Using Tom and Huck to Develop Moral Reasoning
Demonstrates how to use dilemma situations for literature to develop
adolescent moral reasoning. Dilemmas involve
questions of responsibility, fairness, rightness and wrongness, empathy and
caring, and motive or intention. Sample
activities focus on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Adapt these activities
to any piece of literature that involves
making value decisions.
Using fictional dilemmas provides a larger context within which students may reason.
Students reflect in great depth on moral dilemmas without being threatened by the examination of their own personal
Students relate to stories rich in problems faced by fictional adolescents,
helping them to develop awareness of personal strengths and weaknesses in preparation for adulthood.
Students identify with a hero or heroine who represents a strong, noble force, and who achieves success in a
Your students read Huckleberry Finn, by mark Twain. You identify a moral
problem in the story, and ask questions
leading your students to reflect on the problem. They reflect individually,
first, then in small groups which try to
achieve consensus, and finally within the whole group for comparisons.
One situation worthy of examination is the question of why Huck went along
with Tom’s plan to “free” Jim even though the plan caused many people to suffer.
What do you think were the reasons Tom was willing to carry out his
plans, even though he knew Jim had been set free?
What were some potential consequences of Tom’s decision?
What were the actual consequences?
What are some possible alternatives to Tom’s decision?
Should he have carried out his plan? (Back up your answer with reasons.)
Another episode in the story worthy of examination concerns Huck’s decision not to tell Huck that his father is dead,
and the behavior of Colonel Sherburn.
Students gain experience in answering some of the moral questions they
encounter in their own lives by analyzing fiction, a step toward developing their own value systems.
Mills, Randy K. “Using Tom and Huck to develop Moral Reasoning in Adolescents:
A strategy for the Classroom,” Adolescence v23 n90 Summer 1988: pp. 325-329.
– From Teaching Values through Teaching Literature