Huckleberry Finn Revisited

Die Abenteuer des Huckleberry Finn kennt heute noch (fast) jedes Kind. Der 1884 von Mark Twain veröffentlichte Roman ist aber eigentlich kein Kinderbuch, sondern ein Bildungsoman, der vor allem wegen seiner zeitlosen Themen so erfolgreich ist. Als Huckleberry sich mit dem entlaufenen Sklaven Jim auf große Fahrt begibt, wird jede Begegnungen entlang des Mississippi zu einer wichtigen Station auf seiner Lebensreise. Huck lernt vieles, z. B. über Freundschaft, Loyalität, Vertrauen – und auch über die Überwindung der eigenen Vorurteile.

Im Rahmen unseres Erasmus-Projekts zu Deep Reading haben Schülerinnen und Schüler der 9. Klassen ihre ganz eigen Sicht auf den Roman erarbeitet. Entstanden sind zum Beispiel Filmszenen über die Beziehung zwischen Huck und Jim. Was hätten beide sich zu sagen, wenn Huckleberry ans Bett seines sterbenden Freundes gerufen würde? Wie würde sein Nachruf auf Jim klingen?

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Wer mehr über das Buch erfahren möchte, findet hier Hintergrundinformationen zum Roman und zur amerikanischen Geschichte:

Why read Huckleberry Finn?

“The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” is an outstanding novel by Mark Twain, first published in 1884. The book tells us the story of an uncivilised young boy named Huckleberry Finn who lives with an old widow who wants to educate him. Huck doesn’t like his new life there, so he keeps sneaking out at night. He later meets his father, who is an alcoholic. His father kidnaps him and takes him to a small cabin in the woods, but Huck manages to escape while his father is in town. Huck looks for a safe place to stay and eventually decides to set up his camp on Jackson Island, where he meets Jim, one of the widow’s slaves who escaped and is trying to get to the town of Cairo, from where slaves can make it to the North.

Huckleberry and Jim experience many different adventures and missions with different persons, before reaching Cairo. Huck guides the reader through the novel, as he tells about all the adventures he experienced with Jim on their way down the Mississippi. The book teaches the reader about friendship and loyalty. Huck often has to decide whether to betray Jim and receive a reward or stay loyal and win him as a friend. Jim and Huck also have to trust each other unconditionally to master the challenges they have to face during their adventure.

One of the main focuses of the book is the development of its protagonists, which is one of the reasons why this novel is considered a bildungsroman. In the beginning Huck thinks of Jim as property, but throughout the novel he gets to know him better and learns that Jim is in fact just as much a human being as himself. We think the book has many memorable scenes, like for example Huck’s monologue about whether he should turn Jim in or not. “I began thinking that maybe it was not right helping a slave to his freedom” (p. 37).

We think the author did a good job in showing how important it is to gain experience in real life and how school is not the only thing that will educate you. The story is very well written and it always stays exciting, as there are a lot of turning points in the story, for example when Jim gets sold by Huck’s and Jim’s travelling companions. We think that even though the book is very old, the author was right about a lot of things, which is also why we think this is a good book to teach in class.

Adrian & Felix (Year 9)

Huck’s and Jim’s Story

During Huckleberry and Jim’s journey down the Mississippi they meet two armed men who are looking for a runaway slave. Jim quickly hides and the men ask Huckleberry many questions about the identity of the second man on the raft. Huckleberry lies and says that it’s his sick father. The armed men let them go, as they’re scared to catch the disease.

Then Huck and Jim meet two frauds who end up selling Jim for a low price. Huckleberry and his friend Tom Sawyer work out a plan to help Jim escape. Their plan is successful at first, but later fails when Tom is shot in the leg while trying to run to the raft. Being the kind-hearted person that he is, Jim refuses to continue his journey to Cairo while Tom’s life is in danger. So he takes him to a local doctor where Tom’s wounds are treated.

The bildungsroman has a beautiful ending when it turns out that Jim had been a free man the entire time. Miss Watson died a couple of months after Jim and Huckleberry had escaped and wrote in her will that Jim was to be set free.

The story takes place in the 1840s or 50s when slavery, systemic discrimination and racism were still prevalent. When Huckleberry faked his own death, people were quick to blame Jim instead of Huckleberry’s father, who was clearly a much more violent and vicious man. This was solely because Jim was African American.

Jim’s mission after running away is to reach a state where he could be free. This is difficult, since many people profited directly or indirectly from slavery. When Jim and Huckleberry come across the two armed men, Huck lies in order to protect Jim, but later on can’t decide if it was a good or bad idea not to give Jim away. Huckleberry was brought up with racial stereotypes and it takes time before he realizes that he and Jim are both humans, no matter what their skin colour is. Jim thinks of Huckleberry as his first white friend after this incident and by the end of the novel Huckleberry is ready to do anything in order to protect Jim, even though this makes him an abolitionist. Abolitionists, people who wanted to end slavery, were not accepted in the South and many thought it was a negative term, even though it just described someone who wanted equality. The novel is thus a prime example to show what the US were like before the end of slavery.

Black History 

Slavery started in the late 15th century. Rich Europeans bought African people, mainly prisoners of war, but also many ordinary people whom they saw in the streets. Often they exchanged people for manufactured goods, such as tools, alcohol or textiles. The Europeans then shipped the slaves to the New World where there was a lot of farmland to be cultivated. In exchange for the slaves, the Americans gave the Europeans raw materials like cotton and tobacco. This Triangular Trade made sense for all parties, except for the slaves who were the ones that made the system profitable. The slaves lived in very poor conditions and had no rights. They were treated like animals or objects and were forced to work on farms or be servants in rich households. They didn’t receive any money and weren’t allowed to do anything without the explicit permission of their owners. Even if their owners set them free, they would still struggle. Take Jim, the slave who runs away with Huckleberry Finn, for example. He is dependent on his owner, Widow Douglas, to give him a place to live or something to eat. Since Jim is a black man, he is denied an education, which means he could not work in a well-paid job even if he was free.

After Abraham Lincoln and the Union won the Civil War in 1865 and declared the abolishment of slavery or involuntary servitude, African Americans still didn’t have equal rights. Many states introduced the so-called “Jim Crow Laws”, which were laws aimed at discriminating people of colour and segregating black and white people. Because of these laws many black people were denied the right to vote, weren’t allowed to talk to white people or had to use a separate restroom or drinking fountain. This situation wouldn’t get better until the mid-20th century.

The 1960s were a decade of progress for the relationship between African Americans and White Americans. The civil rights movement gained equal rights for African Americans under the law in the United States. Fortunately, today segregation does not exit anymore in society. Since the civil rights movement, anti-discrimination laws have been passed and peoples’ views on equality have also changed for the better. However, racism is still going on today.

Unfortunately, the negative images and stereotypes we have inherited from the past are difficult to get rid of. One of the most famous of today’s movements fighting racism and anti-Black violence is Black Lives Matter. It began in 2013 after the unjustified killings of three African American teenagers. Protests filled the streets and a couple of years later in 2020 there was a wave of unrest caused by the murder of George Floyd. Around 15 to 26 million people participated in Black Lives Matter protests in the United States in 2020, making it one of the largest movements in the country’s history.

Arshida, Marlene, Oscar (Year 9)

Why “Huckleberry Finn” Still Matters

The novel teaches us about black history in a very interesting way, as it mirrors language, attitude, mindset and actions of white people. It captures the gruesomeness and reality of slavery and the social disparities all because of one distinguishing factor: skin colour.

You are able to indulge into Huckleberry’s adventures as it enables young readers to get a glimpse on the perspective of Huck, the protagonist who shares his thoughts along the narrative – thus making it an intriguing and in my opinion an “unputdownable” book.

Why does Huckleberry Finn still have an impact today? As shown in “Huckleberry Finn, slavery was very important in the past. And while some may think it was abolished long ago, right now almost 50 million people are trapped in modern slavery world-wide. Modern slavery may look different than the Transatlantic Slave Trade, but it is still about control and exploitation.

Nowadays, people can become enslaved to make our clothes or our food, working in factories and picking our crops. Slavery is all around us, though it is hidden from plain sight. Because of this it is important to spread awareness, so we can work together to stop modern slavery.

When reading a book like Huckleberry Finn, people all around the world get confronted with the topic of slavery, which may make us question our lifestyle that is still based on enslavement today. Mark Twain tried to give us a picture of American society and criticise what was considered normal in this day: the slavery of black people. By letting Huckleberry and the slave Jim have a journey together, he reminds us that the „American Dream“ of freedom is for everybody.

Greta & Eva (Year 9)