|The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Theme: Society's Laws vs. Higher Moral Values
Grades: Grades 10-11
While traveling down the Mississippi with a runaway slave, an adolescent
boy learns to decide for himself what really matters. Set in the early
19th century, Twain's novel deals with a boy's loss of innocence and
a slave's struggle for freedom. In The Adventures of Huckleberry
Finn, he embraced the American values of rugged individualism and
freedom of speech; and by writing in the American vernacular, he helped
to create a distinctively American literary tradition.
- Role Playing.
Have students discuss or role-play one of the situations that follow:
- A friend tells you in strictest confidence that he is going
to run away from what you both consider an intolerable situation.
You know that runaways are often preyed upon by criminals and
other unscrupulous people. What do you do?
- Imagine that a law is passed requiring any adult without a high
school diploma to work as a servant for those who are more educated.
How will you respond to this law?
- Linking to Today: Political Refugees.
Discuss with students the contemporary situations in which governments
mistreat people. Bring up real-life instances in which people break
the law for what they believe is a higher good. For instance, in the
1980s, human-rights groups helped political refugees from El Salvador
escape their oppressive situation by traveling illegally through the
U.S. to Canada. What do students think they would do, given a chance
to help? What are their reasons?
Where the Slaves Were.
It may be difficult for students to get a feeling for how common
slavery was during the first half of the 19th century. Have students
research how many slaves were in the slave-holding states, compare
that number to the number of free people in each state, and display
the information in a chart.
The abolitionists, mentioned with such horror by Huck, were a group
of antislavery activists who wanted the slaves freed. Many gave fiery
speeches in aid of their cause. Students can write speeches to persuade
people to free the slaves, and then perform them.
- The Movement.
Have students research the antislavery movement. What sorts of pressures
were on the abolitionists? Instruct them to write a description of
a day in the life of an abolitionist.
- A Book of Slavery.
Slavery has such emotional connotations that one good way to think
about it is to collect and create impressions that can help people
understand the subject. Invite your students to create a book about
slaverya compendium of thoughts, artistic impressions, and reminiscences
about one of the most painful experiences in our nation's collective
memory. Another option is to make the book primarily visual, recording
students' drawings, etc., in response to the topic.
- Slavery has had such an impact on American life that it appears
often in art. First have students research the history of the
practice in this country. Then have them look for different ways
that artists and writers express their views on slavery. They
can look at African-American poetry, slave narratives, and slave
songs, comments from those who were there (both slaves and slave
holders), histories from abolitionists and the lives of people
such as the freed slave Sojourner Truth, paintings and other art
commenting on the subject (students can look in anthologies of
- Once students have done their research, have them discuss what
they found. They can decide how to present the information they
gathered. They could include some excerpts from accounts of the
day, art and poetry they have collected, and then create their
own responses through writing and art. Encourage them to think
about the book's organization-do they want a random series of
impressions, or to organize the work so it follows a particular
order? The book could be chronological, or organized by subject
- Have them assemble their book and introduce it in a presentation.