Satire in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Examples & Quotes

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  • 0:01 Understanding Satire
  • 1:18 Slavery and Racism
  • 3:32 Hypocrisy in…
  • 5:03 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.

Learn about satire within 'The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn'. Find out the definition of satire and explore concrete examples and quotations from the story.

Understanding Satire

Have you ever watched a TV show like The Colbert Report or Saturday Night Live? How about a spoof film like Scary Movie or an article from the popular website The Onion? If you have, then you've already witnessed some great examples of satire. Satire is the use of humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to point out the stupidity or vices of a person, group, or society.

However, sometimes the audience may not get the joke, mistakenly believing the piece to be intentionally cruel or vulgar. For many years, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, was banned by schools due to its vulgarity in both content and language. What some saw as 'trash' (such as the Concord Public Library), others recognized as a lesson in morality that could be applied to modern society.

Though there are many examples of satire in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, it is important to understand that Twain's goal in writing this story was to expose and criticize some of the flaws that existed in his world, including slavery and racism, the hypocrisy of those who call themselves 'civilized,' and the oftentimes blatant stupidity of human nature. By drawing attention to these problems in society, he hoped to open the eyes of his readers and inspire change.

Slavery and Racism

One of the biggest concerns for many readers and critics is the book's excessive use of the word 'nigger,' and its depiction of African Americans as ignorant and unintelligent. It is crucial to note, however, that Twain meant to portray life as it really was during this time, not to show that slavery or racism should be acceptable aspects of society.

His true intention was likely to demonstrate that racial prejudices were morally wrong and that slavery should be a thing of the past. This can be seen throughout the novel as our hero, Huckleberry Finn, struggles to make sense of the way that white people in his world treat black people.

In the book, Huck's been told (and society has told itself time and again) that blacks are inferior to whites. His father, for instance, swears to never vote in an election again because he heard that a state was allowing blacks to vote. However, Huck has a hard time understanding why blacks are treated differently after spending a significant amount of time with Jim, a runaway slave, who he joins on a quest for freedom down the Mississippi River. On their adventure, Huck develops a strong friendship with Jim and finds himself torn between what he has been told is right and what his conscience teaches him.

One example can be seen when Huck, influenced by his mischievous friend Tom Sawyer, plays a trick on Jim to get a laugh, but feels guilty when he realizes how he had made Jim feel. He said, 'It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself before a nigger; but I done it, and I warn't ever sorry for it afterwards, neither. I didn't do him no more mean tricks, and I wouldn't done that one if I'd a knowed it would make him feel that way.' Here, Huck recognizes that the color of Jim's skin does not warrant ridicule, one of many lessons that contribute to his development of moral standards that lie outside the norm of his society.

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