The adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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Book cover of the US-American first edition from 1885
Huckleberry Finn, illustration from the 1884 edition
Huckleberry Finn and Jim on the Raft, illustration from the 1884 edition

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (in the original Adventures of Huckleberry Finn) is the most successful novel by Mark Twain and is considered a key work of US American literature . It was published in Great Britain and Canada on December 10, 1884, and in the United States on February 18, 1885 . Henny Koch wrote the first German translation with the title Huckleberry Finns Abenteuer und Fahrt (1890).

The narrator is Huck Finn himself. Mark Twain simulates the perspective and language of a boy who is attached to his time and his environment, but who also questions them.


The book provides a detailed description of the people and places on the banks of the Mississippi and gives sobering and biting insights into the firmly entrenched behaviors of this time, especially racism and slavery . The book itself is sometimes misunderstood as racist because Jim is consistently referred to as a " nigger ". Mark Twain deliberately adopted a form of address for dark-skinned people that was common at the time, just as he lets the characters speak in different regional and subcultural dialects. This approach is being discussed critically today. In the English-language edition of the book published by NewSouth in 2011 , the word "nigger" in the text was replaced by "slave".

In the novel, an innocent, individualistic white outsider and a rightsless dark-skinned slave successfully go their adverse path down the Mississippi together. In popular American studies, the novel is considered to be one of the classic embodiments of the American dream , the pursuit of happiness , as it was proclaimed in the American Declaration of Independence . The fact that Twain naturally allows both of them to “strive” for this “happiness” (in the form of at least a more humane life) can be seen primarily as a clear political statement against racism, the black at the time described and for a long time to come then excluded from this - only theoretically proclaimed for "all" - right.

Life in St. Petersburg

The novel begins in Missouri on the banks of the Mississippi River in the fictional city of St. Petersburg, which is modeled on the place Hannibal , where Mark Twain grew up. It is set sometime between 1835 (when the first steamship sailed the Mississippi) and 1845. Two young fellows, orphan Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn , have made sizable sums of money, $ 6,000 each, through previous adventures . Huck was initially under the tutelage of the widow Douglas, who tried together with her sister Miss Watson to "civilize" him. Huck is pleased with their efforts, but finds civilized life too limited. At the beginning of the story Tom Sawyer appears briefly and helps Huck escape the house at night, past Miss Watson's slave Jim, who will later play an important role. They meet in the self-proclaimed gang of Tom Sawyer, who - based on a clear literary model - undertakes to commit adventurous actions and crimes. However, Huck's life is massively changed by the sudden appearance of his father. This is a chronic drunk who rarely shows up, but then sees beating his son as a legitimate "education". Huck's father had found out that his son had got money and wants to get it from him. Huck initially defends himself successfully, but cannot prevent his father kidnapping him and forcing him to live with him in a hut on a desert island in the river. There he keeps an eye on his son or locks him up if he leaves him alone for a long time.

Huck finally manages to escape from his prison. He also cleverly manages to fake his own murder in order to suggest to his father that further pursuits would be pointless. Huck goes on a boat on the Mississippi and drives towards an uncertain future.

The houseboat and Huck as girls

At first, Huck lived happily ever after on an overgrown, uninhabited island called Jackson's Island in the Mississippi. Unexpectedly, he meets the slave Jim, who has run away from his owner Miss Watson because she wants to sell him for 800 dollars to New Orleans , where life is even harder for slaves. A long escape together began.

Jim tries to find a way to the city of Cairo , Illinois , and from there to Ohio , a free state, to buy his family's freedom. First, Huck considers whether he should report Jim's escape. But eventually they travel together and have extensive conversations about their lives. As a result, Huck learns a lot about Jim's past and increasingly understands his situation. During this process, he changes his views on slavery and life in general.

Huck and Jim initially stay in a cave on a hill on Jackson's Island to survive a severe storm. Whenever they can, they scrounge around the river in search of food, wood and other things. One night they find a raft and use it for their big trip down the Mississippi. They later come across an entire floating house and steal everything they can grab from it. In one room of this house, Jim finds a man lying dead on the floor who was apparently shot in the back while an attempt was made to ransack the house. He prevents Huck from seeing the man's face.

Huck wants to catch up on the latest news from the area, so he comes up with the idea of ​​dressing up as a girl and introducing himself under the name Sarah Williams in some house with a made up story. He enters the house of a woman named Judith Loftus, who is new to the area, so he believes he is not recognized by her. While they are talking, Huck learns that there is a $ 300 reward on offer for Jim who is accused of murdering Huck. Huck reveals himself and his story of lies by giving his first name incorrectly in one repetition, and after it turns out that he cannot thread a needle, which at the time every girl could. The woman treats him graciously and even wants to help him. However, in ignorance of his true identity, she points out that her husband and several others already suspect the island on which they live is to be Jim's residence and they want to check them out soon. Huck immediately returns to the island, wakes the sleeping Jim and explains that they must both flee immediately. In a great hurry, they both pack their belongings on the raft and flee.

The Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons

The raft of the two of them is flooded by a passing steamer, which separates the two. Huck swims ashore and is accepted into the wealthy Grangerford family. He befriends one of the younger sons named Buck, a boy of the same age, and learns that the Grangerfords are involved in a 30-year blood revenge against another family, the Shepherdsons, of which no one knows exactly what it was initially went. The Grangerfords and Shepherdsons go to the same church regularly. Both families always bring weapons with them, despite the sermon in the church, which calls for brotherly love. The action reaches a climax when Buck's sister Sophia runs away with Harney Shepherdson. In a shootout that ensued, all the other men in the Grangerford family died; at the sight of his friend Buck's corpse, Huck is too disturbed to write about what happened. However, he describes how he narrowly escaped his own death and the eventual reunification with Jim. Both continue their flight south on their old raft, which was unexpectedly undamaged.

The Duke and the King

Further down the river, Jim and Huck rescue two professional con men who also get on the raft. The younger of the two, a man of about thirty, introduces himself as the son of an English duke, the Duke of Bridgewater. He is the rightful successor to his father. The older one, around seventy, even claims to be the son of Louis XVI. and thus rightful King of France. These two, the "Duke" and the "King", persuade Jim and Huck to be allowed to travel on the raft. During the trip south they commit various scams.

Once they come to a town and rent the courthouse for one night to print posters announcing a theatrical performance they call the “Royal Incomparable”. The game turns out to be a raw affair during the performance, and this annoys the townspeople who paid for it. Instead of taking revenge on the actors, they come up with the idea - in order not to appear alone as the stupid ones - to get the other city dwellers into the theater as well by lying to them that it is a very wonderful play.

Meanwhile, on Game Day, a drunk named Boggs comes into town and causes a stir by threatening the death of a well-known southerner named Colonel Sherburn. This shows up in public, warns Boggs and gives him an ultimatum until 1 a.m. Until then he can insult him, but not later. Boggs maintains his behavior until after 1 a.m., after which Colonel Sherburn shoots him.

Someone in the crowd yells that Sherburn should be lynched, and everyone heads to his house to kill him. Colonel Sherburn awaits them there with a loaded rifle. He gives a lengthy speech on the common meanness and cowardice of American jurisprudence. He accuses the hysterical pack of having submitted to a leader completely blindly and without any reason. He claims that such lynching usually only succeeds when it comes to "real men" who would only do their work in masks at night (In this speech, Mark Twain expresses his own misanthropic views: Huck, the outcast, is fleeing the south, while Sherburn the gentleman rebukes this society, albeit in a cynical and brutal manner).

When the “King” and the “Duke” try to perform the play for the third time, the residents are determined not to accept that and come into the theater with various projectiles, which is noticed by the others. All four immediately flee the city and continue down the Mississippi on the raft. The deceit of the "King" and "Duke" reaches its climax when they try to impersonate brothers of the recently deceased and very wealthy Peter Wilkes in another city. Shortly before, they obtained the necessary detailed knowledge from another, unsuspecting family member. You get used to an absurd English accent. The “King” manages to convince most of the city's residents that he and the “Duke” are the two brothers of the deceased who have just come from England. In what follows, they try to acquire a large part of the legacy. A single man from the circle of friends of the deceased publicly accuses them of cheating, but initially without success. Even so, the two scammers are getting cautious. The "Duke" wants to flee immediately, but the "King" wants to take even more of the inheritance and claims that there is little danger "because most of the idiots are on their side, and that is the majority in every city" (This sentence also suggests a “creed” by Mark Twain).

Huck is appalled by the two’s plan to steal their inheritance from the deceased’s daughters and, for his part, plans to reverse the theft. He also opposes the deceiver's plan to sell the deceased's slaves individually, thereby separating them from their families. Huck steals the previously stolen money and hides it in the still open coffin. He makes a plan to write to one of the daughters from another city, where the money is. But in all the confusion, he doesn't know anymore whether the money is in the coffin or whether someone has taken it out.

Shortly afterwards, the two fraudsters get into trouble again because the allegedly true brothers of the late Peter Wilkes, but also two other fraudsters, appear. When the money is found in Wilke's coffin, the two swindlers manage to escape in the general confusion and return to the raft to Huck and Jim. Huck himself is very disappointed because he had hoped to have finally left them both behind.

Jim's escape

During the further escape, the "King" decides to sell Jim when Huck is in a nearby town. Huck is outraged by this renewed betrayal and gets into a conflict of conscience. On the one hand, he tells himself that his support for Jim's escape is at the same time a violation of the "property" of Jim's owner, Miss Watson. But Huck risks "going to Hell" and decides to keep helping Jim escape.

When Huck visits the house that Jim was sold to, Huck learns that the "King" sold him for $ 40. An astonishing coincidence occurs when it is discovered that the new owners of Jim, Mr. and Mrs. Phelps, are the uncle and aunt of Tom Sawyer, who is expected for a visit but has not seen him in a long time. Now Huck himself is mistaken for Tom Sawyer, and he leaves Tom's relatives in this mistaken belief with the intention of helping Jim escape. Tom himself appears, but when he learns Huck's plan, he pretends to be his younger brother Sid.

Jim makes sure that the two fraudsters cannot perform their usual deception with the play again. Both are captured by the townspeople, tarred and feathered, and finally chased out of town.

Instead of simply rescuing Jim from the shed where he is being held, Tom devises an elaborate and adventurous rescue plan. Secret messages, hidden tunnels and a rope ladder hidden in a meal play a role here, and other elements from the popular novels. This includes a message to the Phelps that allegedly deals with an Indian tribe looking for their escaped slave. During the following escape, Tom is shot in the leg. Instead of thinking about his successful escape, Jim insists that Huck see a doctor to take care of Tom. This was the first time Jim asked for anything for a white person. Huck explains this as follows: "I always knew that he was white inside, so that's fine". Jim and Tom are caught and brought back by the doctor.


After Jim got back to his new "owners", the remaining problems solve themselves. Tom's aunt Polly appears and clarifies the true identity of Tom and Huck. Tom announces that Jim has been free for months because Miss Watson passed away two months ago and gave Jim the freedom in her will. But Tom didn't mean to say that directly so that he could carry out his adventurous plan of liberation. Jim tells Huck that his father has been dead for some time - he was the one they found in the floating hut - and that Huck can return to Saint Petersburg without fear. In conclusion, Huck explains that he is very happy to have told this story in writing and that instead of being adopted and "civilized" by Tom's family, he would rather go west to Indian territory .

Reception and literary importance

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn was Mark Twain's greatest success and is considered a key work in American literature. Ernest Hemingway placed the novel at the beginning of all modern American literature. The literary theorist Wayne C. Booth noted in 2005 that there is seldom such a consistently dubious voice in literary works as that of Huck Finn (or like that of the butler in Kazuo Ishiguro's What Was Left of the Day ).


Film adaptations

The stories of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn have been edited for the cinema since 1917 and later for television.

Classification of the German films

The material found a relatively extensive adaptation of the adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn in the ZDF four -part adventure series Tom Sawyers and Huckleberry Finns Adventures from 1968. The adventures of Huck Finn, which are independent of Tom Sawyer, are only included in it (in the 4th part) The beginning of the escape with the runaway slave Jim is described.

The complete adventures are included in the German / Canadian co-production of the 26-part television series The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn ( Huckleberry Finn and His Friends , 1979).

The German film adaptation by director Hermine Huntgeburth from 2012 under the title The Adventures of Huck Finn was released on December 20, 2012.

International films (selection)


The musical Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn was dramaturgically revised and released by John von Düffel in 2014 in a German version based on drafts by Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson from 1950 .

radio play

The radio play of the same name (SWF 2002) was awarded the Radio Eins Radio Play Cinema Audience Award in 2009.


In 2013, an adaptation by Olivia Vieweg under the title Huck Finn was published by Suhrkamp Verlag . The graphic novel sticks closely to the first part of the original, but cuts out the story arc around the "Duke" and the "King" and puts the story in a modern context. Huck Finn flees here with the Asian forced prostitute Jin from Halle down the Saale towards Hamburg .


Book title from around 1920 in Sütterlin script : Huckleberry Finns rides and adventure

The book is available in different versions from many publishers. In some issues the other adventures with Tom Sawyer are also summarized.



Huckleberry Finn car ferry

One of the car ferries used by TT-Line between Germany and Sweden is named after Huckleberry Finn .


  • Karl Schubert: Mark Twain. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In: The American Novel in the 19th and 20th Centuries. Published by Edgar Lohner. Schmidt Verlag, Berlin 1974, ISBN 3-503-00515-3 , pp. 70-91.
  • Robert C. Evans: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (Mark Twain). Civil Disobedience and the Ending of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In: Civil Disobedience. Edited by Harold Bloom and Blake Hobby. Bloom's Literary Criticism, New York 2010, ISBN 978-1-60413-439-1 , pp. 21-29.
  • Patricia F. D'Ascoli: Coming Up Empty. Exploring Narrative Omissions in Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In: Twain's Omissions. Exploring the gaps as textual context. Edited by Gretchen Martin. Cambridge Scholars, Newcastle upon Tyne, England 2013, ISBN 978-1-4438-4989-0 , pp. 57-74.
  • John Bird: Mind the Gap. A Reader Reading Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. In: Twain's Omissions. Exploring the gaps as textual context. Edited by Gretchen Martin. Cambridge Scholars, Newcastle upon Tyne, England 2013, ISBN 978-1-4438-4989-0 , pp. 9-20.

Web links

Wikisource: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn  - Sources and full texts (English)
Commons : Adventures of Huckleberry Finn  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  2. Article on the CNN homepage ( memento of January 11, 2011 in the Internet Archive )
  3. Wayne C. Booth, "Resurrection of the Implied Author: Why Bother?", In: A Companion to Narrative Theory , edited by James Phelan and Peter J. Rabinowitz, Blackwell Publishing, Malden / Massachusetts and Oxford 2005, paperback edition 2008, ISBN 978-1-4051-1476-9 Table of contents (PDF) pp. 75–88, p. 78.
  4. Huckleberry Finn (1920)
  5. Huckleberry Finn (1931)
  6. The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (1982)
  7. Sawyer and Finn (1983)
  8. Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn. on