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Huck Finn Song Lyric Analysis Project. Child Abuse : Then and Now . Objectives. SWBAT… Identify the three eras associated with child protection. Describe the major events that took place in each era of child protection. Interpret/ paraphrase the meaning of the passage/s from the novel.

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  • Identify the three eras associated with child protection.
  • Describe the major events that took place in each era of child protection.
  • Interpret/ paraphrase the meaning of the passage/s from the novel.
  • Interpret/ paraphrase the meaning of the passage/s from the song lyrics.
  • Explain the similarities/ differences between the song lyrics and the passage from the novel.
  • Assert and defend opinion about child abuse (philosophical chairs).

Historical Connections

According to, “The history of child protection in America is divisible into three eras. The first era extends from colonial times to 1875 and may be referred to as the era before organized child protection. The second era spans 1875 to1962 and witnessed the creation and growth of organized child protection through nongovernmental child protection societies. The year 1962 marks the beginning of the third or modern era: the era of government-sponsored child protective services.


Colonial Times to 1875

  • It was not until 1875 that the world's first organization devoted entirely to child protection came into existence-the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children. Prior to 1875, many children went without protection, although there has never been a time when children were completely bereft of assistance.
  • Novel connection: Huck Finn was published in 1885 and was set in the 1830’s or 40’s.

Child Protection from 1875 - 1962

  • Organized child protection emerged from the rescue in 1874 of nine year-old Mary Ellen Wilson, who lived with her guardians in one of New York City’s city's worst tenements, Hell's Kitchen.
  • Following the rescue of Mary Ellen, animal protection advocate Henry Bergh and his attorney Elbridge Gerry lamented the fact that no government agency or nongovernmental organization was responsible for child protection.

Bergh and Gerry decided to create a nongovernmental charitable society devoted to child protection, and thus was born the New York Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NYSPCC), the world's first entity devoted entirely to child protection.


The Modern Era of Child Protection

The 1962 publication of the blockbuster article The Battered Child Syndrome by pediatrician Henry Kempe and his colleagues. Kempe played a leading role in bringing child abuse to national attention during the 1960s and 1970s.

By the late 1970s, government-sponsored child protective services spanned the nation, settling into urban and rural areas alike.

The 1960s witnessed an explosion of interest in child abuse, and physicians played a key role in this awakening.


Forms of Child Abuse

  • Physical
  • Verbal
  • Emotional
  • Sexual
  • Neglect

Novel Connection: In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, readers mostly see physical abuse from Pap, although there is evidence of verbal as well. Both forms of abuse cause emotional damage in Huck as evidenced by his low self esteem and poor perception of himself. Arguably the most damaging form of abuse Huck experiences is neglect.


Passage from Huck Finn: Neglect

“ ‘Yes, he’s got a father, but you can’t never find him these days. He used to lay drunk with the hogs in the tanyard, but he hain’t been seen in these parts for more than a year or two’ ” (8).

This is an example of neglect as a form of child abuse. Pap is described as an incapable father who abandons Huck, leaving him to fend for himself at a very young age.


Passage from Huck Finn: Neglect and Physical Abuse

“But by and by Pap got too handy with his hick’ry, and I couldn’t stand it. I was all over with welts. He got to going away so much, too, and locking me in. Once he locked me in and was gone three days. It was dreadful lonesome. I judged he had got drowned and I wasn’t ever going to get out anymore. I was scared” (8).

This passage from the novel is an example of both neglect and physical abuse. It is clear that Pap not only abuses Huck, but also abuses his authority as a father by ruling Huck with fear.


Passage from Huck Finn:

More Physical Abuse

“ ‘He catched me a couple of times and thrashed me, but I went to school just the same, and dodged him or outrun him most the time’” (23).


10,000 Maniacs – What's The Matter Here?

That young boy without a name anywhere I'd know his face.In this city the kid's my favourI've seen him. I've seen him, I see him every day.Seen him run outside looking for a place to hide from his father,the kid half naked and said to myself "Oh, what's the matter here?"I'm tired of the excuses everbody uses, he's their kid I stay out of it,but who gave you the right to do this?We live on Morgan Street;just ten feet between and his mother, I never see her,but her screams and cussing, I hear them every day.Threats like: "If you don't mind I will beat on your behind,""Slap you, slap you silly."made me say, "Oh, what's the matter here?"


I'm tired of the excuses everybody uses, he's your kid, do as you see fit,but get this through that I don't approve of what you did to your own flesh and blood.I have heard the excuses everybody uses, he's your kid, do as you see fit,but get this through that I don't approve of what you did to your own flesh and blood."If you don't sit in your chair straightI'll take this belt from around my waist and don't you think that I won't use it!"Answer me and take your time,what could be the awful crime he could do at soyoung an age?If I'm the only witness to your madness offer me some words to balance out what I see and what I hear.All these cold and rude things that you do I suppose you do BECAUSE he belongs to youand instead of love, and the feel of warmth you've given him these cuts and sores that don't heal with time or with age....and I want to say now, I want to say "What's the Matter here?"But I don't dare say "What’s the Matter, here?"But I don't dare say...

song lyric interpretation
Song Lyric Interpretation
  • "What's The Matter Here?" was the third single released from 10,000 Maniacs' 1987 album In My Tribe, following Peace Train and "Like the Weather." The song continued the band's slow integration into the mainstream of American commercial radio; it was a number 9 hit on the BillboardModern Rock Tracks chart
  • Comment: I think that there is an implication in one of the lines that the song is discussing use of force on a child as the only form of communication. The following line seems to imply (to me) that the parent doesn't present any sort of verbal communication, just fear of beatings to keep their kid in 1988.
  • In the song, singer Natalie Merchant narrates the role of a woman who notices that her neighbors are abusing their young son, and struggles to balance her desire to speak up for the child with her feeling that she must not interfere in the family's affairs: "I'm tired of the excuses everybody uses/He's your kid, do as you see fit/But get this through that I don't approve of what you do to your own flesh and blood ... I want to say, "What's the matter here?"/But I don't dare say..."
huck finn analysis sample paragraph sentence frames
Huck Finn Analysis Sample Paragraph & Sentence Frames
  • In the novel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, the reader is exposed to mostly physical forms of child abuse such as when Pap “thrashed” Huck (23). Additionally, Huck describes Pap as getting “too handy with the hickory [stick]” (8). Considering that child protection did not begin to be formalized until 1875, children that grew up during the 1830’s and 40’s, like Huck, were at the mercy of their parent’s morality and child rearing practices or lack thereof. In other words, whatever childrearing practices a parent saw fit for his/her child was accepted by society with an attitude of to each his own. Unfortunately, even after child protection became formalized in the 1960’s, children continue to go unprotected. As shown in the song “What’s the Matter Here?” by 10,000 Maniacs released in 1988, when people do not get involved and help to identify children that are being abused. Every person must take responsibility to intervene in order to protect every child; otherwise child abuse will continue to be a dark reality for too many children in society.