The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is set in various
locales along the Mississippi River during the 1830ís or
1840ís. At that period in American history, the region (now
known as the Midwest) was still a frontier area in many ways.
Large stretches of land were sparsely inhabited. There were few
cities and towns, and the great majority of people lived off the
land, farming, hunting, fishing, and trapping for furs.
Although industrialization was still in its early stages, steam
technology was becoming dominant, as evidenced by the great
steamboats that plied the Mississippi River and the steam powered
railroads that were becoming commonplace throughout the United
In rural Missouri, Illinois, Arkansas, and
Mississippi, there were few schools, and most children attended
classes only long enough to learn to read and write. There were no
theaters, libraries, or museums in the region, and entertainment
and popular education were offered by traveling showmen,
musicians, circus performers, preachers, and lecturers.
In the 1830ís and 1840s, after the
industrialized states of the North had abolished slavery, there
began the great national debate over its extension in the new
states created from the western territories. Northerners opposed
the extension of slavery, citing moral as well as practical
objections. The states of the South, which were dependent on
revenue obtained from the sale of crops cultivated by slave labor
on large plantations, had made slavery a peculiar institution of
their society. The whites of the South generally defended slavery
and supported its extension into the new states of the Union. Most
white Americans, however, no matter where they lived and what
their attitudes toward slavery were, agreed that black people were
intellectually and morally inferior to white people. Racist
beliefs, attitudes, and behavior that would be considered
reprehensible today were commonplace then.
Huck Finn is also significant for its impact
on American literature; in fact, Ernest Hemingway [another famous
American author] once said that Huck Finn is the basis for all
modern American fiction.
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