grangerford, comments that his mother makes him dress nicely on Sundays, despite everything that's going on. Church attendance is so regular for both families that Sophia, a Grangerford daughter, uses her New Testament to pass messages to the Shepherdson boy she is dating. She puts a message in it and leaves it in church, and goes back to pick it up later when he has replied. Since church is regularly attended, this isn't suspicious, and allows them to communicate with each other despite the feud. These examples show us how important formal religion is in the novel.

Religion at Home

As you might know from your own experience, or from a friend's, religion doesn't have to be confined to a specific place. Just the same, not all the religion practiced in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn takes place in a formal setting. When Huck is in his own village, the Widow Douglas regularly reads to him from her Bible after dinner. We also see basic religious sentiment from many of the children in the novel. For example, when Tom and the boys are creating their 'robber' gang, one boy can only meet on Sundays, but Tom refuses this because it would be 'wicked' to rob on Sundays, since it is the Christian holy day of the week.

The Grangerfords are also a good example of religion at home. Huck, looking around their house, notices their big family Bible on display. He also sees the grandmother regularly sitting in her sewing room, reading her Bible. Clearly, religion is a significant part of the Grangerford lifestyle, regardless of whether or not they're physically at church.

Another way we can see how present religion is here is that characters often reference specific Bible passages or characters in conversation with each other. Jim, a former slave from Huck's village, does this several times. Characters also tell Huck that they will pray for him or for others, or tell him that he should pray. The Widow Douglas does this, as does Joe's sister Mary Jane. Religious sentiments are casually mentioned by many characters, and in many different situations, throughout the novel.

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