Ten Things To Learn From Huckleberry Finn

This year, Mark Twain's masterpiece novel Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (read online for free) is celebrating the 133th anniversary of its publication. Ernest Hemingway said it was the best novel America has ever produced, and that all great American novels were inspired by it. Adventures of Huckleberry Finn offer us a meaningful story about life in 19th century Missouri, where the author himself spent most of his early years. It is a novel of great life lessons, and we have prepared a valuable list of ten for you. But, keep in mind the list could go on.

Always keep your word

An honest and warm friendship develops in the novel between Huckleberry Finn and Jim. Jim is a slave who lives in the house of the Widow Douglas. She is a woman who takes care of Huck and tries to civilize him. Huck’s father is a local drunk and he is not much support Huck in that sense.

After the two boys run away from their home, their friendship gets stronger. At one point, Huck teaches us about integrity and loyalty. Even in situations where doing so might be dangerous for us:

Jim: But mind, you said you wouldn’ tell—you know you said you wouldn’t tell, Huck.

Huck: Well, I did. I said I wouldn’t, and I’ll stick to it.

Sometimes, you just have to accpt social courtesies and play along. At one dinner, Huck observes the people who are sitting at the table. And as he listens to their conversation he notices that there are some implied agreements that seem like complete nonsense to him. But still – they are a fact of life:

Mary Jane, she set at the head of the table, with Susan alongside of her. And said how bad the biscuits was, and how mean the preserves was, and how ornery and tough the fried chickens was—and all that kind of rot. The way women always do for to force out compliments; And the people all knowed everything was tiptop, and said so—said “How DO you get biscuits to brown so nice?” and “Where, for the land’s sake, DID you get these amaz’n pickles?” and all that kind of humbug talky-talk, just the way people always does at a supper, you know.


It seems silly, but everybody does it, concludes Huck.

Being a part of this world requires some lying skills

Although Huck is, deep down, a good kid – he has come to realize that you have to be wily and play accordingly. If you wish to survive, being completely sincere is not a sign of strength. But a sign of weakness, because the world will eat you up.

Some amount of lying can be harmless, but of great use. Research shows that people lie roughly 200 times per day (what a number!). Either to avoid inconvenient situations or to make their lives easier. Here’s what Huck has to say about it, in one piece of dialogue:

I reckon you ain’t used to lying, it don’t seem to come handy; what you want is practice. You do it pretty awkward.

Having a get-away place is a good thing

After Jim and Huck leave their homes, they create a sort of friendship pact that gets tested and ruined a few times through the novel. They build a raft together and start living on the river. It becomes a symbol of their rebellion and their refusal to be a part of their world and its values:

We said there warn’t no home like a raft, after all. Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don’t. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.

Having some type of sanctuary is healthy, since it can give you a shelter, a safe place to go when you decide to take a break from all the problems. Huck and Jim live there under their own rules, and that gives them a chance to live freely.

People may refuse to take responsibility for their actions

We can interact with many different people. Sometimes, we may think we know someone, but that person can disappoint us or let us down. People can be mean and act awful, but it’s just life. That fact isn’t something you will learn in school, it is something you will experience. Here’s Huck’s resigned conclusion:

That’s just the way: a person does a low-down thing, and then he don’t want to take no consequences of it.

Some people don’t want to confront what they’ve done, and there is not much point for you to waste your energy on it.

Doing what you feel in your gut is right – is the most important test you’ll have to take

The novel’s period, the 19th century in the state of Missouri. It was a time of horrible racism and black slavery. Jim, Huck’s friend, is a slave of the Widow Douglas, the woman who takes care of Huck.

Huck is being taught by everyone that there are people whose lives don’t matter, he is being overwhelmed with all the propaganda. White children are taught that they will go to hell if they help a slave run away.

The Widow Douglas takes on the obligation of civilizing Huck and teaching him about these values and about good manners. The novel is full of the moral doubts and confusions in Huck’s heart. At one point, he writes a letter in which he rats out his friend Jim and practically betrays him. But then comes the moral climax of the story:

I took up the letter and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself: “All right then, I’ll go to hell”—and tore it up. It was awful thoughts and awful words, but they was said. And I let them stay said; and never thought no more about reforming.

Huck concludes that, if that means being civilized, he doesn’t what to be a part of civilized society.

Strive to be more than average and to live truly the life you’ve been given

Average is such an awful word. To be average means to be safe, somewhere in the middle, not giving a bad or a good impression. To live average means to have a steady heartbeat at all times, it means not getting too involved in the world, not getting too exposed. It means staying quiet. Mark Twain sums it up in one sentence:

The average man don’t like trouble and danger.

What is life without putting yourself in danger?

You’ll have to live with your conscience, no matter what you do

As Twain says:


What’s the use you learning to do right, when it’s troublesome to do right and ain’t no trouble to do wrong, and the wages is just the same?

Doing the right thing is hard, but honorable. Just think about the alternative and whether you could sleep peacefully at night.

Huckleberry Finn
Mark Twain

Life gives us a hard time, but it’s a good thing


If you keep doing the same things over and over again, not only will you get bored, but you’ll be trapped in the status quo. Luckily, life makes sure that you don’t fall into a routine and that nothing ever goes completely according to plan. We go through tests and temptations, but it’s a good thing. As Twain says:


We all go through a challenge in life because without a challenge there’d be no reason to keep going towards your future.

Decide what matters more when dealing with difficult people you care about: your ego or getting along with them


Huck’s father is the local drunkard, a violent and miserable man. Huck learns the hard way how to behave around him and how to take up the safest position in this relationship. Drunkards and people with bad tempers can be extremely exhausting, but it’s not always easy to cut them out of our lives. Sometimes, we care too much to let go. So, here’s Huck’s piece of advice:


If I never learnt nothing else out of pap, I learnt that the best way to get along with his kind of people is to let them have their own way.

Just let them have their own way. It doesn’t mean you aren’t right, it means you care too much to get into a meaningless argument.


This is the end of Youth Time Magazine story about what we learned from Huckleberry Finn, but it is always better to read the book. Don’t forget to let’s know what have you learned. If you want to know more about the history of friendship, click here.  We are waiting for your comments.

Photos: Shutterstock 

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