March 31, 2020

Huck Finn, chapters 18-21

Here’s the trailer from back in the 1990s for the Huck Finn movie. I’ll keep looking for more clips to share, but I can find only a handful:

And here’s a scene from a few days ago, when Huck dresses up as a girl to find out the gossip surrounding him and Jim:

The Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons–respectable, handsome, wealthy families who are so set in their ways, so wrapped up in pride, that they can’t live peaceably and have been feuding for 30 years! Family members are dying, but no matter–honor must be upheld!

Huck is reunited with Jim, who was able to find and fix up their raft, and they can get OUTTA THERE!

See again that we have “rules” and “civilization” on the shores–and the Grangerfords and Shepherdsons are the worst examples of “civility”–so Huck and Jim eagerly get back to true freedom on the river. Their children try to marry (shades of “Romeo and Juliet” here) but the family feud continues, claiming even young Buck. Who would want to live in a society where this is considered “normal”?

Out on the river they are “free and safe once more . . . You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.” (They even travel naked as much as they can. Talk about a little too free and easy.)

I think most of us would think life on a raft would be rather precarious, and obviously dangerous, but it’s far better than civilization.

And then we meet the King and the Duke. (Did you hate Pap? Get ready to hate two more characters.)

The king is older, in his seventies, and the duke is around thirty years old. They are “confidence men,” meaning they gain your confidence, then trick you and run off with all of your money: “con men.” They’re going to be hanging with our boys and using them to pull off all kinds of schemes and rip off as many people as possible.

And Huck and Jim aren’t quite clear on all of this. Now the banks and shores has invaded their freedom on the river, and they’re not going to be free because of these two goobers. They initially exchange stories as to what kind of cons they run, then lament to each other that they are actually far greater than they seem. The younger man, why he’s a duke! From England! And to make him feel better about all that he’s lost, Huck and Jim can wait on him hand and foot. Nice, so nice.

But wait! There’s more! The old man is kind of jealous here, and he sobs about his unfairness. Why, he’s the rightful King of France! The Dolphin! And now Huck and Jim have to be servants to him, too.

And so there we have two con-men who are definitely not royalty but are even conning each other.

Huckleberry Finn: The Duke and the King Norman Rockwell | Etsy

Huck and Jim’s luck is going really bad now. They just don’t fully realize it yet. But Huck does realize pretty quickly that they are “lowdown humbugs and frauds . . . I learnt that the best way to get along with his kind of people is to let them have their own way.”

That’s kind of sad, really.

Well, these two goobers take over the raft and their future.

And oh, our King is a Shakespearean actor! Oh, he butchers Will pretty awfully. He’s quite the actor, though, pretending to be a pirate who’s been saved by hearing a preacher (and making a good amount of money at it (the equivalent of $2,500). The Duke has a few plans, and also creates a fake sign for Jim, so they could claim that he’s a slave they’re returning down to New Orleans.

And then they do Hamlet. Oh, someone give me strength. You guys know this speech. Does is sound at all like you wrote about? (And he slips in some Macbeth in there.)

Then we get the disturbing incident with Boggs. Here’s what Cliffnotes has to say:

The irony of the two frauds attempting to quote Shakespeare is surpassed only by the irony of their attempt to present it to the small Arkansas village. Huck’s description of the barren town and its inhabitants reminds readers of the squalid and cruel nature of society. The men are not only cruel to defenseless animals, they are also vicious with one another as is revealed in the death of poor Boggs. Similar to Twain’s use of the Mississippi, the murder of Boggs is based on a real event that Twain witnessed as a young man. The incident illustrates the dangers of pride and a mob mentality, and also symbolizes human’s contempt for one another. The fact that Boggs’ earlier actions are deemed harmless further illustrates that no one in Huck’s world is immune from corruption and hatred.

The cruelty of the Boggs episode is easily recognized by Huck, as is the general squalor of the town. Huck’s reaction is noteworthy, for it contrasts sharply with the “evils” of his companion, Jim. Among the string of characters that Huck encounters — from Pap to the Grangerfords to Sherburn — Jim stands above them despite society’s condemnation.

Tomorrow’s reading will show you what happens with Sherburn.


I promised you a poem, but I’m giving you two! Both from Robert Frost, America’s foremost poet of the 20th Century, and both frequently misunderstood. For this assignment I want you to READ BOTH, then choose ONE to WRITE UP for me. Create good, solid paragraphs detailing what you find in your chosen poem. Follow SLAM–Structure, Language, Affect, Meaning–and share with me. I’ll try to do YouTube videos of analyzing these, so you may wait to write up your poems until I’ve posted my analyses.

READING ASSIGNMENT: Huck Finn, chapters 22-27


  • 1. Why did the people return to the show?
  • 2. What do you think is the point of the incident of the shooting of Boggs?
  • 3. Why do you think we hear about Jim’s daughter “‘Lizabeth”?
  • 4.  Where did the king and duke get their plan about being the Wilks brothers?
  • 5.  How do the king and duke get the money?
  • 6.  Why does Huck steal the money from the mattress?
  • 7.  Why doesn’t Huck’s conscience bother him when he lies so much?

POETRY ANALYSIS–Robert Frost’s two poems–you choose one. This write-up will be due THURSDAY, April 2. (And you may wait until I get my YouTube analyses up for you to supplement your own analysis.)

March 30, 2020

Huck Finn Chapters 15-17

Huck plays a trick on Jim which backfires on him. Then Huck realizes he needs to apologize, and here’s something significant: “It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a slave; but I done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterward neither.”

Huck is realizing that society has certain rules, but those rules aren’t necessarily “right.” For example, no white person would ever “stoop so low” as to apologize to a slave, but Huck realizes that is what’s required, because Jim is his friend.

This is one of many times when Huck will do something counter to society, and not feel sorry about it, because he doesn’t realize it, but he has a stronger moral sense of right and wrong than anyone else around him.

That conscience causes him problems when he thinks about if he did the right thing by traveling with Jim, who did something very wrong to Miss Watson who never did anything wrong to him. (Never mind that slavery was morally wrong–this society had already justified that behavior, so owning slaves never is an issue they debate in their minds anymore.)

They’re trying to reach Cairo, where they can take another river up to reach freedom for Jim. On the map below, you can see where the Ohio river meets the Mississippi. The shaded states are free ones, and if they can see where Cairo is, turn up that river, they might be free.

Then Huck hears why Jim wants to be free: he wants to buy his wife, then their two children, unless he couldn’t get them, then he’d find someone to steal them. Huck struggles with this concept–children that “belong” to another man–how could Jim think this way? The nerve, wanting his own family!

Until the runaway slave hunters come looking for him. Then Huck begins to think differently and comes up with yet another good story to get them to back off their raft–his “father” has COVID-19! I mean, smallpox! Well, naturally they’ll stay away from Huck and whoever else is on there.

And they even give Huck some money–$20 which is about $600: generous! (And little do they know they gave this money to a runaway slave. Ha.)

Of the incident Huck says, “I knowed very well I had done wrong, and I see it warn’t no use for me to try to learn to do right” especially when he thinks about doing the “right” thing and knowing it would make him feel awful if he’d turned in Jim.

GUYS! THEY MADE A MOVIE! Way back in the 1990s, and I can’t find a good version to share with all of you, but I did find some scenes (this is how I spend my Saturday nights. I can’t even blame it on the virus. My life really is this dull.).
Here’s this movie’s version of the scene above:

(In case you’re wondering, that a young Elijah Wood at Huck. Aka “Frodo”)

He’s warring with himself about the morally right thing vs. society’s “right thing.” Ideally, they’d be the same, but they aren’t.

And then they have all kinds of bad luck from that rattlesnake skin. They lose the canoe, and then they lose their raft. They lose everything.

Huck makes it to shore and wanders off to meet the Grangerfords (he’s leaving the freedom of the river, and even assumes a different name to be able to cope with society again). The Grangerfords seem like a nice family, except for the ghoulish drawings made by the daughter who could have been Emily Dickinson’s twin artist (had anyone at the time known about Emily Dickinson–she was writing, but anonymously).

Once again Huck is struck by the fantods (best word in the world) from this girl, who he says, “I reckoned with her disposition she was having a better time in the graveyard.” Her last drawing before she died had so many different arms in different positions that it looks “spidery” to him (spiders again!).

So this is where Huck is staying for a little while, but the Grangerfords aren’t entirely nice as they seem. Remember Romeo and Juliet? Keep that plot in mind as you read the next chapters!

Here are some good insights I stole some years ago and now can’t find the citation for:

When Huck acts like Tom Sawyer, trouble follows, but when he acts like himself—when he seeks to interpret and react to experience in a practical manner—things generally turn out fine.

In a number of instances in the novel, Jim protests when Huck formulates a foolish plan, but eventually gives in to the boy. Twain never explicitly explains Jim’s reasoning, but the implication is always there that Jim’s caution stems from his constant fear of being caught and returned to his former owner. After all, Huck, though a child, is a free, white child who could turn in Jim at any time and collect a large reward for doing so. Although this idea seems never to cross Huck’s mind, it lurks beneath the surface of Jim and Huck’s interactions and reminds us of the constant fear Jim lives with as an escaped slave.

READING ASSIGNMENT: Huck Finn Chapters 18-21 (And you’ll run into some Hamlet again. Well, sort of. You’ll see. You’ll weep–or laugh, who knows.)


  • 1.  Why do you think Twain include this adventure with the Grangerfords?
  • 2. How do Jim and Huck meet the king and duke?
  • 3.  Does Huck believe their story?
  • 4.  Give two examples of the “cleverness” of the king and duke.

(Tomorrow we’ll do another poem, this time by Robert Frost.)

March 27, 2020

Huck Finn chapters 12-14

If you’re wondering what kind of raft (also called a skiff) Huck and Jim are using, here’s an idea (complete with their wigwam to keep them dry in the rain):

What do you think about Huck’s “borrowing” that he learned from Pap? Easy to justify any kind of behavior if you couch it in terms of what you “intended” to do later.

They find a steamboat wreck–the Walter Scott–and decide to investigate it. Perhaps it looked something like this:

Jim is cautious and hesitant, because he’s got the most to lose. Huck is more adventurous and not realizing what danger he could be putting Jim in. Now, there’s a SECOND Jim who is part of these thieves, so don’t get OUR JIM mixed with the BAD JIM whose last name is Turner. (Why Twain couldn’t have thought of a different name, I don’t know.) The gang comes up with a way to “kill” Bad Jim without really being responsible for it.

Think about this incident: Twain is showing how people justify their bad behavior and make it appear it’s someone else’s fault, not their own.

Huck has an idea–get rid of the gang’s boat so they can’t leave Bad Jim to drown on the steamboat when it goes under, and send the sheriff to arrest them all, saving Bad Jim Turner’s life.

Think about Huck’s character here, especially when he considers that he doesn’t want to leave even murderers in such a bad position, because who knows–Huck might someday be a murderer himself. Consider his sense of morality: even if these guys are horrible, he still doesn’t want to be the means of them suffering. How does that contrast with the “white trash” attitude of everyone else around him? It seems like Twain is suggesting that Huck and Jim are the only really moral people around.

Clever Huck then comes up with a way to send “help” to the steamboat and take care of the murderers properly. And then he and GOOD Jim get to enjoy the spoils of their evening.

(Seegars, by the way, are cigars.)

The story about King Solomon–the REAL story is that he was very wise, and to demonstrate it, the Old Testament tells of a story about two women who lived together (presumably harlots) who both had babies. One accidentally rolled over on her baby, smothering it, so she swapped her dead baby with the other harlot’s baby, so when they woke up, she had a live baby and claimed it was hers. Naturally the mother of the live baby was furious that the other woman stole her baby, and they took the case to King Solomon. What Jim gets wrong is how Solomon determines the real mother.

Solomon’s solution, which sounds ghastly but he was never going to go through with it, was to take the living baby and cut it in half, giving one half to each mother. Of course the REAL mother would do anything to protect the life of her living baby, so she said the other woman who stole it could keep it. Whereas the woman whose baby died was perfectly fine with her “friend’s” baby also dying. King Solomon then gave the baby to the rightful mother, because he could determine definitively who she was.

But poor Jim misses the point of the story. He does have a fascination with kings, it seems, and when they mention the dolphin, they’re referring to the Dauphin, who was the son of the French King Louis the XVI. Of course, they don’t understand the term “Dauphin” so they call him the dolphin.

And also Jim doesn’t understand French. (Sorry, Tiphaine.)


Huck and Jim are now on the river, which symbolizes freedom. They are their own family, their own set of rules, their own masters (no one owns Jim on the river). The banks of the river, however, represent society and its expectations, rules, and constraints. Watch what happens in the next several chapters when Huck and Finn have to go ashore, and then how their lives are when they remain on the river.


I have to say I love the people on the AP English Facebook page. I feel like I have 6,000 new friends, and we all feel the same way–THIS ISOLATION FROM OUR STUDENTS STINKS!

Anyway, someone in the AP teachers page posted this:

Image may contain: 1 person, text

We’re going to be doing some more of Emily Dickinson, and here’s a fun page for you to do:

Getting a feel for her style? She had a thing about death, and not that she was terrified of it, or morbid, but sincerely intrigued, it seems.

We’re going to look at her (probably) most famous poem, “Because I could not stop for Death” As with last time, I want you to READ it, MARK IT UP, then WRITE about it–but you can wait with your write-up until I post my Youtube video explanation of what I see in the poem. Then see what we have in common, what you discovered that I didn’t mention, etc. HERE IT IS!

As you read the poem follow SLAM–Structure, Language, Affect, and Meaning. Here are a few items to notice and ask, Why did she do this?

  • What words are capitalized?
  • What purpose do the dashes serve?
  • Does she use alliteration? Where? What does it do?
  • What’s going on with time in the poem?
  • What does all of this mean?

READING HOMEWORK: Huck Finn chaps. 15-17


  • 1.  What trick does Huck play on Jim?
  • 2.  Why doesn’t Huck turn in Jim?
  • 3.  Why don’t the slave hunters get Jim?
  • 4.  Explain the differences between Huck and the slave hunters.
  • 5.  What is the bad luck in Chapter 16?
  • 6.  How does Huck get to the Grangerfords?

POEM ANALYSIS: Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death”. You may use ideas from my YouTube annotation, if you wish. Create a one-page analysis–in PARAGRAPH FORM–of what you see happening in this poem.

March 26, 2020

Huck Finn, chapters 8-11

Let’s look at some of the language in here. We could look at any page, but I chose one from chapter 9. This is a great description, and look at the sentence length here as he describes a thunderstorm:

We put all the other things handy at the back of the cavern. Pretty soon it darkened up, and begun to thunder and lighten; so the birds was right about it. Directly it begun to rain, and it rained like all fury, too, and I never see the wind blow so. It was one of these regular summer storms. It would get so dark that it looked all blue-black outside, and lovely; and the rain would thrash along by so thick that the trees off a little ways looked dim and spider-webby; and here would come a blast of wind that would bend the trees down and turn up the pale underside of the leaves; and then a perfect ripper of a gust would follow along and set the branches to tossing their arms as if they was just wild; and next, when it was just about the bluest and blackest—FST! it was as bright as glory, and you’d have a little glimpse of tree-tops a-plunging about away off yonder in the storm, hundreds of yards further than you could see before; dark as sin again in a second, and now you’d hear the thunder let go with an awful crash, and then go rumbling, grumbling, tumbling, down the sky towards the under side of the world, like rolling empty barrels down stairs—where it’s long stairs and they bounce a good deal, you know.

Why such long sentences? Probably to keep the feel of the storm as one great emotion?

I love the description of the thunder, like empty barrels rolling down stairs . . . and they keep going. This sounds and feels like a young teenager, and immediately everyone knows exactly what he’s feeling. The voice here really works.

What’s your mood when you read these lines? Is it frightening? (I don’t think so.) It would get so dark that it looked all blue-black outside, and lovely;

The language is almost poetic: thunder let go with an awful crash, and then go rumbling, grumbling, tumbling,

A student last year (Matias) notice that there’s a lot of subtle spider images in this book. Here’s one of them: the trees off a little ways looked dim and spider-webby.

Look at this fun personification: then a perfect ripper of a gust would follow along and set the branches to tossing their arms as if they was just wild;

Hearing these words come from an adult protagonist would be odd. But from a kid? It just works so well!

Here’s another collection of great lines from Huck and Jim:

  • “There’s something in it when the widow or the parson prays, but it don’t work for me.” (This makes me so sad for him! Still, he got his bread, right?)
  • “saw a man . . . It most gave me the fantods.” (I have NO idea what fantods are, but we really should be using that word more.)
  • Jim said bees wouldn’t sting idiots; but I didn’t believe that, because I had tried them lots of times myself, and they wouldn’t sting me. (He doesn’t even realize he’s not an idiot.)
  • “Doan’ hurt me—don’t! I hain’t ever done no harm to a ghos’. I alwuz liked dead people, en done all I could for ’em. You go en git in de river agin, whah you b’longs, en doan’ do nuffn to Ole Jim, ’at ’uz awluz yo’ fren’.” (I just love poor Jim–“Hey, I always liked dead people, so just go away or something, please.”)
  • They’re looking for signs, especially bad one. Why would you care about good ones? “Ef you’s got hairy arms en a hairy breas’, it’s a sign dat you’s agwyne to be rich.” (No, it’s not. I’m still not rich.)
  • Yes; en I’s rich now, come to look at it. I owns mysef, en I’s wuth eight hund’d dollars. I wisht I had de money, I wouldn’ want no mo’.” (Wow–think about that: he owns himself, and he owns a lot then.)

Then there are some sections that just crack me up, like this:

[When they’ve found the wooden leg.] The straps was broke off of it, but, barring that, it was a good enough leg, though it was too long for me and not long enough for Jim, and we couldn’t find the other one, though we hunted all around.


But they also get some good supplies from that house, so that’s all right. Mighty convenient, an entire house coming down the river. But if you looked at the video I posted yesterday, and consider that houses in the 1800s weren’t secured to their foundations very well, it’s easy to see how a whole house on the banks when it’s flooding would go downstream.

Bad luck: Notice how they’re always waiting for it? It may be delayed for days or even years, but it’s coming! Superstitious people who don’t understand cause and effect (because they aren’t very well educated) put a lot of “faith” in luck, mostly bad. Because they can’t read circumstances, or have limited knowledge as to how events unfold, they can’t predict what bad thing may happen. To them, it’s all mysterious–or bad luck.

I’d always felt that looking at a new moon over your left shoulder was one of the most careless and foolish things a person could do. Old Hank Bunker did it once and bragged about it. In less than two years, he got so drunk that he fell off the shot-tower.

But seriously, sticking a rattle snake in someone’s bed? That’s just stupid, Huck! And eventually he figures that out.

Huck also learns how to be a girl, kind of. Try this at home: Have someone toss you something that you catch with your lap. Or try threading a needle. Hmm, I don’t think these “tests” are applicable anymore.

At the end of this reading, Huck and Jim are leaving the island ahead of people looking for Jim. Now begins their grand adventure on the river–together.

Here’s some great insights (I think from Spark Notes?)

From this point in the novel forward, their fates are linked. Jim has had no more say in his own fate as an adult than Huck has had as a child. Both in peril, Huck and Jim have had to break with society. Freed from the hypocrisy and injustice of society, they find themselves in what seems a paradise, smoking a pipe, watching the river, and feasting on catfish and wild berries.

 Huck and Jim are reminded that no location is safe for them.

These two incidents also flesh out some important aspects of the relationship between Huck and Jim. In the episode with the rattlesnake, Huck acts like a child, and Jim gets hurt. In both incidents, Jim uses his knowledge to benefit both of them but also seeks to protect Huck: he refuses to let Huck see the body in the floating house. Jim is an intelligent and caring adult who has escaped out of love for his family—and he displays this same caring aspect toward Huck here. While Huck’s motives are equally sound, he is still a child and frequently behaves like one. In a sense, Jim and Huck together make up a sort of alternative family in an alternative place, apart from the society that has only harmed them up to this point.

Mrs. Loftus and her husband are only too happy to profit from capturing Jim, and her husband plans to bring a gun to hunt Jim like an animal. Mrs. Loftus makes a clear distinction between Huck, who tells her he has run away from a mean farmer, and Jim, who has done essentially the same thing by running away from an owner who is considering selling him.

Whereas Mrs. Loftus and the rest of white society differentiate between an abused runaway slave and an abused runaway boy, Huck does not. Huck and Jim’s raft becomes a sort of haven of brotherhood and equality, as both find refuge and peace from a society that has treated them poorly. 

Some money numbers are tossed around–here’s what they mean today:

  • Jim’s worth $800=22,800
  • Pap reward $200=5,700
  • Jim’s reward $300=8,600



  • 1.  Why do Huck and Jim begin their journey down the Mississippi?
  • 2.  Why do Huck and Jim board the Walter Scott?
  • 3.  Why does Huck want to save Jim Turner?
  • 4.  How does Huck send help to the Walter Scott?
  • 5.  What do we learn about Jim from his talking about “King Sollermun”?

(I’ll assign another poem tomorrow. Just read today and do the questions above.)

March 25, 2020

Huck Finn chapters 4-7

There’s spring flooding on the Mississippi River in Huck Finn–this occurs frequently–and if you want to see some footage of what a massive flood looks like, here’s some coverage from the big 2011 floods.

We see just how clever Huck can be: he realizes his father is looking for him–or rather, for his money–and Huck sets up a way so that it’s no longer in his possession.

We see more examples of superstition–“education” for the uneducated (and it makes me wonder what kinds of superstitions may rise up from this quarantine situation; I’m already seeing a few about “miracle cures”). Frankly, I’m not sure what kind of learning will come from a hairball, and I hope to never find out. I hope to never encounter a hairball like Jim’s! But, well, hairballs.

(I mean, how big was the cat that coughed that up? Oh wait, it’s from an ox. Somehow it just got worse.)

You first encounter Jim’s dialect, which may cause a few of you to stumble.

  • gwyne=going to
  • doan=don’t
  • spec=expect
  • ag’in=again
  • by en by=by and by, eventually
  • fust=first
  • kin=can
  • fum=from
  • resk=risk

It really does help to read it out loud to yourself, because hearing the words suddenly makes sense what he’s saying. You’ll get the hang of his dialect pretty soon, though.

Huck’s father, Pap. Ooh, a lovely man. Yuck. Here’s an illustration from a book. Pretty much sums him up.

Image result for huck finn father

How does he treat his son? Horribly! “Drop out of school. Don’t wear nice clothes. You’re showing us all up, reading and knowing numbers. Sleeping in a bed . . . Sheesh, trying to make your family look bad?” Umm, Pap? You make yourself look bad all on your own. Taking your son’s last dollar so you can go drinking? Nice Dad, really nice.

Why do you think his father is so opposed to all of this “sivilization”? To me, he sounds afraid. He may also be jealous, or feel like his son is proving that he could have been something more, something better, but he was too lazy and selfish to become such.

I read a quote once, “All good parents want their children to become better than they are.” If this is true, then clearly Pap is not a good parent.

What do you think of the incident with the new judge, who’s sure he can reform Pap and turn him good? I think all of us know of at least one similar case, where someone is “playing” at being good just to get what they want, then immediately fall off the wagon. They never intended to improve, to give up their addiction, or stick with a job, or become better. I guess the main lesson to take away from this is, We’ve been dealing with the same problems for many years now. Nothing’s new.

I like this insight from Spark Notes:

Twain makes a number of comments on the society of his time and its attempts at reform. We see a number of well-meaning individuals who engage in foolish, even cruel behavior. The new judge in town refuses to give custody of Huck to Judge Thatcher and the Widow, despite Pap’s history of neglect and abuse. This poorly informed decision not only makes us question the wisdom and morality of these public figures but also resonates with the plight of slaves in Southern society at the time. The new judge in town returns Huck to Pap because he privileges Pap’s “rights” over Huck’s welfare—just as slaves, because they were considered property, were regularly returned to their legal owners, no matter how badly these owners abused them. Twain also takes the opportunity to mock the bleeding-heart do-gooders of the temperance, or anti-alcohol, movement: the judge is clearly naïve, misguided, and blind to the larger evils around him, and the weeping and moralizing that goes on in his home is grating, to say the least.

Huck is at the center of countless failures and breakdowns in the society around him, yet he maintains his characteristic resilience. Indeed, Huck’s family, the legal system, and the community all fail to protect him or to provide a set of beliefs and values that are consistent and satisfying to him. Huck’s wrongful imprisonment elicits sympathy and concern on our part, even though this imprisonment does not seem to distress Huck in the least. Sadly, Huck is so used to social abuses by this point in his life that he has no reason to prefer one set of abuses over the other.

Finally Huck’s Pap kidnaps him, takes him to a secluded cabin, and locks him up. (No, none of you are locked up, but you can feel a little bit for him right now, can’t you?) He enjoys it for a while, his clothes get all ratty, he picks up swearing again, and everything’s great . . . except that his dad is beating him, with wood planks. Then he gets locked up in the cabin for three days straight. Not so fun anymore.

Pap has lovely views about people as well, especially freed slaves being allowed to vote. We read Pap’s ranting and wince at how awful he sounds, but at Twain’s time there were still a LOT of people who felt the same way, 20 years after slaves had been freed. “I’ll never vote again!” Oh, good. We all feel better about that, Pap.

Here’s more insight, again from Spark Notes:

Pap, the embodiment of pure evil, is one of Twain’s most memorable characters. Because we have no background information to explain his present state, his role is primarily symbolic. The deathly pallor of his skin, which is nauseating to Huck, makes Pap emblematic of whiteness. Unfortunately, Pap represents the worst of white society: he is illiterate, ignorant, violent, and profoundly racist.

The mixed-race man who visits the town contrasts Pap in every way: he is a clean-cut, knowledgeable, and seemingly politically conscious professor. In establishing the contrast between Pap and the mixed-race man, Twain overturns traditional symbolism of his time and implies that whiteness, not blackness, is associated with evil.

Clearly Pap drinks waaaay too much, goes crazy one night, tries to kill Huck mistaking him for the Angel of Death, and Huck realizes he MUST get away from him.

Here’s where we see the flooding river, and all kinds of stuff floating down it. Huck finds a canoe worth $10 which would be about $260 now, and Pap collects some logs that he’s going to sell.

They’re catching stuff floating down the river, and Huck says that any other man would have waited out the day to see what else comes in, but not Pap. He heads to town to sell the logs without seeing what else he could get. What does that tell us about Pap’s character?

Now, Huck hatches his plan to escape, and it’s a pretty good one. (This is where you can “hear” Mark Twain writing, instead of Huck Finn planning, because I don’t know of another 13-year-old who could come up with such a plan.) He fakes his own death, with blood and his own hair on the hatchet, creates cover stories and false leads to throw people off, and has even cut out part of the wall so he can go in and out. He’s got a canoe, so he’s free to head down the mighty Mississippi, down to Jackson’s Island.

Here’s a great image I stole from some teacher named Mrs. Cockrell. We all thank her.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn with Mrs. Cockrell

So Huck’s free! From Pap AND from sivilization.

I love some of the language Twain uses:

“Everything was dead quiet, and it look late, and smelt late. You know what I mean–I don’t know the words to put it in.”

Anyone else experience that? “Smelling” the time of day or night? I can always smell spring coming. I’ve been “smelling” it for the past week or so, despite the snow on Tuesday.

Little tidbits like that are so fun in this book.

Now, let’s talk a little about Emily Dickinson and the poem you read for today: “Hope is a thing with feathers” And guess what? After only about seven hours of trying to figure out tech and recording and uploads and what have you, I have created a VIDEO ANNOTATING THIS POEM! (Seriously–7 hours of labor for 12 minutes. Guys, you better love this. Or don’t, because seriously, it’s sad. Anyway my first ever YouTube video. Oh, how much I’m learning . . .)

I hope you marked it up. Now you’re going to have a little writing assignment.

Writing Assignment: “Hope is a thing with feathers”

On a Google Doc, explain to me in a paragraph or two what this poem is about. In your own words, explain what Dickinson wants us to understand from this poem. What is it about, why this metaphor, etc. Tell me anything and everything you got from this. And why do you think she wrote it the way that she did? (Does she use any literary devices, language devices, etc.–why?)

Huck Finn Reading and Questions Assignment: Read chapters 8-11 and complete these questions on your log:

  • Chapters 8-11
  • 1.  What purpose(s) does Huck’s death serve?
  • 2.  How does Huck meet Jim on Jackson’s Island?  Why is Jim there?
  • 3.  What is in the two-story house that floats by?
  • 4.  How are the townspeople superstitious? Jim? Huck?  Give examples.
  • 5.  Compare/contrast Huck & Jim.
  • 6.  Why does Huck dress as a girl to go ashore? Why does he go? What does he find out?
  • 7.  How do you know Huck and Jim are friends by the end of Chapter 11?

March 24, 2020

Huck Finn, Chapters 1-3


Welcome to the world of Huck Finn! Where a teenage boy, uneducated and with no real family of his own, has a small fortune ($6,000 would be equivalent to about $165,000, and the $1 each boy gets per day would be the same as $27 today). And he can’t bear to be cooped up inside. (Can any of you relate? To the cooped up part, not the making bank part.) He can’t bear being “sivilized,” and what that means will become a big part of this novel.

And yes, the misspelling are intentional. It’s part of Twain’s characterization of Huck, and also, I think, his way of saying “Do we really know what this word means?”

First, lets talk about some important literary devices at work here. This is the first real novel we’re reading, since we’ve been doing plays, so we have elements we haven’t discussed yet.

Literary Device–NARRATOR!

Let’s look at Point of View (narrator): our narrator is 13-year-old Huck Finn, and everything we see will be through his eyes. And his views are definitely different. He sees things almost opposite of everyone. For example, he says that the Widow Douglas calls him “a poor lost lamb” but she “never meant no harm by it.” Now, we’d see calling someone a lost lamb as a term of endearment, of worry and concern, but apparently Huck thinks it’s some kind of insult.

Just these first few chapters gives us a big insight into our narrator, and that we’re going to see the south, and the world, through very different eyes!

Here’s something else we need to ask—is this narrator reliable? Meaning, can we trust Huck to show us everything accurately, or are his biases and ideas going to taint just about everything we see?

And more importantly—is that good or bad? (Hint: it’s not necessarily bad.)

Because we have a first person narrator, and everything is going to be from his point of view, we need to sometimes step back from him and consider what he’s seeing and experiencing, and try to interpret it for ourselves. Also understanding that Huck is still young–only about 13–he’s going to understand things differently than adults would.

And that’s exactly what Mark Twain was hoping we’d notice: adults often “justify” attitudes and behaviors (ever heard the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes?). But children quite often see around the justification and excuses, and see only what’s directly in front of them, which, Twain was trying to say, was often more accurate and truthful than what society was trying to hold up.

So we’re going to see a sometimes painfully accurate point of view, first person narrative (pretend I’m writing all of this up on the board) when we read.

Just look at his understanding of the “good place” and the “bad place” and why he’s prefer to be in the “bad place.” Huck is deadly honest–he doesn’t have any craft or guile in him–and he calls it as he sees it.

Why would Twain create a character like this? Because through Huck, Twain gets to say everything he wants to, and all the blame falls on “young, innocent, uneducated Huck.” Never mind that an older, crotchety, well-educated man is actually saying all these things. Our author is hiding behind his narrator, and that gives him immense freedom! Twain was very clever, knowing he could never point a finger at a hypocritical society, but that an innocent boy certainly could.

Now, Huck Finn began as a character in Twain’s earlier book, Tom Sawyer, which has a different tone and purpose. However, we see Tom Sawyer here in these early chapters and, as a mom of five boys, and I can tell you I’d NEVER want a son like Tom!

(Huck–sure. I’d take him. He’s grown on me. But Tom? I’d send him off to a residential treatment center for clinically insane because this boy is MESSED UP!)

Tom wants to create a club! And what a fun club it is! With blood oaths! So they can rob and murder! (All in good fun, mind you. Uh, no. Get this kid LOCKED UP!)

Huck has some real horse sense–for example, he knows his father isn’t the dead body found floating in the river, because it should be face down, not face up which is how a woman would float. Huck, you’ll soon discover, is very clever and can get out of a number of scrapes because he’s aware of his surroundings and knows how to read a situation. (Unlike Tom who thinks it’s a great idea to raid a Sunday School luncheon pretending they’re Arabs with camels and elephants. I mean, WHERE ARE THIS BOY’S PARENTS?! Can’t they tell he is three legs short of a full horse?)

But perhaps it’s telling that Tom says of Huck, “It ain’t no use talking to you, Huck Finn. You don’t seem to know anything, somehow–perfect saphead.” This, coming from the sappiest-head kid ever created in literature. If Tom doesn’t approve of you, then you MUST be good! (Can you tell I really don’t like Tom? He’s that boy your mom warns you about. But Huck doesn’t have a mom–she’s died, and that’s why two old women have taken him in to sivilize him.)

Huck is naturally cynical, as you’ll soon discover. A realistic philosopher, if you will, questioning everything (again, Twain hiding behind his narrator). Huck also is suspicious of “romantic nature.” Tom is all about “romantic nature,” as you can tell by his elaborate oaths and doing things “by the book.” There were many novels in the 1800s which were over-the-top romantic and adventurous, and it often feels in this book that Twain is taking digs at those, trying to show that the romantic view is distorted and causes more problems than its worth.

But while Huck is clever and cynical, he’s also uneducated and very, very superstitious, as is Jim. We see him here after Tom and Huck lead him to believe that he’s been captured by witches, and soon that tale spins wildly out of control for Jim, although it makes him quite popular for a time among the other slaves. We’re going to see much more of Jim later, but what are your first impressions of him? Keep those in mind as we read.

Literary Device–Diction!

So now you’ve seen the very different language style of Twain. He writes in a few diction styles, which takes a great ear to translate.

Why bother doing this? Remember that diction helps establish the TONE--the attitude of the author toward the writing. What kind of tone do we have here? A very relaxed, colloquial tone. You can really hear a kid talking here, rambling even, going all over the place as he tells his story. Some of the sentences are very long, grammar mistakes abound, some spelling is questionable, and all of it translates to creating a laid-back, child-like, almost carefree feel to the novel=the novel’s VOICE (personality, etc. You can’t tell, but I’m pointing to that definition on the whiteboard.).

Twain was the first to do this–no one had attempted to write an entire novel in “slang” like this before, and his boldness inspired thousands of authors after him to experiment with language, voice, and tone.


WATCHING ASSIGNMENT: Yes, I know this is new–just slipped this in here. Watch a few minutes of this video which takes you down the Mississippi River. The next few chapters are going to get us to the river, and it helps to have an understanding of just how immense it is:

This map is also helpful for the rest of the book:

WRITING ASSIGNMENT: Continue your Huck-on-a-Log by answering these questions. Write COMPLETE SENTENCES, and give 2-4 sentences for each answer:

  • 1. Why did Huck give his money to Judge Thatcher?
  • 2.  Describe Pap Finn.  What kind of a person is he?
  • 3.  What is Huck’s attitude towards his father?
  • 4.  Why does Pap yell at Huck for becoming civilized? Is he right?
  • 5.  What was Huck’s plan of escape from his father?
  • 6.  How do you know that material things don’t matter to Huck?


We’re going to do poetry mixed in here, and Emily Dickinson is a great place to start. Read “Hope is a Thing with Feathers” and spend just 10 minutes annotating it. You do NOT have to write up anything about it–yet. We’ll discuss it tomorrow. But read it, write it (either online some way, or print it and mark it up at home) and watch for tomorrow’s lesson.

March 23, 2020

UPDATE ABOUT AP TESTING! Straight from a head honcho at AP:

What does this mean? We will have only ONE essay to write, online, AT HOME. These are the same essays I’ve been making you hand write, but NO MORE! You WILL be able to type this! (So all of our hand writing practice is for naught, naturally.)

There will also be NO multiple choice questions (which many of you seemed to loathe anyway).

What the essay will be about–over a poem, or over prose, or an open-ended question about a book–we do NOT KNOW YET! April 3 is the magical date, and right now that feels so far away.

So until I know more, we’ll be practicing writing essays for poems and prose, which we haven’t done too much of yet. Your last batches of Hamlet essays were–I’m very pleased to report–pretty darn good. You’re getting better at succinctly stating the thesis, providing evidence (as much as possible) and summing it all up.

So the next two weeks, we’ll be reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and analyzing poetry. Once I hear what’s happening with the AP Exam, we’ll refocus efforts toward that.

It looks like we have TWO test dates now. I copied this from the College Board website Saturday morning:

What I think this means is that if you want to take the test as previously planned–Wednesday, May 6–you may do so. If you want a few weeks more of practice, to take it on Friday, May 22, you may. I imagine they’ll be two very different tests, so you won’t be able to ask your buddies who took it earlier what it was about. Nor do I know yet if an entire school has to take it at the same date or not. I imagine all will be clarified by April 3.

That’s how things stand on Saturday, March 21. By now we know that everything may be different again by Sunday, and again by Monday. What a heckuva year this week has been . . . So onward! To new adventures!

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn! And we’re having Adventures in Online Learning!

Friends, it’s come to this: the dream of all introverts. School at home. We’ll do our best.

But first, a high school friend who took AP Lit with me sent me this, for all of you:

You’re next assignment is to write a Shakespearean Play, due Friday. No? Fine. We’ll read instead.

I’ll try to set up each day in THREE PARTS:


Knowing me, I’ll forget this line up, but for today it feels organized.


I will try to post each lesson the night before, then I’ll be available to chat with you online during “Class Time.”

Here’s WA’s official schedule:

  • PERIOD 1   10:00 to 10:30
  • PERIOD 2    11:00 to 11:30
  • LUNCH        11:30 to 12:30
  • PERIOD 3    12:30 to 1:00
  • PERIOD 4    1:30 to 2:00 

But I will be online for most of the day/evening, so you may email me, Google Chat with me, message me on Facebook, or try screaming really loud, and I’ll do my best to respond in each and every way.


The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, (referred hereafter as Huck Finn) by Mark Twain, is one of the most famous and controversial books in America.

Remember the Civil War? That was in 1861-1865. This book was written 20 years after slaves have been granted freedom, in 1885, but set several years before the Civil War broke out, around the 1840s (lost yet?). Even though slaves were “freed,” things didn’t improve for blacks for many decades.

That bugged Mark Twain. He especially hated the hypocrisy he saw in America, which was most prevalent in the south. Watch this 3 minute video about America’s most famous author. He was also called the “First Celebrity” since he was the first to develop a “following.” (Think Instagram star, but he’d be InstaGramp. He even knew how to sell himself–hint, it’s a white suit.)

Notice what he was doing at age 15.

“Shoot arrows at the most powerful . . .” We should all have that motto!

The video mentions the “vernacular speech,” which is part of why this book is controversial, and also why it’s difficult to read. (Don’t worry, you can read it No Fear version here.) Twain wrote how people spoke, and when you look at the text, you’ll see that some of it can be very difficult to decipher:

“Don’t you give me none o’ your lip,” says he. “You’ve put on considerable many frills since I been away. I’ll take you down a peg before I get done with you. You’re educated, too, they say—can read and write. You think you’re better’n your father, now, don’t you, because he can’t? I’LL take it out of you. Who told you you might meddle with such hifalut’n foolishness, hey?—who told you you could?”

See? The other issue is the “n” word. It shows up a lot, because it was standard language in 1885. While the “n” word is extremely derogatory now–and we will NOT write it or use it–it was simply an accepted term 150 years ago. That does not make this book racist, as some claim it is. Quite the contrary; Mark Twain was all about fighting racism, as you will see in the reading. Be forgiving of their language use–the language wasn’t offensive when he wrote it.

If you want to hear how the slave Jim and Huck Finn would sound read out loud, I found this video clip of Bill Murray years ago reading a “deleted” chapter from Huck Finn. You don’t need to listen to all of it, but may for a minute or so, to hear the vernacular. Both Huck Finn and Jim have different ways of speaking. It’s really quite a feat to be able to write this way. Twain had an excellent ear for dialects and captured this remarkable well (START at about 1:20 and listen for a minute or so):

And Bill Murray is quite a talented actor to be able to read the dialects so well.

MAJOR THEMES in Huck Finn (according to one source)

  • Slavery: When Mark Twain wrote this book, slavery had been abolished; however, black people were still treated as second class citizens. The fact that Huck befriends Jim, a runaway slave, and saves him in the end plays on this theme.
  • Freedom: Going hand in hand with the theme of slavery is freedom. Huck wants his freedom from his father. Jim wants his freedom to be a human being and be with this family.
  • Adventure: One of the most entertaining Huckleberry Finn themes is the theme of adventure. At the beginning of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Huck is tired of “playing” at adventure with Tom Sawyer. Then his pa comes back and Huck’s real adventure on a raft down the Mississippi River begins.
  • Money/Greed: The characters in this Mark Twain book, who care more about money than people and are overcome by greed, are often suffering. This theme shows the reader that money and “being civilized” is not what is important in life–friends, family, honesty, loyalty–these are the important things. Huck’s pa is a perfect example of the disastrous nature of greed.

MAJOR THEMES in Huck Finn (according to another source)

  • 1.  Man can be inhuman toward his fellow man. (morality)
  • 2.  Society’s values and laws can be in conflict with higher moral values. (hypocrisy of society)
  • 3.  People must live outside of society to be truly free. (freedom)
  • 4.  Growth of self occurs through close, honest observation of society and the individual. (maturity)
  • 5.  Gullible people are partially responsible for their own deception. (superstition, ignorance)

ALL of the above plays in this book which is NOT a children’s book (as some people who have never bothered to read it think it is) but it a complex analysis of society and ultimately asks the question, When and how should you rebel against what “society” is telling you to do?

Here’s a difficult yet telling modern day example of this theme: Would you really have spoken out against slavery? (You don’t have to answer that question, but think about this scenario.)

By Robert P. George

Something tells me it’s time to re-post this comment:

Undergraduates say the darndest things. When discussing the history of racial injustice, I frequently ask them what their position on slavery would have been had they been white and living in the South before abolition. Guess what? They all would have been abolitionists! They all would have bravely spoken out against slavery, and worked tirelessly in the cause of freeing those enslaved. Isn’t that special? Bless their hearts.

Of course, it is complete nonsense. Only the tiniest fraction of them, or of any of us, would have spoken up against slavery or lifted a finger to free the slaves. Most of them—and us—would simply have gone along. Many would have supported the slave system and, if it was in their interest, participated in it as buyers and owners or sellers of slaves.

So I respond to the students’ assurances that they would have been vocal opponents of slavery by saying that I will credit their claims if they can show me evidence of the following: that in leading their lives today they have embraced causes that are unpopular among their peers and stood up for the rights of victims of injustice whose very humanity is denied, and where they have done so knowing

(1) that it would make THEM unpopular with their peers,

(2) that they would be loathed and ridiculed by wealthy, powerful, and influential individuals and institutions in our society;

(3) that it would cost them friendships and cause them to be abandoned and even denounced by many of their friends,

(4) that they would be called nasty names, and

(5) that they would possibly even be denied valuable educational and professional opportunities as a result of their moral witness.

In short, my challenge to them is to show me where they have at significant risk to themselves and their futures stood up for a cause that is unpopular in elite sectors of our culture today.

Tough to think about, isn’t it? Many of the modern issues we stand for now are also represented by those in power. But what if we believe contrary to those in power (Hollywood, media, social media, etc.)? Would you dare speak up?

Anyway, moving on. Each day you’ll have a reading assignment and a set of questions to answer. You can create a HF Log like we did our HamLogs. But this time you’ll answer specific questions, to make sure you understand the text since we won’t be in class to discuss it.

READING ASSIGNMENT: Read Chapters 1-3 of Huck Finn on this link in No Fear Huck Finn.

Do your best to give the actual text a shot–it isn’t as difficult as Shakespeare, but for those of you for whom English is a second language, you’ll appreciate the translation part, I’m sure!

WRITING Assignment: On your HuckFinnLog (or whatever you want to call it) write short responses (2-4 COMPLETE sentences) for each question on a Google Doc. (Keep updating the document as we did with the HamLogs.)

(It’s Huck Finn–on a log. Get it?)

Chapters 1-3

  • 1.  Identify: Huck Finn, Tom Sawyer, Jim, Miss Watson and Widow Douglas.
  • 2.  Why doesn’t Huck get along with Miss Watson and Widow Douglas?
  • 3.  What does Huck think about religion, specifically the good place, the bad place, and prayer?
  • 4.  Give two examples of superstition in this section of the novel.
  • 5.  Contrast Huck and Tom.  What are their main differences?

HERE are all of the chapters and the reading questions, in case you want to check the schedule for the future. This may be subject to change, and since I took it from another source, there were a couple of errors. I hope I’ve fixed them (questions didn’t line up with chapters) but there may still be some issues. I’ll update them as soon as I encounter them. You do NOT need to read ahead; this link is merely for your benefit.

We will spend roughly two and a half weeks reading Huck Finn. We will also do a few poems from this time period, and perhaps a couple other readings from Mark Twain or his contemporaries, I’m not yet sure.

I’m also trying to figure out how to annotate poetry as a Youtube video for you, and we may try to do a Zoom chat TWICE a week, if we can manage that. Meeting with Zoom will NOT be a requirement, just a “Hey! You’re out there! How’s it going?” kind of thing when you can manage it. Maybe on Tuesdays and Thursdays, at our “class time”? I’ll let you know.

PLEASE let me know how this process is going for you. TELL me your concerns, or what we need to clarify, or what you think would work better, etc. (no homework is NOT an option, by the way). I can modify as we go along, I can try making videos of me lecturing to you (I may do that when we analyze the poems), I can try different strategies–GIVE ME FEEDBACK! I can’t guarantee anything, but lets keep looking for ways to make this situation better. I miss you all already! (Seriously, I love, love listening to you argue in class, and it breaks my heart a little that we won’t be doing this for a few weeks.)

No cap.