Foreshadowing

Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

by

Mark Twain

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Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Foreshadowing 4 key examples

Definition of Foreshadowing
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the story. Foreshadowing can be achieved directly or indirectly, by making... read full definition
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the story. Foreshadowing can be achieved... read full definition
Foreshadowing is a literary device in which authors hint at plot developments that don't actually occur until later in the... read full definition
Chapter 1
Explanation and Analysis—Huck's Morality:

Near the beginning of the novel, Huck is struggling to abide by Miss Watson’s restrictive rules and glibly states that he wouldn’t mind going to hell:

Miss Watson would say, ‘‘Don’t put your feet up there, Huckleberry’’; and ‘‘Don’t scrunch up like that, Huckleberry—set up straight’’ […] Then she told me all about the bad place, and I said I wished I was there.

This small moment foreshadows the religious and moral reckoning Huck experiences later in the novel. Though here Huck seems not to care about going to hell, the main reason that he feels he should tell Miss Watson about Jim’s whereabouts (after spending time with Jim on the raft) is because he’s afraid of this type of eternal condemnation. Still, Huck ultimately decides to protect Jim, tearing up the note he wrote to Miss Watson and saying out loud to himself, ‘‘All right, then, I’ll go to hell’.” Not only is Huck revoking the supposedly righteous rules he learned from Christianity, he is also siding with a Black man over the white woman who has, in some ways, been his primary caretaker. In both moments, he decides that he’d rather have the freedom of making his own choices in his life than follow religion-based rules.

Explanation and Analysis—Nature Sounds:

Before escaping on the raft with Jim and spending time away from civilization on the Mississippi River, Huck demonstrates an attunement to nature. While sitting in his room in Miss Watson’s house he looks out the window and describes nature using several instances of personification:

The stars were shining, and the leaves rustled in the woods ever so mournful; and I heard an owl, away off, who-whooing about somebody that was dead, and a whippo-will and a dog crying about somebody that was going to die; and the wind was trying to whisper something to me, and I couldn’t make out what it was, and so it made the cold shivers run over me.

Here, Huck describes leaves, owls, dogs, and the wind as if they have human qualities, such as the ability to whisper and mourn the dead. With these descriptions, Twain establishes that nature can be both comforting to Huck—he is intentionally spending time looking out the window, after all—and also scary. He wants to be free away from Miss Watson’s attempts to “sivilize” him, and yet nature does not guarantee safety.

Huck’s close attention to nature—and his ability to, seemingly, communicate with it—also foreshadows the time that he will spend out in nature throughout the rest of the novel, and all the ways nature will comfort and unsettle him once he begins his journey down the Mississippi River.

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Chapter 3
Explanation and Analysis—Pap's Death:

Though Huck worries throughout the novel that his abusive father, Pap, is chasing after him, Jim reveals that the man whose body they saw floating in the river (at the beginning of the book) was actually Pap. This is a surprise to Huck, but Twain actually foreshadowed Pap’s death early on when Huck describes how the judge lied to him about his father being dead:

They said he was floating on his back in the water. They took him and buried him on the bank. But I warn’t comfortable long, because I happened to think of something. I knowed mighty well that a drownded man don’t float on his back, but on his face.

Even though the original floating person did not turn out to be Pap, Twain puts the image into readers’ heads of Pap drowning and floating down the river, making Jim’s surprise reveal at the end somewhat less jarring. Once Huck learns for sure that his father has died, he finally access to the type of freedom he has always longed for, allowing him to decide to travel as he pleases at the end of the book.

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Chapter 8
Explanation and Analysis—Abolitionism:

Near the beginning of his time on the Mississippi River with Jim, Huck learns that Jim is running away because he doesn’t want to be sold and end up separated from his wife and kids. After sharing this with Huck, Jim asks Huck not to tell anyone, and Huck's response contains both an allusion and foreshadowing:

“People would call me a low-down Abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum—but that don’t make no difference. I ain’t agoing to tell, and I ain’t agoing back there anyways.”

Here, Huck alludes to Abolitionism, a pre-Civil War movement to end slavery, led by both Black and white Americans (primarily in the Northern states). While Black Abolitionists faced the brunt of physical violence, white Abolitionists also faced repercussions—including mob attacks—for publicly showing their support for Black people.

Though Huck is acting of his own self-interest here—he “ain’t agoing back there” to tell anyone about Jim because he himself wants to run away and be free from his abusive father, Pap—his declaration that he doesn’t care if he’s seen as an Abolitionist foreshadows his genuine desire and efforts to help Jim become free. Over the course of the novel, Huck moves from passively helping Jim move toward freedom to actively caring for him and doing whatever he can to keep him from being recaptured.

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