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Twain: Huckleberry Finn

5. Critical Reception

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About this Lecture


In this module, we think about the critical reception of Huckleberry Finn, focusing in particular on: (i) the extent to which Twain's promotion of his new novel foregrounds comedy and (mis)adventure as opposed to social critique; (ii) the initial reaction to the novel: criticism of the "coarse" figure of Huckleberry Finn himself; (iii) the extent to which the generation of writers after Twain, e.g. Hemingway, Faulkner, Langston Hughes, etc. see Huckleberry Finn as a foundational text; (iv) the extent to which the novel is both critically acclaimed and popularity; (v) the controversy surrounding the novel's use of language, particularly its frequent use of the n-word; and (vi) the continued debate on the status of the novel, including the criticism of Jane Smiley and Toni Morrison.


In this course, Professor Thomas Ruys Smith (University of East Anglia) explores Mark Twain's 1884/5 novel, Huckleberry Finn. In the first module, we think about the origins of Huckleberry Finn in Mark Twain's life and career up to 1884/5. In the second module, we think about what kind of book Huckleberry Finn is, before turning in the third module to the text itself and thinking about Huck and Jim's journey down the Mississippi. In the fourth module, we think about the novel's problematic and controversial ending, before turning in the fifth module to the novel's critical reception, from the very first reviews in 1885 to the criticism of individuals such as Alan Gribben, Jane Smiley, and Toni Morrison.


Thomas Ruys Smith is Professor of American Literature and Culture at the University of East Anglia. His primary field of research and teaching expertise is nineteenth century literature and culture, both American and Transatlantic. Frequently, his research is focused around the life and culture of the Mississippi River. His first book, River of Dreams: Imagining the Mississippi Before Mark Twain (Louisiana State University Press, 2007) was an interdisciplinary examination of the different roles played by the Mississippi in antebellum American culture. His second book, Southern Queen: New Orleans in the Nineteenth Century (Continuum, 2011), was an exploration of the life and culture of one of America's most fascinating cities during a crucible period in its history. His latest monograph, Deep Water: The Mississippi River in the Age of Mark Twain (LSUP: 2019), is the first book to provide a comprehensive narrative account of Twain's intimate and long-lasting creative engagement with the Mississippi.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Ruys Smith, T. (2021, March 22). Twain: Huckleberry Finn - Critical Reception [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Ruys Smith, T. "Twain: Huckleberry Finn – Critical Reception." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 22 Mar 2021,