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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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8. Regional Realism   

8. Regional

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•  Using the Video
•  Authors
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Activities: Author Activities

Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) - Teaching Tips

Back Back to Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens) Activities
  • Twain wrote the first sixteen chapters of Huckleberry Finn in the Centennial year 1876. He then found himself frustrated and uncertain about how to finish the story, abandoning it until 1883. Ask students to think about the relevance of the fact that this novel was begun on the anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. How does the book comment on the Declaration's ideals of "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"? Ask your class to think about the breaking point at Chapter 16, given the information that Twain left his draft at that point for eight years. Why might he have found himself frustrated and uncertain about the trajectory of the story at that point? How did he resolve his problem? How does Huck and Jim's relationship change during the Grangerford and Shepherdson sequence?

  • Twain's repeated use of the word "nigger" throughout Huckleberry Finn has caused controversy since its publication and can make it a troubling book to teach. Parents and administrators angry about what they perceive as the book's racism have called for its removal from middle school and high school curricula. Ask your students to think about why Twain used this pejorative term--and it was considered pejorative both in his own time and in the historical period in which the novel is set--in a novel that many readers have understood to be an indictment of racism. What effect might Twain have been aiming for? Should we understand his use of the word as itself an example of racism? Is there a distinction to be made between Twain's stand on slavery and his stand on racism? What is the impact of the presence of this word on our understanding of the novel today?

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