Mark Twain's "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" is a classic that intertwines child innocence, and adventure together like the meandering Mississippi River upon whose shores the adventures take place.
When reading such a novel that also interplays social classes and nuances of the period, a variety of literary critical styles can be used to fully understand the scope of style, tone and content.
The novel starts off where "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" has left off. Initially I found myself using the style of 'Historical-Biographical Criticism' that seeks to comprehend by investigating the cultural, social and intellectual context that helped produce the novel. Mark Twain, or Samuel Clemens, lived during a particular time in American history that was terribly turbulent in social and ethical issues.
Of all of Twain's novels, this was one that sold best at its initial appearance. On the other hand, it was condemned by many reviewers in MT's time as coarse and by many commentators in our time as racist (Railton). Like many controversial novels in our times, I would imagine that the controversy of "Huckleberry Finn" sparked many people to read it, and perhaps find themselves reflecting on why they enjoyed it, or found it disturbing in nature.
Besides having the reader reflect on racial issues, Twain also had his reader look at their religious beliefs. Quite often, Mark Twain attacked organized religions and Huck Finn's sarcastic nature must have been the perfect voice for him to do so.
Mark Twain was also against slavery and in many instances, "Twain uses Jim, a slave who is one of the main characters, as a way of showing the human side of a slave. However, at the same time that Twain is attacking slavery, he also pushes the issue into the background for most of the novel. (ClassicNotes)."
The book took values held dear by the South and turned them upside down, giving people a raw opportunity to see how wrong or idiotic some of their practices were, especially when it came to slavery and injustices in civil rights.
Twain also increased the flow and credibility of the story by including real places and landmarks. Mentioning places like Cairo, New Orleans and Ohio gave an added dimension to Huck Finn's adventures as well as being an imaginative aid for readers.
Another useful approach was 'Formalist Criticism', if only for doing justice to Twain's wonderful imagery and imagination.
Throughout the novel, we are delighted with descriptions of the Mississippi River, and the experiences of Huck Finn as he takes us along on his boundless adventures and discoveries. The river plays a central part in most of the book, especially when Jim and Huck are on Jackson's Island.
Twain juxtaposes the flow of the river within his book giving an even tone to parts where the reader should pay attention to dialogue and give thought to actions and ideas, before carrying away adventure and suspense in true page-turning style. Twain's imagery is regional and precise, allowing us to learn about Huck and Jim's whereabouts even if we have never been anywhere along the Mississippi.
Twain also does this for the traits of theft and honor as Tom and Huck take on creating a gang of robbers earlier in the story. In fact, Twain does a masterful job of showing 'honor' unified with 'robbery' by justifying it when 'stealing' a slave away from slavery.
Twain's descriptive prose and thoughtful symbolism is well appreciated when applying 'Sociological Criticism'. This approach examines literature in the cultural, economic and political context in which it is written and received. Within the pages of 'Huckleberry Finn' lie a multitude of subjects Twain had his readers examining and questioning. Besides religion and slavery, we are given an opportunity to look at our views on money, and superstition.
Jim and Huck refer to superstition at many points in the novel, and it is an interesting child-like behavior that also refers to the beliefs held within certain communities. Huck is overly intelligent, and though he and Jim are rational during most of the book, they appear quite the opposite when facing anything superstitious.
Money came into play for a lot of families living in the South. Plantations lined areas of the river, and…