Yet, that is arguably why the characters act as they do (McWilliams 197). McWilliams further notes that human incompetence is comedy (197). Since the characters are not real people but Twain's creations, students should feel free to laugh at the ignorance and misfortunes of Huck and Jim in the same way that they are free to laugh when someone deliberately falls down in an attempt at comedy.
Comedy may not be immediately obvious in Twain's portrayal of Pap Finn. Yet he is one of Twain's strongest examples of satire and irony. Carter argues that Pap Finn establishes himself as an example of all that is wrong with the Southern social system; in becoming that example, readers can look to him to see what needs to change in order for people to become better and society to improve (137). In younger classrooms, this may at first be difficult to grasp. However, students at any age can recognize the inappropriate and destructive behavior of Pap Finn. Junior high classrooms and even high school classrooms may experience a level of discomfort in Pap Finn'a abuse of Huck, his alcoholism, and his outward prejudice (Edgar and Padgett 161). If they can recognize that behavior as wrong and destructive, teachers should be quick to point out the moral instruction that exists through the character of Pap Finn: "whatever Pap Finn is for, the reader is conditioned to be against" (Carter 137).
Here, students should recognize the moral but also recognize that Twain purposefully uses Pap Finn in this way. Far from being a simplistic character, Pap Finn was designed to incorporate every aspect of his time and society that Twain deemed unsatisfactory (Carter 137). In the classroom, teachers and students may wish to examine which of Pap Finn's attributes are viewed similarly today. Additionally, they should be able to recognize which elements of Huck's relationship with his father would not be possible today. Examples include the "adoption" of Huck by the widow, which seemed to be completely free of any legality. Huck's father's distaste for school and education, and his ability to keep his child out of school, is also an indication of the times and should be discussed in terms of both the satire and the historical context.
Satire in both Pap and Huck Finn creates much of the conflict throughout the story. If Pap Finn is the example of what the reader should distrust and question, what does that make Huck? Huck cannot be considered the product of an ideal society, and herein lies the irony and satire of Twain's work. Huck is the ideal product of his society. Since his society is imperfect, so is he. Sloane argues that the core of the novel is in the human sympathy and sensitivity that appears in Huck (141). He recognizes that Jim is a quality human being who deserves freedom. Despite this, Huck cannot get around his own social constructions that he is still just a slave. Twain's use of Huck as a boy who has a limited understanding allows the reader to see how people managed to be willing participants in the southern institution of slavery.
Students grappling with the satire should be assisted by prepared teacher questions. Do students think that Huck is a bad person? If not, how do they justify his actions toward Jim? Does Twain paint a pessimistic or optimistic view of society in Huckleberry Finn? What does Huck's narration do for the story's satire? Can students recognize that Huck never criticizes his society but Twain, through Huck, manages to do just that?
Finally, a teacher with the intention of teaching irony and satire may create too many barriers to student enjoyment. Teachers should be aware that the story is enjoyable on many levels and allow students to enjoy the book for what it is: the story of a young boy's adventures. Students, especially younger students, will remember what they learn and read if they enjoy the novel. Carter suggests that the story delights and instructs, "in that order" (131). Allow students to enjoy the silliness, absurdity, and buffoonish behavior of the characters without forcing each action to be an example of irony and satire Carter 131).
Realism, being true to itself, would go completely unnoticed in the Huckleberry Finn teaching classroom if teachers did not call attention to its use and importance. Ferris suggests a discussion of the progression of American literature, discussing "romanticism through local color to realism" (4). After teaching realism in terms of literature history and development, instruction can move on to a number of issues that Twain addresses to achieve the realism in Huckleberry Finn. Of these, Huck as the narrator and the use of dialect are perhaps the move instructive.
Huckleberry Finn makes for an interesting narrator. Not only is he interesting, but Twain uses him as a realist tool, especially for students. Ferris argues that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is important as an early literature text because students relate to the young narrator (4). Fishkin further argues that the success of Huck's narration is due to the awareness of the author being greater than that of his characters (par. 2). Since Huck is "too innocent and ignorant to understand what's wrong with his society and what's right about his own transgressive behavior," it stands to reason that Twain understood exactly how such things should appear through Huck's eyes. Students and teachers should be aware of the narration as a realist tool and become skeptical about everything that Huck says in order to find out what Twain is saying (Fishkin, par. 2). Further, Fishkin suggests posing this quandary to students this way: ask them why a man who defined himself as anti-slavery created a narrator who is "too innocent and ignorant to challenge [the morality of slavery]" (par. 5)?
Bollinger argues that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is recognized and defined for its "moments of radical autonomy," wherein Huck becomes a "courageous" boy who refuses to conform to the morals and conventions of society (32). The reader empathizes with Huck and see him as the hero even though he is not one. Students should be asked about Huck's positive qualities ("Huck Finn in Context"). Students may be able to make the connection between Huck's lack of introspection and innocence and Twain's realism. If not, instruction from teachers can help them in the right direction: How does his lack of ego and his innocence create a realistic image of Twain's fictional world? When reading, do you get any indication that the story is being written by a full-grown man rather than a boy? How would the "message" of the book be different if it was not narrated by Huck? Would the story be the same if it were written by an adult man? Why or why not? ("Huck Finn in Context").
The realism in Huckleberry Finn, once recognized, also gives away a great deal about the author's intentions and his feelings about the world. Students may be able to recognize many of these intentions. Sloane finds that Twain's depiction of an innocent and ignorant boy who is unable to even comprehend the moral questions of slavery is a pessimistic view on the world (141-142). Far from simply satirizing Southern society, Sloane finds that Twain was making a further association between human beings and their ability to create bad situations; drunkenness, crime, attempted murder, child abuse and many other examples exist, many of them carried out by the sympathetic child narrator (142).
By using writing exercises in the classroom, teachers can illustrate to students how difficult it is to get a point across through a narrator who does not realize the point. High school and junior high school students benefit from writing exercises that focus on negative parent-child interactions. Such exercises can be compared to conversation and interactions between Huck and his father. Students should investigate the motives of Pap and Huck Finn during these times, and then question their own writing for similar character motivation. Students gain perspective on the difficulty and mastery of Twain's realist writing style in this way (Edgar and Padgett, 161).
Realism in Huckleberry Finn is perhaps nowhere more apparent than in the dialects used in the text. The dialects of the characters and narrator allow Twain to accurately depict people, to the point that is forgotten that they are not people but fictional characters (Fishkin, par. 6). Impressing this upon students of literature can help them in understanding what realism means and how it differs from others types of writing.
As with narration, the use of dialects in writing exercises can help students to understand more about Huckleberry Finn. Edgar and Padgett suggested many writing examples using dialects that students brainstormed in the classroom. These included street slang, surfer-dude, and other vernaculars that presented themselves to junior high and high school students (159). College and adult students might also benefit from this exercise as it forces…