DE: Huckleberry Finn - a bildungsroman

  • Bildung is often associated with the world of literature.

    In Year 8, we read Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn

    and asked ourselves why this novel may be considered a bildungsroman.

    "I would recommend this book to everyone who believes that school is the only way to learn about life

    and who likes a funny and also serious novel about slavery, life lessons and the society back then.

    This novel presents serious themes in an adventurous way, 

    so even younger people or children are able to rely to them." 

    Carla, Year 8


    In the following essay I´m going to explain why Huckleberry Finn can be called a ‘bildungsroman’. Not only Huck receives ‘bildung’ in this book; you as a reader can also learn something. You learn, for example, many things about what life was like before the Civil War.  

    Through his adventures Huckleberry improves his social skills. He learns to keep quiet and say nothing unless he has to, because otherwise this could get him into trouble. An example for this is when he meets the King and the Duke. He doesn't believe them, but does not contradict them, because he wants no trouble. He knows when he is in danger and he knows how to survive.

    Another really important point is that in the novel Huck´s character develops. Huck begins to see Jim as an equal human being in that racist time. You can see this when Huck has the chance to tell on Jim, but he refuses to do so. In the end Huck really sees that Jim is a very kind person, because when Huck’s father died Jim didn´t want Huck to see it and protected him.

    Huck also does everything to help Jim to escape. He does not just want to free him because of the adventure, but because they are friends who help each other, no matter what happens.   

    Quentin, Year 8


    In this essay I am going to give my opinion why the novel Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is a Bildungsroman. The book "Huckleberry Finn" is about a boy called ”Huck“. Huck is a boy who doesn’t care about school and his future, but he loves dangerous adventures. He was adopted by the Widow Douglas, who tried to make him ‘civilized’. But the freedom-loving boy feels threatened by society's constraints and escapes several times to experience adventures with his friend Tom Sawyer. The novel describes his adventures with people he meets and you understand that people with little education are not stupid and can still master tasks.

    I think it is good to read “Huckleberry Finn”, because you learn that school is not what makes a person smart. Huck isn’t well educated, but in my opinion he is still a smart boy. In the novel you can see how Huck makes a really good plan to escape from his violent father. His plan is so well thought-out that people who haven’t read the novel could think that this plan had to be from a very intelligent and educated person. But it’s not. The plan is from a boy who doesn’t want to go to school and who just barely knows how to calculate.

    Another example that proves that the novel is a ‘Bildungsroman’ is that Huck learns about how black people are treated at this time. After he escaped from his father, he meets a runaway slave called “Jim“, who had escaped from Miss Watson. After they befriended each other, they decide to use a boat to go down the Mississippi River. They experience many adventures and they complete tasks together. Huck learns that black people are just like others and shouldn’t be treated worse than whites and that you can have adventures with them, too. He is also very angry when he finds out that Jim was sold for just $40. That shows that Huck and Jim have a good relation and Jim is an important person for Huck. I think Huck is better educated about black people than most of the other people at his time, because he knows how black people should be treated.

    One last good argument for why “Huckleberry Finn” is a Bildungsroman is that Huck also learns that people aren’t always who they pretend to be and that he shouldn’t trust everyone. In the novel Huck meets two persons who pretend to be a King and a Duke. He finds out that they are swindlers and criminals. He finds out that they try to steal money from other people.

    Some people may say that this is not a ‘Bildungsroman’ and that the main character is a rude problem child who will never succed in life. But I think if they read the novel, they will probably change their mind about this.

    Atila, Year 8

    A bildungsroman is about a young person’s development. At first the main character is naive, young and inexperienced. Then he grows with his tasks and problems. So it is something like a biography, but it is also a process of learning.
    In “Huckleberry Finn” the main character (Huckleberry Finn) is young and grows, not only in terms of age but also in his mindset. For him life is not like school, because in school you learn and then write a test; in Huckleberry’s life he gets a test and then learns his lesson from it.

    At first, he is a bit naive, but from chapter to chapter he gets older and more experienced. At the beginning Huckleberry is afraid to help the slave Jim run away from Miss Watson, because he is of the opinion that a slave is the property of his owner. During the story Jim and Huck become friends, help each other and in the end Huck helps Jim to be free. This is a big difference in his mindset.

    In the beginning Huckleberry also dreamed of stealing from others and was a member of a gang. His way of thinking changes, though, and he prevents the robbery of the inheritance of three young women. So this is not only a novel but a process of development. This is what makes Huckleberry Finn a bildungsroman!

    Linus, Year 8


    Huckleberry Finn is a Bildungsroman, because at first Huck was often misbehaving but then developed over time. This can be seen when he is introduced as a kid who starts to smoke at a young age and doesn’t do a lot for school, but later he starts to help the runaway slave Jim and feels bad for Mary Jane when the King and the Duke try to steal her money. Tom and Huck also pranked Jim in the beginning of the book and only treated him like a slave, but at the end Huck treats Jim like a friend. As a Bildungsroman means that someone develops over time and becomes more mature, Huckleberry Finn obviously is one!

    Kilian, Year 8


    Things to learn from Huckleberry Finn:

    Huckleberry isn`t interested in school at all (Ch.3 l.17f), but he he has other talents, which help him to get along during his adventures. You can see Huckleberry`s development throughout the novel. To give an example, look at Chapter 9, p. 37: this pages illustrates how Huck learns a lesson for life about loyalty and morality. He has to decide for himself if he should tell on his friend Jim or not. In the beginning he wants to tell on him, but within short time you can see how he develops and then realizes that a true friend is worth to be protected. As a result, we can say about Huckleberry that he probably learns much more about life than other kids at his age.

    Instead of talking theoretically about lessons for life, he rushes in, meets new people like the Duke and the King in Chapter 10, sees through them and figures out that they`re ”just low-down frauds” (p.44 l.2f). Even after they sold Jim in Chapter 17, he exactly knows how to deal with the situation so that he finally finds and saves Jim.

    Additionally, he exactly knows what he needs to say to make other people do what he wants. For example, he once wanted to save a sinking wreck with people on it, so he made up a story to suggest that there was his family with his rich aunt on board (p.36 l.12ff).

    Huckleberry also proves that he gained general knowledge throughout the novel. And by saying this I don`t talk about math or grammar. Huckleberry’s general knowledge is even more essential for life: he knows exactly how far he can go, when a white lie is appropriate and when he should again act according to his principles. An example of this can be found from p.17 to 20. There Huckleberry put on a false identity; he pretends to be his best friend Tom Sawyer to save his friend Jim. And when Huckleberry meets Tom, he immediately involves him into his plan.

    In summary we can say that education or learning lessons for life isn`t just about school. We can see Huckleberry as an example that being different doesn`t mean that you can`t learn anything for life.

    Marlene, Year 8

    More things to learn from Huckleberry Finn:

    Huck’s father is often drunk and abuses Huckleberry. Sometimes he even tries to murder his own son. Huck learns the hard way how to behave around him and how to take up the safest position in this relationship. This only worked, because he tried to come along with others, instead of pushing his ego. Drunkards and people with bad tempers can be extremely exhausting for everybody, but it’s not always easy to cut them out of our lives. Sometimes, we care too much to let go or they are too close to us, as they are our closest friends or family. So, here’s a piece of advice from Huckleberry Finn in the Book: 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. This means he just tries to separate himself from his pap.       

         Johanna, Year 8       


    In life you learn to protect your friends and not to give them away. As you can see in the novel, Huck does not reveal Jim, even though he would have gotten a lot of money for him, because Jim is a runaway slave. In the end he does not tell on him, because he got a bad conscience.

    Furthermore, you learn in life to be loyal to your friends, which means for example to keep promises to them. In the book you can see that Huck learns loyalty, because he promises Jim to go to Cairo - because then Jim would be a free man and not a runaway slave anymore and Jim would not be in danger anymore. But when they miss Cairo, Huck feels really bad for him. So he drives back to Cairo and keeps his promise to him.

    In addition, you learn how to fight for survival in life when you are alone and that is something that a teacher does not teach you at school. In the novel Huck takes care of himself when he travels alone and searches for food. He learns to find a place where he can sleep at night in the wilderness. Huck is on his own and does not have anybody who travels with him at first.

    Huck learns to do teamwork, too. Huck and Tom make a plan to get Jim out of this cabin at the house of Tom’s aunt Sally, because they want to set Jim free. So they have to work as a team. If Huck had been alone, he might not have managed to get Jim out of this cabin all by himself.

    The novel shows that in life you learn practical skills like how to survive, how to find real friends and to take care of yourself.

                                                                                                                       Luise (Year 8)



    Mark Twain's Face by j4p4n. URL: (public domain)

    Freehand Book by aungkarns. URL: (public domain)

    Sad History: Slave Worker by j4p4n. URL: (public domain)

    Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn by johnny_automatic. URL: (public domain)