The story is narrated by the protagonist, Huck, and follows his journey wherein he is faced with a number of moral choices, which subsequently lead him to question the morality and supposedly ‘civilised’ nature of society, outgrowing his own instincts of self-preservation and moral deviancy in the process.
Using Kohlberg’s theory of moral development (1981, cited in Gibbs, 2003, pp.57-76), this essay will analyse how and why Huck begins to take responsibility for his own moral choices, rejecting the prescribed morality of some of the authority figures in his life and accepting that of others, thus demonstrating how life experiences of kindness and cruelty can affect the development of an individual’s mortality.
If we lived in a world in which racism had been eliminated generations before, teaching Huck Finn would be a piece of cake. The difficulties we have teaching this book reflect the difficulties we continue to confront in our classrooms and our nation.
As educators, it is incumbent upon us to teach our students to decode irony, to understand history, and to be repulsed by racism and bigotry wherever they find it. It's unfair to force one novel to bear the burden -- alone -- of addressing these issues and solving these problems.
Samuel Clemens might be convinced that slavery itself and its legacy are filled with shame, but Huck is convinced that his reward for defying the moral norms of his society will be eternal damnation.
Something new happened in Huck Finn that had never happened in American literature before.
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Shelley Fisher Fishkin, Professor of American Studies and English at the University of Texas, is the author of Lighting Out for the Territory: Reflections on Mark Twain and American Culture (Oxford University Press, 1997) and Was Huck Black?
Mark Twain and African American Voices (Oxford University Press, 1993).