Sample Close Reading

Pap's Drunken Craze


This selection from the book The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a soliloquy from Pap, Huck’s father, on many of the current issues that make him angry and cause him to blame the government. This soliloquy is satire due to the outrageous claims and extreme racism spoken by Pap. This draws the reader's attention to the issue of racism in America.


Mark Twain uses the ignorant and absurd claims of the character Pap to draw attention to the extreme ideals of some racist Americans during the Reconstruction era. The obvious lack of logic in Pap’s words is used to outline the true foolishness of certain American ideals throughout this time period in U.S. history.


“Here’s what the law does: The law takes a man worth six thousand dollars and up’ards, and jams him into an old trap of a cabin like this, and lets him go round in clothes that ain’t fitten for a hog.” - Page 28

“Oh, yes, this is a wonderful govment, wonderful. Why, looky here. There was a free nigger there from Ohio—a mulatter, most as white as a white man. He had the whitest shirt on you ever see, too, and the shiniest hat; and there ain’t a man in that town that’s got as fine clothes as what he had; and he had a gold watch and chain, and a silver-headed cane—the awfulest old gray-headed nabob in the State.” - Page 28

“It was ‘lection day, and I was just about to go and vote myself if I warn’t too drunk to get there; but when they told me there was a State in this country where they’d let that nigger vote, I drawed out. I says I’ll never vote agin. Them’s the very words I said; they all heard me; and the country may rot for all me—” - Page 29

“I says to the people, why ain’t this nigger put up at auction and sold?—that’s what I want to know. And what do you reckon they said? Why, they said he couldn’t be sold till he’d been in the State six months, and he hadn’t been there that long yet. There, now—that’s a specimen. They call that a govment that can’t sell a free nigger till he’s been in the State six months.” - Page 29

Context of Satire

Reading these comments through the character Pap causes the reader to reflect on his absurd ideals and become disgusted with his character. The far-fetched and ridiculous claims made by Pap reflect his personality as an arrogant, abusive low-life in society. However, when the audience reads these claims they reflect on their treatment of the now, African-American “citizens” during the era of Reconstruction. The newly “freed” African-Americans were still treated as inferiors throughout American society with the usage of sharecropping, taxes on voting, and prominent racism. This passage is also important in that it prompts the reader to reflect on his/her individual racist views.


With Huck’s father being an uneducated and abusive drunk, hearing him complain about the African-Americans and their privileges comes across as ironic for the reader. Huck’s father represents racism in America, showing how extreme and absurd the idea of segregation and racism is, even though these ideas were commonly accepted at the time. This helps the reader reflect on Mr. Twain’s message of how irrational racism can be.


This selection shows Mark Twain’s opposition to racism; the topic is one of the several things he commentates on throughout the novel. The entire passage indirectly shows his views and moral opinions on racism during this time period, and it displays the contrast between Twain and his peers. During this time period, the majority of people living in America accepted racism as a normality, and found it necessary due to the idea of “white supremacy.”


Mark Twain uses the devices of irony and humor in order to develop his overall message about the ridiculous nature of racism. Irony helps contribute to the reader’s reflection of how Pap and his morals mirror theirs in some ways. The reader finds irony and humor through the extreme views and opinions of the character Pap in support of racism, causing the reader to look upon their own views and treatment of other races.

Additional Questions

  1. How did Mark Twain come to feel so strongly against racism despite his upbringing?

  2. If Pap represents extreme racism, what is the significance of Pap’s death?


- Quotesgram. Pap From Huckleberry Finn Quotes. N.p., 2015. Web. 18 Nov. 2015.

- Glogster. 'Huck Finn Pap Poster'. N.p., 2015. Web. 18 Nov. 2015.