Sophomores are required to read two books for English this summer: 1) Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
2) Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities
We will give you a multiple-choice test on both books during the second English class next fall; therefore, please 1) read these books with care this summer; 2) bring your copies of them with you when you arrive in the fall and review the books before the test. (You should do most of this review before the night before the test, as you will have homework in a number of classes to do that night.) To do well on the multiple-choice test, you will need to know the action of the novels in some detail, as well as know their overall structure: we will ask questions both about details and about overall structure. For the most part, the questions on the test will follow the study questions, so you can help yourself by thinking about those questions (and the aspects of the novel they require a knowledge of) as you read. Be sure to bring this study guide with you when you arrive in the fall, to help you review for the test.
We will also ask you to write about one of these novels in class during the first week of school. You will need your copy of the text to write this in-class.
Note: Your test and in-class writing will be graded and will count as an important part of your first-quarter grade.
Please use the following study guides as you read these novels: knowing something about the novels and thinking about the study questions will make reading the novels more enjoyable and should help you do well on your test and in-class writing. On the last page of this document, we give you two sample multiple-choice questions, to give you an idea of the kinds of questions you will need to be able to answer on the test.
Study Guide for Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Although many readers consider The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn to be “the great American novel,” it hardly promises to measure up to such claims in its first few chapters. The narrator is a rather stubbornly ignorant 12-year-old boy, whose primary interests are smoking, fishing, and avoiding adults. One adult he most especially wishes to avoid is his mean, abusive, alcoholic father. In fact, it is Huck’s effort to escape his father’s clutches that forces him to leave his friends behind and flee down the Mississippi River in a canoe. Along the way, Huck meets—and gradually develops an unlikely friendship with—a runaway slave from Huck’s town, named Jim. That’s when things get interesting. Together, this poor, ignorant white boy, who nevertheless feels “naturally” superior to a slave, and this determined black man, who sees Huck’s value primarily in helping him to gain his freedom (in Ohio), overcome a handful of physical, social, and moral ordeals as they make their way down the great river on a raft.
Although Twain wrote the novel in the 1880s, he situates the action of the story in the pre-Civil War South – the time of his own childhood. Thus, Twain knew very well that the problem of slavery in America would eventually require a long and bloody war to bring about any kind of resolution. As Huck and Jim’s journey takes them deeper and deeper into the society—and, for Jim, the mortal dangers—of the slaveholding South, Huck is forced to choose between loyalty to certain truths he has always been told and the truth as he knows it in his heart. At that point, Huck’s struggle pre-figures the national struggle that would take place some thirty years later.
1. As a narrator, Huck is a “talker” and not a writer. He says that “Mr. Mark Twain” wrote an earlier story about Huck and Tom and others (The Adventures of Tom Sawyer). What does the author gain by handing over “the sequel” to such a peculiar boy?
2. Although Huck doesn’t “know” nearly as much as Tom Sawyer, he’s still a pretty...