When Was The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Written?

Instructor: David Boyles

David has a Master's in English literature and is completing a Ph.D. He has taught college English for 6 years.

''The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn'' is considered one of the greatest American works to deal with slavery. While the book brilliantly portrays and satirizes pre-Civil War Missouri, it was actually published 20 years after the end of the war.

Mark Twain in His Time

Mark Twain is one of the most famous and beloved American writers of all time. His novels, stories, and nonfiction writing, such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Innocents Abroad, are prized for their humorous portrayals of 19th century America. He was a bestselling author and celebrity in his own time and has continued to be widely read 100 years after his death.

Twain, whose real name was Samuel Clemens, was born in 1835 and grew up in Hannibal, Missouri, the small southern town which would inspire the settings for many of his most famous books. After time spent working as a riverboat captain and in the Nevada mining territories, Twain rose to fame with the success of his short story, ''The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calavares County'' in 1865.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, was published in 1885. Today, the book is often considered one of the greatest American novels, largely for its satiric view of the racist attitudes in the pre-Civil War South. The book focuses on its trouble-making young hero, Huck, helping an escaped slave named Jim. Huck does this even though he's been taught that helping a slave escape is a sin and will doom him to hell.

Today, Huckleberry Finn is prized for its satire (its use of humor to shed light on social and political problems) of the racist attitudes of a society based on slavery. But it is important to remember the book was published 20 years after the end of the Civil War and the banning of slavery in the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. Twain was looking back on the racist ideas of his childhood and using them to illuminate problems that still existed after the Civil War.

Slavery and the Civil War in Missouri

Twain's home state of Missouri, which is the setting for Huckleberry Finn, has a complicated history with slavery. When Missouri was about to be granted state status in 1820, there was great controversy about whether it would enter as a slave state, which practiced legal slavery, or a free state, which did not. The Northern states did not want slavery spreading to the Western territories and therefore giving more power in Congress to the Southern slave states. The Missouri Compromise of 1820 declared that Missouri could enter as a slave state but no other Western state north of Missouri's southern border would be admitted as a slave state.

Missouri's status as a border state between North and South, slave and free, came into play during the Civil War. Afraid of losing Missouri to the Confederacy, the Union removed the state's pro-Southern governor and installed a pro-Union military government. A shadow government of Confederate sympathizers was formed, which sent troops and supplies to the South. Various small militia groups, supporting both sides, popped up. A young Mark Twain briefly joined a pro-Confederate militia, which he portrayed as a bumbling group of wannabe soldiers in a humorous story published years later, ''The Private History of a Campaign That Failed.''

Tom Sawyer and Antebellum Nostalgia

Twain published The Adventures of Tom Sawyer in 1876. The humorous tale of the antics of the trouble-making Tom and his friend Huck Finn was loosely based on Twain's memories of growing up in Missouri in the 1830s and 1840s. Though Twain pokes gentle fun at the small-town characters, such as the upright and religious Aunt Polly, Tom Sawyer is generally an affectionate portrayal of small town Southern life.

Tom Sawyer makes use of the emotion of nostalgia, or sentimental longing for the past. Because of that, it was warmly received by readers, especially in the South. In 1876, many Southerners had deep nostalgia for the antebellum, or pre-Civil War period, as they had suffered through war and a decade of economic struggles, which they often blamed on the newly-freed former slaves and on Northerners. This nostalgia also spoke to Northern audiences who hoped to put the divisions of the war behind them.

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