Author: Mark Twain
Chapter: Introduction to Mark Twain
In order to make anything out of himself, Mark Twain had to struggle with his environment from the beginning. Born Samuel Langhorne Clemens in the one-horse village of Florida, Missouri, in 1835, he rose to become a world famous writer, lecturer and traveler before he died in 1910. Most of his success was due to a combination of indomitable drive, unceasing energy, and maximum use of his own talent.
See - Mark Twain: 1835-1910: A terrible enemy of injustice and confusion, Mark Twain wrote scores of attacks on the villainous and fraudulent pursuits of dishonest people, and on the weak, insipid facades of hypocrisy.
The basic facts of Twain's life are well known. Four years after he was born, the family moved to Hannibal, Missouri, a village just a little larger than his birthplace. During his boyhood he had all the advantages and disadvantages of growing up in a country environment. He was close to the big river, and probably spent time exploring its wooded shores and islands. He grew up in tune with the life around him, swimming and playing hooky from school, and falling in love and reading (for his family was an intelligent one). Upon his father's death in 1847, Sam Clemens became a printer's apprentice. He followed his trade over a good part of the country, working in towns as different as Keokuk and New York. But the pay wasn't too good for printers in those days, so after trying unsuccessfully to get to South America, he became a river pilot. He had thought he would go to South America to make some easy money. Before he got to New Orleans to take ship, however, he became friendly with a river pilot named Horace Bixby, who promised to teach him the river. Bixby was a good pilot, one who loved his work and established a reputation for excellence. The story of Twain's apprenticeship is told in Life on the Mississippi. The account is "stretched" somewhat, as Huck Finn would say.
After piloting steamers for about four years, Clemens retired to the Nevada gold country, because the onset of the Civil War had put an end to river commerce. He eventually ended up in California, back at the printing trade. He wrote short pieces for the newspapers he worked on, establishing a reputation as a humorist among the provincial readers of the Old West. The result of this writing and some lecturing was that he fell in with a group of writers who have come to be known as the "Local Colorists." Men like Bret Harte and Artemus Ward - not much heard of today - were extremely popular in the West for tales which were woven from folk stories and written in dialect with rough-hewn humor and plenty of recognizable concrete detail.
Success And Marriage
In 1869 he published The Innocents Abroad, an account of a trip to Europe he made under the sponsorship of a newspaper. In the book, he satirizes the folly of going across the Atlantic to see dead men's graves when there are many living things to see right here. The book made him famous, and gave him a literary reputation in the East.
As a successful writer he attained respectability enough to marry into a wealthy Buffalo, New York, family. His wife's name was Olivia Langdon, of the socially prominent Langdons. Five years later he moved to Elmira, N.Y., and then to Hartford, Connecticut, where he had a house built. Most of this time was taken up with writing, for he had made friends with a number of interesting literary people, among them William Dean Howells, the famous author (The Rise of Silas Lapham) and editor (The Atlantic Monthly). During this period he wrote Roughing It and The Gilded Age. The former is a memoir of the early days in the West; the latter, written in collaboration with Charles Dudley Warner, another friend, is a satire on the way the federal government was run. In 1875 he began work on his first novel: Tom Sawyer. The book was a success.
In 1876 he sat down to its sequel, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. Although this is the work on which the greatest proportion of his literary fame rests, it was not an easy book to write. The history of its composition has been traced by Walter Blair, and is discussed in the "Introduction to Huck Finn," below. It is sufficient to note here that the book didn't appear until 1884 in England, and 1885 in America. It was an immediate success, despite adverse criticism by some of the more conservative literary judges of the day.
Between 1876 and 1885 Twain had written several books, among them The Prince and the Pauper, A Tramp Abroad, and Life on the Mississippi. After Huck Finn, his next major work was Pudd'nhead Wilson (1889). Then came A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court (1894).
Sorrows And Difficulties
Mark Twain's final years were not full of the satisfactions a man hopes to find at the end of a life well led. Instead he suffered a series of financial disasters and personal losses which would have taken the heart out of a lesser man. His publishing company failed in 1894, and shortly thereafter he lost a great deal of money which he had invested in a project to invent a typesetting machine. In spite of his advanced years-he was in his sixties-he took on a foreign lecture tour to pay back every cent he owed. By 1898 he was out of debt. But before he finished the tour, there began for him a series of losses which were to color the rest of his life. These were deeper losses, more personal than merely financial misfortunes. First, his daughter Suzy died, then his wife died, then his daughter Clara went with her husband to live in Europe. This left Clemens with only his daughter Jean, whose epilepsy resulted in a heart attack from which she died.
Four months after Jean's death, on April 21, 1910, Mark Twain died of a heart attack.
Disillusioned by business reversals and personal losses, he was a bitter writer toward the end of his days. Some of his later writings are just being published. They have been withheld from the public by his estate because of the savage nature of their biting satire.
His writings, from the earliest to those just appearing, can best be described as "iconoclastic." That is, they are "image breakers." The picture that most often comes to mind while one is reading his works is that of a man sitting on a hill overlooking a valley populated by foolish people. Every once in a while he shakes his head sadly at their folly and rants at the false symbols and standards they have raised. A terrible enemy of injustice and confusion, Mark Twain wrote scores of attacks on the villainous and fraudulent pursuits of dishonest people, and on the weak, insipid facades of hypocrisy.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
"Huck Finn" And The Picaresque:
The story of Huck Finn's adventurous journey down the Mississippi River on a raft is really a series of short adventures. This is the kind of plot that is known in literature as episodic. Each event is an episode, a self-contained little story. Plots like this are characteristic of a certain kind of novel, the picaresque novel. (This type of novel had its beginning in Spain during the sixteenth century. Among the first of these novels is one called Lazarillo de Tormes.) To say that Huckleberry Finn is simply a picaresque novel is incorrect, however, because there is something missing from it that would be necessary in a picaresque novee. In addition to having an episodic plot, picaresque novels have as their chief characters the low-life and criminal classes of a nation. While it is true that Huck Finn is not of the upper or even the middle class, he is not a proper picaresque hero because he is not hard-hearted and cruel and selfish enough. Perhaps Huck's pap might be a picaresque here; certainly the king and the duke would be. But not Huck.
See - Huck Finn: Huck went whistling along the road.
There is no doubt that Mark Twain borrowed from the traditions of the picaresque novel, particularly from Don Quixote, the novel by Cervantes that sprang from the picaresque tradition. But as with any literary genius, Mark Twain changed and shaped what he borrowed until it was something a little different, and good in its own way.
The story was begun in 1876, but not completed until 1884 when it was published in England. The history of its composition has been told by Walter Blair in his book, Mark Twain and Huck Finn. When Twain got as far as Chapter 16, he ran into trouble. First, he didn't know what to do with the plot; it had gotten out of hand. There was no way to get Jim and Huck upstream once the raft and canoe were lost, and they were past Cairo. He had been working so hard lost his inspiration to continue the book.
Shifts Of Viewpoint
So he laid it aside for a while. But notice how the first sixteen chapters of the book deal with Jim's escape from slavery. Every time freedom is talked about, Jim's freedom is meant. After the sixteenth chapter, Jim recedes into the background. He disappears from the story altogether in the Grangerford chapters, coming in only to save Huck from the "civilization" of plantation feuds. After this, even though the two travelers have a canoe, they make no effort to go back north to Cairo. Once the king and the duke come aboard, Jim is of no importance to the story until he is sold off. Then, when Tom Sawyer makes his appearance, Jim is no more than a minstrel-show-Negro until he sacrifices his freedom, and is picked up as a human character again.
See - Hamlet's Soliloquy: The preacher and Hamlet's soliloquy.
This shifting around would be a major flaw in the novel if Jim were the central figure, or if his escape from slavery were the central theme of the story. But neither of these is true. The central figure of the story is Huck Finn: the story is told to us from his point of view-in the first person. Huck sees and reports; sometimes he understands what he sees, and so he interprets it. Sometimes he doesn't understand, and this too is significant. The central theme of the story is the theme set by the first and last chapters: Huck's fight against getting "sivilised." The civilization he is running from is peopled by characters like the Widow, Miss Watson, Pap, Aunt Sally, and Tom Sawyer, although Tom attracts Huck in a way.
The story is full of striking comparisons, many of which are pointed out in the section of "Comment" following the summary of each chapter. Indeed, there are so many of these comparisons and contrasts that at times Mark Twain seems to be burlesquing his own story. The swearing in of Tom Sawyer's robber-gang, for instance, is a clear foreshadowing of the events that take place on the wrecked Walter Scott. Tom's love of adventure and Huck's search for adventure (in the Walter Scott episode) are obvious parallels (see the "Essay Question and Answers").
There is also an obvious contrast in the character of Tom Sawyer and that of Huck Finn. Tom's ambition is to become famous without counting the cost to himself or others. The adventure's the thing; the hurt and anguish of Aunt Sally, the pain and discomfort of Jim, these never occur to him. But Huck, involved in real adventures, is continually bothered by his conscience. All during the trip down river, he tries to answer the question whether he's doing right by the Widow's sister and by Jim, or not. The preoccupation with justice has him on the horns of a dilemma. Whatever he chooses to do, he's wrong. He's wronging Jim if he returns him to slavery; he's wronging Miss Watson if he helps Jim escape. Huck has no way of knowing what is right. He must follow the dictates of his feelings every step of the way. The only thing he can do is learn by experience. And he does.
See - River: A trip on the river.
Huck And Jim
He learns from Jim, who is in some ways his substitute father. He doesn't believe in Jim's superstition until the superstition proves itself true. Note how he scoffs at the snakeskin, until the snakeskin does its work. Huck rises to Jim's level. By accepting Jim's superstitions, Huck enters Jim's primitive world which, though crude, is much more sincere and honest than Miss Watson's world. Beyond it he cannot go. He won't pray because he has not experienced any benefits from prayer.
See - Huck And Jim: Huck and Jim on the river.
In the second part of the story - the chapters dealing with the Grangerford feud and the adventures of the king and the duke - we are taken on a tour of the Mississippi River valley. We see the romantic ideas of Tom Sawyer in their practical applications.
The Grangerfords, with their senseless pride and basic crudity, are held up as examples of the real culture of the South. Huck describes them, their house and its decorations. These descriptions seem to us to be descriptions of ignorant and arrogant people. We understand this, and we laugh at the sentimentality of Emmeline's poetry and paintings; but Huck, who also sees all this, doesn't understand what it means, and he doesn't laugh at it. He thinks it's noble. And so do all the members of the Grangerford family, and all their neighbors.
The king and the duke are illustrations of Tom Sawyer's desire to "promote" things when that desire has taken hold of grown-ups. These two men choose their own comfort at the expense of those around them. They trade on the ignorance, pride, and laziness of the residents of the villages along the mighty river's shore. They do just what Tom does when he draws up a coat of arms for Jim, a coat of arms that he himself doesn't understand, let alone Jim. And Huck accepts the king and the duke just the same way he accepts Tom. He shrugs an intellectual shoulder and murmurs something about how you can't get Tom to explain a thing to you if he doesn't want to. Tom's ambition is to become famous; the frauds want to get rich.
Finally, the third part of the novel brings us back to Tom Sawyer as the focus of the plot. (Huck is still the main character in the novel, however. He is reporting all that goes on; and even if he doesn't seem to understand the action, he is involved in it and he colors what he reports by just being what he is.) But it is this part of the novel that ties together all that comes before it. We see Tom as he is, a romantic, a muddlehead, but bound to be a successful community leader. He has visions of grandeur; he is capable of stupidly leading an escaped slave into a Southern village and having all the slaves who are still bound hold a torchlight parade in honor of the escaped slave. The only logical outcome of such goings-on would be the hanging of most of the slaves in the village. And this is undoubtedly what would have happened if Tom had not caught the bullet that night at the Phelpses' farm.
See - Phelps Sawmill: The Duke at the Phelps sawmill.
We also see Huck as he is, the opposite of Tom. He is a realist, and generally level-headed except when he goes off after Tom Sawyer's adventure, or when he follows Tom's lead. He is not "civilizable." The end of the book makes this clear. He is where he was in the beginning: he left the Widow's house, and he will leave Aunt Sally's. Something in civilization appalls Huck Finn.
So far as the mechanics of composition are concerned, Mark Twain was considerably limited by the fact that Huck Finn is a living, breathing personality who shines through the pages of the book. Since Huck Finn tells the story himself, in the first person, Mark Twain had to put himself in the place of this thirteen-year-old son of the town drunkard. Twain had to see life as Huck saw it. He had to conceive a character who could believably see life as Mark Twain saw it. But Huck is more than Twain's mouthpiece. As a living character he is capable of shaping the story. The very language Huck uses colors what he sees and how he will pass it on to us. Very obvious is the fact that the humor of the book often depends on Huck's language. However, it is through his use of language that Twain creates character and sets down objective truth. The very innocence of Huck is reflected through his credulous explanations of what he sees-explanations couched in language characteristic of primitive, basic society. Huck is capable of making Twain write something merely because it is the kind of thing Huck would do or say; and he can force Twain to leave something out because Huck would not do or say that kind of thing.
So far as the dialects of the characters are concerned, we can only remark that Mark Twain was a master at reproducing the speech of his day. He doesn't need to indicate the speaker's name. The dialect indicates him just as exactly as if he were named. Twain uses, he says, "The Missouri negro dialect; the extremest form of the backwoods South-Western dialect; the ordinary 'Pike-County' dialect; and four modified varieties of this last." The careful and consistent attention to details of speech is one of the many characteristics of this book which make it worth serious and careful reading. Mark Twain drew his knowledge of these dialects from personal experience. And it is the concrete and graphic products of experience which make this story so appealing.
The Main Characters
This is the central figure of the novel, the son of the town drunkard. He is essentially good-hearted, but he is looked down upon by the rest of the village. He dislikes civilized ways because they are personally restrictive and hard. He is generally ignorant of book-learning, but he has a sharply developed sensibility. He is imaginative and clever, and has a sharp eye for detail, though he doesn't always understand everything he sees, or its significance. This enables Mark Twain to make great use of the device of irony. Huck is essentially a realist. He knows only what he sees and experiences. He doesn't have a great deal of faith in things he reads or hears. He must experiment to find out what is true and what isn't. With his sharply observant personality he is able to believe Jim's superstition at some times, to scoff at it at others.
The Widow Douglas
The wife of the late Justice of the Peace of St. Petersburg - the village which provides the story's setting. Huck likes her because she's kind to him and feeds him when he's hungry. Her attempts to "civilize" him fail when Huck prefers to live in the woods with his father. He doesn't like to wear the shoes she buys him, and he doesn't like his food cooked the way hers is.
The Widow's maiden sister. She leads Huck to wish he were dead on several occasions by trying to teach him things. Her favorite subject is the Bible. She owns Jim and considers selling him down river. This causes Jim to run away. Filled with sorrow for driving Jim to this extreme, Miss Watson sets him free in her will.
Huck's friend. A boy with a wild imagination who likes to play "games." He reads a lot, mainly romantic and sentimental novels about pirates and robbers and royalty. He seldom understands all he reads; this is obvious when he tries to translate his reading into action. He doesn't know what "ransoming" is: he supposes it to be a way of killing prisoners. He has a great deal of dive, and can get people to do things his way.
Miss Watson's slave, and the one really significant human character Huck meets in the novel. Though he is referred to as Miss Watson's "nigger," it is clear that the expression is used as a literary device-it is part of the Missouri dialect of the nineteenth century. Aside from Huck, Jim stands head and shoulders above all the characters in the book, in every respect. He is moral, realistic, and knowing in the ways of human nature. He appears at times as a substitute father for Huck, looking after him, helping him, and teaching him about the world around him. The injustices perpetrated by the institution of slavery are given deep expression in his pathos.
Huck's father, the town-drunkard. He is in every respect the opposite of Jim. He is sadistic in his behavior toward his child. He is dirty, greedy, and dies violently because of his involvement with criminals. He is typical of the "white trash" of the day. Pap is an example of what Mark Twain thought the human race was: unreformable. A person is what he is, for good or bad, and nothing can change him.
The guardian of Tom's and Huck's money. He is very wealthy, and the most respected man in the village. He becomes involved in a lawsuit to protect Huck from the cruelty of his father.
The Grangerford Family
Southern aristocrats of the pre-Civil War south. They are portrayed as men who are jealous of their honor and cold-blooded in revenge. They are excellent horsemen and good fighters, and they respect their enemies as being the same. Their women are sentimental, but accustomed to hard living. Their taste runs to plaster of paris imitations of things and melancholy poetry. The general influence of Sir Walter Scott's romantic novels is clearly seen in the details of these people's daily lives.
The King And The Duke
Two river tramps and con-men who pass themselves off to Huck and Jim as the lost Dauphin of France and the unfortunate Duke of Bridgewater (Bilgewater). They make their living off suckers they find in the small, dirty, ignorant Southern villages. Of the two men, the duke is less cruel and more imaginative than the king, though neither has any moral sensitivity worth mentioning. These men represent the starkly materialistic ideals of "the man who can sell himself" in their most logical extreme. Mark Twain holds them up as examples of the anti-social tendencies of the human race. Readers are usually satisfied when they come to the part of the story where these two get tarred and feathered and driven out of town on a fence rail. Huck is more humane about their suffering.
The Wilks Girls
Nieces of Peter Wilks, a dead man. The king and the duke try unsuccessfully to rob the girls' inheritance. Mary Jane, the eldest, causes Huck to almost fall in love with her. He admires her spunk, or "sand." Susan is the middle sister, and Joanna, the "Harelip," is the youngest. Joanna questions Huck about his fictive life in England. His discomfort at being caught in a situation where he can't lie very easily is removed by Mary Jane and Susan who berate Joanna for upsetting the peace and quiet of their guest. The girls are innocent sheep, ready for snatching by the king and duke. Only Huck of the three "visitors from England" feels sorry for their plight.
Tom Sawyer's uncle and aunt. They buy Jim from the king and the duke. Kind, gentle people who do right as their consciences dictate. Sally is going to adopt Huck, but he would rather go live among the Indians.
The aunt with whom Tom lives. She is fairly well off, a member of the middle class. With a nephew like Tom, she is long-suffering.
Tom Sawyer's half-brother. He doesn't figure in this story, except that Tom uses his name because the Phelps family thinks Huck is Tom.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Chapter 1: I Meet Moses And The Bulrushers
Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn opens with the hero of the story (Huck Finn) introducing himself as one of the characters who figured in another book by Mark Twain, Tom Sawyer. Huck tells us that "Mr. Mark Twain" was more or less truthful in telling the story of Tom Sawyer. On occasion Twain "dressed up" the story, but by and large he told it accurately. After all, Huck says, everybody lies once in a while-except maybe Tom Sawyer's Aunt Polly, or the Widow Douglas (the woman who took Huck into her home in an attempt to raise him), or Tom's cousin Mary.
At any rate, Huck continues, at the end of the other book he and Tom are rich because they found a robber's cave in which there was loot amounting to $12,000. With this money set out at interest, each of the boys gets a dollar a day spending money, "more than a body could tell what to do with." Huck tells us he soon tired of living a respectable life with the widow, so "when I couldn't stand it no longer I lit out." He found his old hogshead (the large barrel he slept in during his free and easy days) and was content again. Content, that is, until Tom Sawyer talked him into going back to the widow's house in order to put up a respectable "front." Tom, you see, was starting a band of robbers (another of Tom Sawyer's games), and Huck could join if he had a good reputation.
Huck then tells us how he felt cramped in the clothes he had to wear at the widow's house-he preferred his old rags, at least he didn't itch and sweat in them. When the widow tried to teach him Bible stories (particularly "Moses and the Bulrushers"), Huck was interested until he found out that Moses was dead. When he learned that, he says, "I didn't care no more about him, because I don't take no stock in dead people."
Hear - Huck: On Moses: I didn't care no more about him, because I don't take no stock in dead people.
Things got rougher when Huck asked the widow to let him smoke his corncob pipe, and she said no because smoking was crude and dirty. What Huck couldn't understand was that the widow thought that snuff taking was all right because she did it herself.
Huck got into trouble with the widow's old maid sister, Miss Watson, who came to live with the widow about this time. Miss Watson tried to teach Huck to spell, but Huck couldn't stand it. When Miss Watson told him about Hell, Huck said he wished he were there-he felt he needed a change. But Miss Watson didn't understand, so she lectured Huck about evil and good and Heaaen. Huck comments, "Well, I couldn't see no advantage in going where she was going (that is, to Heaven), so I made up my mind I wouldn't try for it." And anyway, Huck was glad he wouldn't get to Heaven because Miss Watson didn't think Tom Sawyer would get there.
At the end of the evening, Miss Watson and the widow call the slaves in and say prayers. Then everybody goes to bed. Alone in his room, Huck begins to feel lonesome and scared. His fear grows on him as he listens to the sounds in the night and finds superstitious meaning in such noises as the hooting of an owl and the baying of a dog. When he flips a spider off his shoulder into the flame of a candle where it shrivels up, Huck becomes more down-hearted than ever.
He lights up his pipe - no one will know because everyone is asleep - and settles down with the stillness of the night. Then he hears twigs snapping and a quiet "me-yow! me-yow!" out in the yard. His mood brightens. He answers the call, puts out the light, shinnies down to the ground, and finds Tom Sawyer waiting for him.
This chapter gives us an idea of the kind of person Huck Finn is. For all practical purposes he is an orphan: his mother is dead, and his father is the village drunkard - a mean person whom we'll meet in the next few chapters. As a result of his background, Huck has grown into a free-wheeling sort of person who is happiest when he has fewest social responsibilities. He doesn't think about religion the way other people do, because he seems more interested in the comforts of the moment. Huck is essentially superstitious, but he isn't hypocritical or sneaky. He doesn't like to get people excited, especially if it would do no good. He wants mainly to be left to his own devices, to sleep in his hogshead, to wear his old rags, and to eat his food all mixed up (because "the juice kind of swaps around, and the things go better").
Chapter 2: Our Gang's Dark Oath
Tom and Huck start making their way through the widow's backyard when Huck trips and makes a noise. Miss Watson's slave Jim, who is sitting in the kitchen doorway, hears the noise, but because the light is behind him he can't see Tom and Huck. He calls out into the darkness. Since he gets no answer, he decides to outwait whoever is in among the trees. He sits with his back against a tree, about halfway between the two boys. Huck notices that whenever he's in a situation like this, where it isn't smart to move around, he begins to itch. But just as he thinks he can't stand the itching (in eleven different places) any longer, Jim begins to snore.
The boys crawl away, but before they leave, Tom sneaks into the kitchen and takes three candles. He puts a nickel on the table to pay for them. Then he crawls back to where Jim is sleeping and puts Jim's hat on a branch above his head. Huck explains that because of this game of Tom's, Jim thinks he's been "witched." He tells the rest of the slaves that the nickel he found in the kitchen is a charm given him by the devil. As a result of this night's adventure, Jim is highly respected by his comrades who are as superstitious as he is. Jim "stretches" the truth even more by saying that witches rode him all over the world.
The boys go to a hill overlooking the village. Here they meet Joe Harper and Ben Rogers and two or three more of their friends. They take a skiff - a clumsy, flat-bottomed boat - and go two and a half miles downstream, where they land. Tom makes everybody swear secrecy; then he shows them a cave in the hillside. The boys crawl into it. After going about 200 yards, they find their way into a large room, "all damp and sweaty and cold...."
Here Tom explains his plan for forming a robber gang. He says, "Now, we'll start this band of robbers and call it Tom Sawyer's Gang. Everybody that wants to join has got to take an oath, and write his name in blood." Tom reads the oath-a gruesome one - and everybody signs. One of the articles of the oath is that the family of any gangmember who tells the gang's secrets must be killed. This leaves Huck out; he hasn't any family-since his father hasn't been seen in the village in over a year, everybody thinks he's dead. Huck remembers Miss Watson. He offers to let the gang kill her if he tells any secrets. The gang accepts Huck's offer, and he is allowed to mark his sign (Huck can't write, remember) in blood on the oath.
The boys discuss gang policy for a while. They decide - rather, Tom Sawyer decides - that they are highwaymen, not burglars. The reason is that highwaymen have more "class." This is also the reason why they will always kill their victims - there's more "style" in a gang that kills the people it robs than in one that doesn't. After some talk about ransoming victims - talk that shows Tom's knowledge is from books he doesn't understand too well - the gang goes home because little Tommy Barnes got scared and wanted his mother and threatened to tell all the gang's secrets. Tom bribes Tommy Barnes with a nickel. The meeting then breaks up with the gang resolving to "meet next week, and rob somebody and kill some people."
In this chapter we are introduced to Tom Sawyer and Jim, Miss Watson's Negro slave. We note that Jim seems to be a stereotype of others of his race and station in the Southern states during the early nineteenth century. (Much more will be said about Jim later in the book.) Tom is interesting, though. He is a leader among the boys of the village, and he has high romantic ideas. He especially likes to play games on people, as Huck says. We see this in the trick Tom pulls on Jim by placing Jim's hat in the tree, and in the oath taken by the boys when they form the robber gang. There is no chance at all of the boy's killing anyone, or stealing anything of great value - not while one of them is still crying for his mommy, and getting bribed to keep the gang's secrets. By and large we see that Tom Sawyer is different from Huck Finn in that Tom plays at rebelling against society, whereas Huck, as we saw in the last chapter, really wants to "get out from under" civilization.
Chapter 3: We Ambuscade The A-Rabs
The next morning Huck gets a "going over" from the widow's sister, Miss Watson, because his clothes are all dirty from climbing around the cave the night before. The widow herself doesn't scold; she cleans off the clothes. Huck resolves to behave on the widow's account. He tells us that he can't see any reason for "hooking up" to Miss Watson's kind of religion. Whenever he prays he doesn't get what he wants. And as for the widow's kind of religion, Huck doesn't think he'll be a credit to it, "seeing I was so ignorant, and so kind of low-down and ornery."
Although Huck's drunkard father hasn't been seen in some time, and although the rumors are that he died-drowned in the river 12 miles north of the village-Huck is not so sure his father won't be coming back soon. He is unhappy when he thinks that his father may come bac , because his father beats him and mistreats him.
At any rate, Huck and Tom and the rest of the boys play robber for about a month, until finally Huck and most of the other boys quit. They "hadn't robbed nobody, hadn't killed any people, but only just pretended." Tom explains to Huck that the gang never gets loot because the travelers-particularly the last ones, the A-rab caravan-have magic rings and magic lamps which they use to call genies to their aid. Huck doesn't believe all this. All he knows is that the A-rab caravan turned out to be a group of Sunday school children on an outing. However, he took a ring and an old whale oil lamp into the woods with him "and rubbed and rubbed till I sweat like an Injun...but it warn't no use, none of the genies come." Huck concludes that Tom Sawyer was lying. He says, "I reckoned he believed in the A-rabs and the elephants, but as for me I think different. It had all the marks of a Sunday school."
This chapter continues giving the background information we are getting of Huck Finn and the people he is involved with. Huck is no enemy of organized religion; he just can't understand how it will do him any good. Notice how neither Tom Sawyer's magic lamps nor Miss Watson's prayers give him any satisfaction. Huck prays for fishing gear, but only gets the line-which is useless without hooks. He rubs the lamp, calculating to have a genie build him a palace he can sell, but no genie comes. Notice also Huck's attitude of lettiig every man believe what he wants to. Huck doesn't tell Tom the truth about the Sunday school outing; he says instead "I think different." A similar thing happened in Chapter One, when Huck felt there was no percentage in Miss Watson's religion, but didn't tell her so because it would only get her excited and wouldn't do any good. This feeling that certain things are useless because they don't do anybody any good is an indication of Huck's pragmatic leanings.
Our first hint of trouble comes when Huck talks about his father, "pap" as Huck calls him. From the fact that Huck doesn't believe his father drowned, we come to expect "pap" to show up any day.
Chapter 4: The Hair-Ball Oracle
Three or four months later, sometime in the winter, Huck is going to school, learning to read and write. The widow feels he is coming along slowly but surely, getting "sivilised." Huck is getting tolerant of his "new ways," his bed and clothes and food.
One morning, however, he sees a set of footprints in the snow outside the widow's house. He recognizes the cross made with big nails in the left boot heel. His father is back in the village!
Huck runs to Judge Thatcher, the lawyer who has his money in trust for him, and sells the Judge his rights to both his share of the $12,000 and the interest (about $300 a year). The Judge gives Huck $1.00 for the money.
Then Huck goes to Miss Watson's slave Jim, who has a magic hair-ball which he uses for telling fortunes. For a quarter (a counterfeit quarter, but Jim knows how to fix it by putting it between pieces of a raw potato) the hair-ball prophesies to Jim and Jim repeats to Huck. The "fortune" is this (Jim is telling Huck):
"Yo' ole father doan' know yit what he's a-gwyne to do. Sometimes he spec he'll go 'way, en den agin he spec he'll stay. De bes' way is to res' easy en let de ole man take his own way. Dey's two angels hoverin' roun' 'bout him. One uv 'em is white en shiny, en t'other one is black. De white one gits him to go right a little while, den de black one sails in en bust it all up. A body can't tell yit which one gwyne to fetch him at de las'. But you is all right. You gwyne to have considerable trouble in yo' life, en considerable joy. Sometimes you gwyne to git hurt, en sometimes you gwyne to git sick; but every time you's gwyne to git well ag'in. Dey's two gals flyin' 'bout you in yo' life. One uv 'em's light en t'other one is dark. One is rich and t'other is po'. You's gwyne to marry de po' one fust en de rich one by en by. You wants to keep 'way fum de water as much as you kin, en don't run no resk, 'kase it's down in de bills dat you's gwyne to git hung."
Huck returns to the widow's house. When he goes up to his room at night, he finds his father sitting there.
The story is beginning to get off the ground. Huck seems to be changing, to be settling down to his new life. He has a safe investment and is living in the home of a woman who loves him with something very much like a mother's love. "She said she warn't ashamed of me," is the way Huck recognizes this love. But then, in the middle of what look like good days, Huck's father appears. Huck is so frightened of his father that he sells out his share of the wealth he and Tom found. He goes to Jim looking for help from spirits, that is, Huck goes to Jim because Jim has a reputation for his knowledge of spirits, witches, and devils. This totally uneducated superstition seems to be the kind of religion Huck trusts.
Be especially careful to note the "fortune." It doesn't tell Huck what to do about his "pap," but it does tell him to stay clear of the water. In the next couple of chapters we will see that the village believes Huck was drowned. Then we will see Huck and Jim escape on the river by means of a raft.
Chapter 5: Pap Starts In On A New Life
When Huck walks into his room, he doesn't see that his father is there until after he shuts the door and turns around. With a shock he realizes his father is sitting there, a very pale white ("a tree-toad white, a fish-belly white," Huck says) with long, greasy black hair and long "mixed-up" whiskers. He is wearing filthy rags and shoes through which his toes show. Huck's father accuses him of putting on airs and "frills" in order to be better than his family. He raves that since none of the family knew how to read, Huck is being disrespectful in learning how to read. Pap tears up a picture Huck received as a prize for his schoolwork, takes Huck's last dollar (the dollar Huck got from Judge Thatcher that morning), forbids Huck to go to school, and threatens to cause trouble for Judge Thatcher unless the Judge gives him Huck's share of the $12,000.
Because they want to protect Huck from his father, Judge Thatcher and the widow try to get him appointed their ward. That is, they want to be his legal guardians. But the court in the village has a new judge, one who is unfamiliar with Huck's pap. This new judge decides not to separate Huck from his parent, because it's not a good thing to break up families. This decision boosts pap's pride and makes him so happy that he gets drunk on three dollars he forced Huck to borrow from Judge Thatcher. As a result of his spree the old man is jailed for a week. The new judge tries to reform pap by taking him into his house, cleaning him up, and making him respectable. Pap swears off liquor. He is welcomed into the new judge's family like a repentant sinner, and is given a spare room. But that night he gets thirsty, crawls out the window, trades his jacket for a jug of "forty-rod" (a cheap whiskey, something like "white lightning"), crawls back into his room, gets drunk, crawls out again, and breaks his left arm in two places. In getting drunk he practically destroys the spare room. The judge is disgusted with him.
In this chapter we get our first full-length view of Huck's father in action. Besides learning of his dirtiness and drunkenness, we are struck by the old man's meanness. We also note the peculiar pride he has in his ignorance and slovenliness. Just how Huck understands his relationship with his father made clear when Huck says he continued to go to school after his father's appearance mainly in order to spite his father. The last picture we get of Huck's father in this chapter is that of a bedraggled, smelly drunk with a broken arm, lying helpless in the gutter. It looks as though the black angel of Jim's prophecy in the last chapter is going to win out. The satire on "enlightened" systems of justice is obvious.
Chapter 6: Pap Struggles With The Death Angel
When pap gets well again, he begins chasing Huck and beating him for going to school. Huck borrows money from Judge Thatcher, gives it to pap who gets drunk, "tears up the town," and lands in jail.
Pap begins to hang around the widow's house, "laying for" Huck. When the widow tells him she'll make trouble for him, he threatens to show who's Huck Finn's boss. One spring day he catches Huck and takes him three miles up river to a log cabin in a thickly wooded spot on the Illinois shore, where nobody can find him.
Huck enjoys his captivity. For one thing, no one ever bothers him about studying or cleaning up. Life is carefree and lazy, except for the beatings Huck gets when his father is drunk. Huck accepts the beatings as part of life-for a while, at least.
But when pap takes to going off to town and locking Huck in the cabin for three or four days at a time, and when the beatings get more and more frequent, Huck decides he has to get away somehow.
One time while he is locked in the cabin, he finds an old, rusty saw blade which he uses in an attempt to cut his way through one of the logs at the back of the cabin. Pap comes back before he's free, so Huck hides his saw and disguises the log he's sawed through. Pap tells Huck that the widow and Judge Thatcher have another lawsuit against him and it looks as though they'll win this time. Huck decides to escape before then, because he no longer wants to be civilized. He's too comfortable now to go back to the widow's. Then pap settles down to get drunk while Huck brings in the supplies and cooks supper.
The drunker pap gets, the more he "cusses" the government for treating him so badly while it lets freed Negroes vote. He gets so excited about what he's saying that he doesn't watch where he's walking. He trips over the salt pork tub, and curses louder and more violently while hopping up and down trying to soothe his barked shins. Finally he drinks himself into a stupor.
Huck manages to fall asleep for a while, but is awakened by a shriek. Pap is thrashing around yelling about snakes crawling over him. Then he shouts that he hears the footsteps of the dead. Then he thinks that Huck is the Angel of Death coming for him. He attacks Huck with an axe, but Huck runs around the cabin until pap gets tired and falls asleep. Huck takes down the gun, makes sure it's loaded, steadies it on the turnip barrel, aims it at pap, and waits for the dawn.
It is in this chapter that we see Huck's resolve to escape. This escape is going to give rise to all his adventures: those on the river and off it. Huck's motives for wanting to escape are pretty clear: (1) he won't be safe with his father; (2) he can't tolerate "civilization" - not after the vacation from it he's taking now.
Chapter 7: I Fool Pap And Get Away
The next morning pap doesn't remember his struggle with the "Death Angel," so Huck explains that he took the gun down because someone tried to break into the cabin. Pap sends Huck out to check the fish lines to see if they caught anything for breakfast. As he walks along the river bank, Huck notices the floating tree limbs and driftwood-a sure sign that the river is on the rise. Then he sees an empty canoe-13 or 14 feet long. He jumps into the river, clothes and all, and salvages it and hides it in a little creek, thinking that when the time comes for his escape he'll use the boat to go about 50 miles downstream instead of hiking through the woods. He doesn't tell pap about the canoe, but explains his wet clothes by saying he fell in the river.
After breakfast, Huck and pap rest awhile. About noon they go out to see if anything of value is floating down the river. They get part of a raft-nine logs fastened together-which pap will take down to the village sawmill and sell. Huck is locked in again while pap goes to the village. He takes out his saw, and starts cutting away at the back of the cabin again. When he is free, he takes the sack of cornmeal, side of bacon, whiskey-jug, coffee and sugar, ammunition, wadding, bucket, gourd, dipper, tincup, the saw, two blankets, skillet, coffee-pot, fishlines, matches, and "everything that was worth a cent." All these things he puts in the canoe. Then he fixes up the ground he marked up crawling out of the hole when he dragged all these things out. He puts the log back in slace so no one will be able to tell it has been cut through. Then he goes into the woods and shoots a wild hog; next, he takes the axe from the woodpile and smashes in the front door. He drags the pig into the cabin and hacks its throat with the axe so it will bleed all over the cabin floor. He drags a sackful of rocks over the ground to the river, so it will appear that something was dragged from the cabin and dumped in the river. Then he sticks some of his hair to the bloody axe and flings the axe into a corner of the cabin. He gets rid of the pig, then using the sack of cornmeal, he leaves a false trail going away from river, so it will look as though someone carried a leaking sack of cornmeal into the woods. Finally, Huck waits till dark, certain that when he leaves people will think he's been killed by robbers who escaped in the direction away from the river. He dozes for a while, and when he wakes it is late, and he sees pap rowing back from the village.
Huck sets his canoe adrift. Pretty soon he is passing the ferry landing where he can hear the distant voices of people talking but they seem a long way off. Soon he can only hear a mumble and an occasional laugh as he lies in the bottom of the canoe, looking up at the deep sky.
He lands the canoe at Jackson's Island, where he hides it and lies down for a nap before breakfast.
This chapter is interesting in two ways. First, notice all the details involved in Huck's escape from pap. The kind of planning involved to make things appear as though Huck were killed by robbers is not the kind of planning we expect from Huck Finn. Instead, we think of Tom Sawyer as the kind of fellow who lays out this sort of plan. Huck realizes this, too. For just after he drags the pig and the rocks around, Huck says: "I did wish Tom Sawyer was there; I knowed he would take an interest in this kind of business, and throw in the fancy touches. Nobody could spread himself like Tom Sawyer in such a thing like that." The important thing to remember is that Tom would have done these things as a game; but Huck, on the other hand, does them in dead earnest.
Secondly, it is in this chapter that we get our first deep glimpse into Huck's feeling for the river. (In the second chapter, when the boys are on the hill overlooking the river, Huck mentions how beautiful the river is, but he doesn't explain himself, as he does here.) The river is awfully, quiet, awfully strong, and awfully big-about a mile wide at this point. But you can hear a long way on it. You can, in a way, be part of what's happening on the shore (by listening), while you are separated from those happenings by a half-mile of water. When Huck, on Jackson's Island, hears the man on the lumber-raft give orders, he says with some surprise, "I heard that just as plain as if the man was by my side."
Chapter 8: I Spare Miss Watson's Jim
Huck wakes up about eight o'clock feeling "powerful lazy and comfortable." Just as he's getting ready to turn over for 40 more winks, he hears a "boom!" up the river. It's the ferry boat, firing a cannon over the water to make Huck's body rise to the top. The people on the ferry boat set loaves of bread with quicksilver in them afloat on the river. The idea is that the loaves will come to a stop over the body. Huck is hungry, so he snags one of the loaves and eats it while he watches the boat full of villagers looking for his body. After rounding the island looking for the body, the boat with its occupants heads back to the village. Huck feels more secure now knowing that people believe he is dead and will no longer come looking for him.
For three days and nights Huck hangs around the island getting more and more bored and lonesome since he has nothing to do and no one to talk to. The next day he goes exploring on the island and stumbles across a smoldering campfire. In a panic he rushes back to his camp, packs his gear into the canoe, ready to be off and running on short notice, and climbs into a tree to hide. When he gets hungry, he goes across to the Illinois bank and cooks supper. His fear of the unknown person on the island keeps him from sleeping; so that night he decides to go looking for the other man. Once he makes this decision he feels better. He wanders a while until he comes to where he stumbled across the campfire. He sees a man sleeping beside the fire. When the man awakes, he stretches himself. Huck recognizes Miss Watson's Jim! Huck is so glad to see that the unknown person he feared is someone he trusts that he steps out of the woods and greets him. Jim is not so glad to see Huck. He had heard Huck was dead, so he thinks that what he sees is a ghost. Huck convinces Jim that he's not a ghost, and after providing breakfast for the two of them-Jim hasn't eaten anything but berries for at least four days-Huck tells Jim how he escaped from pap. Then Huck asks Jim what he is doing on the island. After making Huck promise not to tell on him, Jim says that he has run away from Miss Watson. Huck is shocked. Jim reminds him of his promise:
"But mind, you said you wouldn't tell-you know you said you wouldn't tell, Huck."
"Well, I did. I said I wouldn't, and I'll stick to it. Honest injun, I will. People would call me a lowdown Abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum-but that don't make no difference. I ain't a-going to tell, and I ain't a-going back there, anyways."
Jim explains that he ran away because he overheard Miss Watson tell the widow that a New Orleans slave trader offered her $800 for him. Although she didn't like the idea of selling a slave down the river (where slaves were less humanely treated than they were higher north), the amount of money was too much for her to turn down.
After telling Huck how he managed to escape and of the hardships he encountered on the island, Jim notes some omens, or superstitious signs, and tells Huck about some of the many signs and omens he knows. He tells Huck that his hairy arms and breast means he will be rich someday. As it is, he is worth $800, and he wishes he could spend some of it.
Huck feels secure when he sees the ferry boat give up the search for his remains. He points out that the bread had been prayed over by the widow or the parson so that it would find him. It found him-Huck ate it. The prayers were answered, Huck figures, because the right kind of people did the praying. Notice the irony here. Huck doesn't say that the purpose of the bread being set afloat was to find his body so it could be buried. What Huck seems to be telling us is that whether your prayers are answered or not depends on how you look at things.
The most important event in this chapter, hough, is Huck's promise to Jim. Huck, willfully and with full knowledge of the consequences of his promise, places himself outside the social order. He can't go back to the village (society) now, because he will protect a runaway slave. Huck is really "dead" now, so far as society is concerned.
Chapter 9: The House Of Death Floats By
Against Huck's wishes, he and Jim carry their gear up to a cave in a 40 foot ridge on the island. The cave is high enough for Jim to stand up in, and as big as two or three rooms of a house. It has an outcropping beyond the opening so that Huck and Jim can build a fire. In a little while the sky starts to darken, and it begins to thunder and lightning. Huck is impressed by the beauty of the stormy weather, especially when the wind whips the treetops and the lightning illuminates them for a flash. Jim reminds him that if he had been left to his own devices, he would still be down on the island, soaking wet in
Chapter 10: What Comes Of Handlin' Snakeskin
Huck and Jim have breakfast and then settle down to inspect their haul. Huck wants to know something about the dead man, but Jim says it's bad luck to talk about the dead, especially since they might come to haunt. They find $8 sewed in the lining of a coat they took from the house, and Huck begins to boast of their good luck. Two days earlier Huck had handled a snakeskin. Jim told him it was bad luck. Huck now says he wishes he could have more bad luck like that. Jim replies that the bad luck is yet to come.
Four days later Huck kills a rattlesnake and as a joke coils the snake up on the foot of Jim's blanket. Unknown to Huck, the rattlesnake's mate coils up on the blanket, next to the dead snake. When Jim lies down that night he is bitten by the snake. For four days and nights his foot and leg are swollen, and he is out of his head from the pain and from the whiskey he drinks to ward off the poison.
Finally the river begins to go down between its banks again. The first thing Huck and Jim do is bait a line with a skinned rabbit. They catch a catfish six feet two inches long, weighing over 200 pounds. It's as big a fish as was ever caught in the Mississippi.
The next mo ning Huck decides to go into the village to see what's happening there. Jim has him go at night, disguised as a girl, in some of the clothes they took from the floating house. Huck notices a light in the window of an old shack that had been abandoned last time he was in the village. He peeps in at the window and sees a 40-year old woman there, knitting. She is a stranger who never met him. He reminds himself to behave like a girl, then knocks at the door.
The dominant theme of this chapter is superstition. The luck of finding the rich haul in the house and the luck of catching the huge catfish are balanced against Jim's snakebite. Just as Jim foretold the heavy rains by watching the flight of birds, so he foretells the snakebite by noting that it's bad luck to touch snakeskin with bare hands. Huck is repentant and vows never to touch snakeskin again.
Notice how neither Huck nor Jim distinguish between what is probable and what isn't. One might be able to tell something about the weather by watching the flight of birds. But handling snakeskin does not necessarily mean one is going to have bad luck.
Mark Twain uses superstition in three ways. First of all he uses it to indicate that the characters are plain, simple folks in the sense of being primitive and therefore uncluttered, who do a great deal of thinking through to the reality of things. The people are crude, but they are also sincere, honest and innocent.
Secondly, Twain makes comic use of superstition. This book was written by a writer who gloried in being called "America's funny man." The comic element of Huckleberry Finn is a very important one, although it is often overlooked because of its obviousness. Twain uses humor, low comedy, satire, all to good effect.
Thirdly, the element of superstition is used to carry the theme of Fate through the novel. Instances of this use of superstition are the snakeskin, and Jim's belief that a hairy chest indicates future wealth.
Chapter 11: They're After Us!
The woman invites Huck into the house. He tells her his name is Sarah Williams and he's from Hookerville, a little village seven miles below St. Petersburg. He and the woman get to talking. She tells him all about the murder of Huck Finn, and how the village folk at first thought pap had killed his son to get the $6,000 from Judge Thatcher without having to go through the courts for it. But when the villagers discovered Jim had run away, they then suspected him. Then Huck's father borrowed money from Judge Thatcher to outfit a search party to look for Huck's killer. Then pap disappeared. A reward of $300 was posted for Jim, and one of $200 for pap. The woman tells Huck she thinks Jim is hiding out on Jackson's Island because she saw smoke rising from there a few days ago. Her husband has gone off to get a boat and a gun. He and a friend are going to the island tonight to capture Jim.
Huck gets nervous and gives himself away - the woman discovers that he is not a girl. He tells her that he is an orphan apprenticed to a mean farmer and that he has run away. She sympathizes with him, explains some things he should do to act more like a girl, and sees him off.
Huck hears the clock strike eleven. In an hour the woman's husband will be going to the island to fetch Jim. Huck heads for the island, wakes Jim, and they load their gear on the raft and glide silently off down the river.
The adventure on the Mississippi river-one of the most fascinating voyages in literature-is about to begin.
Chapter 15: Fooling Poor Old Jim
Huck and Jim decide that they will travel on the raft to Cairo, Illinois, where the Mississippi River joins the Ohio River. There they'll sell the raft and take passage on a steamboat up the Ohio to the Free States. They figure they'll be in Cairo in three days.
On the second night they run into a heavy fog which causes them to tie up. Huck takes a line from the raft and paddles ahead in the canoe to find something to tie to. The current is so swift that the raft tears out the sapling he'd tied it to; Huck in the canoe is separated from Jim on the raft. Before Huck can take out after the raft, the fog closes in so thickly that he can't see 20 yards ahead of him. For the greater part of the night Huck and Jim shout to each other trying to locate each other. When they become further separated by a group of small islands and swirling currents, they both become exhausted and fall asleep. Huck wakes up under a clear, bright night sky in the wide river. He sets out to look for the raft, and after being misled by floating debris finally finds it. Jim is still sleeping, and the deck of the raft is covered with dirt, leaves and other "rubbage." Seeing the condition of the raft, Huck thinks of the difficult time Jim must have had.
Nonetheless, Huck tries to fool Jim into thinking that there wasn't any fog, that they weren't separated, and that all that Jim went through was only a dream. Jim is convinced that it was all a bad dream, and he proceeds to interpret it. Huck then asks Jim to interpret the meaning of the debris that covers the deck.
Jim is abashed and taken aback. He tells Huck that the joke isn't funny, since he was really afraid only for Huck's welfare in the fog. He says: "Dat truck dah is trash; en trash is what people is dat puts dirt on de head er dey fren's en makes em ashamed." He gets up and walks to the wigwam.
Huck continues: "But that was enough ... It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger; but I done it and I warn't ever sorry for it afterward, neither."
In this chapter Huck Finn seems to grow to the realization of what friendship is. He pulls a trick on Jim similar to the trick Tom Sawyer pulled on Jim in Chapter Two. Jim, as he did in Chapter Two, explains and "dresses up" the adventure he met with. But this time Huck is around to see the results of "playing games" with other people's feelings. He resolves not to play these tricks any more.
In addition, Huck realizes that he must right the wrong he has done. And although it is against everything he has ever learned about relations between white men and Negroes (let us always remember that Mark Twain is portraying a small boy born and raised in the South during the 1830s), Huck humbles himself to Jim. This is Huck's first real victory over himself. He is now really better than his father-remember how pap cussed because a free Negro could vote-because he puts aside all the conventional notions of relations between men, and begins to treat Jim with the dignity that belongs to a human being. Huck is the real idealist. Tom Sawyer only plays at romantic games.
But Huck's trials and his growth are not over, not by a long shot.
Chapter 16: The Rattlesnake Skin Does Its Work
When they set out the next morning, Huck and Jim follow a big raft downstream. They're full of excitement about getting to Cairo. Huck begins to feel guilty because he's helping a slave to escape. Miss Watson never did him any harm, Huck thinks. And here he is, helping her property get away. He feels even more guilty when he hears Jim's plans for buying his wife out of slavery, and for stealing his children if their owner won't sell them. Huck feels that Jim will be doing an injustice by stealing his children. Huck is highly sensitive to the fact that he is helping Jim. And when Jim tells Huck his plan for stealing the children, Huck adds to himself, "I was sorry to hear Jim say that, it was such a lowering of him."
Huck decides to tell on Jim. His opportunity arises when he sets out in the canoe to check on their location. Before he's very far from the raft, he meets two armed men in a skiff who ask if he's seen any runaway slaves. Huck tries to squeal on Jim but can't, because he remembers that Jim called him "de bes' fren' Jim's ever had; ... de on'y white genlman dat ever kep' his promise to ole Jim." Because the men suspect Huck of hiding slaves on the raft, they decide to search it. Before they get to it, however, Huck gives them the impression that there's a man with smallpox on board. They back off rapidly, but give Huck $40 (which they put on a piece of driftwood that floats to him).
Huck goes back to the raft, "feeling bad and low" because he didn't do right - that is, he didn't turn Jim in. But then he thinks that if he had turned Jim in, he'd feel just as bad as he does now.
He finds Jim hiding in the water with just his nose sticking out, and calls him up. They figure they have about 20 miles to go, and that won't take them too long to cover. Then they'll be in Cairo, where they'll catch a steamboat heading North.
But the bad luck of the snakeskin catches up with them once more. During the foggy night they had passed Cairo, and are now miles downstream, heading deeper into slave territory. Downhearted and dejected, they decide to abandon the raft and take the canoe-which can be paddled against the current-upstream to Cairo. They discover that the canoe has broken loose from the raft. More bad luck from the snakeskin!
The only thing to do now is to continue downstream on the raft until they come to a place where they can buy a canoe to go north in. After dark, they set off again. The night is murky and gray, and they light their lantern when they see a steamboat approaching them. The steamboat pilot apparently doesn't see the raft, and runs it down. As Huck dives overboard on one side of the raft he sees Jim go overboard on the other side. The steamboat slashes straight up the center. Huck dives deep to escape the paddlewheel. When he comes to the surface, he calls for Jim, but doesn't get an answer. Huck manages to get to shore. After "poking along" for about a quarter of a mile, he comes upon an oldfashioned log hut. Before he can run by and get away from it, he is cornered by a pack of dogs. He stands still, very still.
In the early part of this chapter, Mark Twain makes use of irony, that is, his characters say one thing, when Twain himself obviously means to call our attention to the exact opposite. This irony is in the scene where Huck thinks of Jim, his wife, and children as the property of other people. The fact that Jim's children belong to some other person seems quite right, natural, and proper to Huck. Yet, by making so much of the point, by emphasizing it the way he does, Twain suggests to us how unjust it is that a man should be "lowered" by having to "steal" his children in order to keep his family together. People consider - as Huck Finn here considers - the injustice to the slave-owner, but not the injustice to the slave.
Huck, in feeling guilty about helping Jim escape, is still a child of his time. He is aware of right and wrong as his society explains it to him. He has a long way to go, and many adventures to experience before he finally matures as a man who can think for himself and withstand the social pressures which result in injustice. That he is moving in the right direction is made clear when he tells us that if he were to turn Jim in, he would feel just as bad as he does because he doesn't turn Jim in. Huck feels himself caught between two devils. He feels that men should stick together and help one another in times of trouble. He feels that to turn Jim in after he has given his word not to, and after Jim has suffered a great deal for him, would be the last act of cowardice. As outcasts on the river they must support each other.
The bad luck that comes of handling snakeskin finally comes upon them in all its terrible force. Not only do the refugees overshoot Cairo, but they lose their canoe and raft, and they lose contact with each other. (We spoke-in the last paragraph-of men helping each other in times of trouble. Notice that the steamboat doesn't bother to stop to help any survivors after it smashes the raft.) In terms of the narrative thread, or plot of the story, this superstition makes a series of events believable which could otherwise seem merely coincidental.
Chapter 17: The Grangerfords Take Me In
The noise of the dogs awakens the occupants of the house, who greet Huck at the ends of their rifles. Cautiously they let him into the house and search him before they give him dry clothing and food. Huck tells them he fell off the steamboat, and invents a family background. He notices, in the meantime that the Grangerford house is well decorated (with brass knobs instead of iron or wood ones, and paintings on the wall and the like) for a country home. He concludes that they are a "nice family." Huck describes Emmeline Grangerford, a daughter who died when she was fifteen years old. He describes her as a painter and a poet, but he notices that most of what she's painted and written has been sad, on the theme of death. She seemed to be very sentimental about dead people, the kind of girl you'd go to if you wanted to cry; and she was happy mainly in times of sorrow.
The Grangerfords are an aristocratic Southern family representative of the fine families of the Old South in the days before the Civil War. This chapter and Chapter 18 contain a great deal of ironic comment on the social elite of plantation life. Notice how Huck admires the decorations of the Grangerford house. Notice also that the decorations are mawkish, trite, and really tasteless. But Huck is also aware of one other item - the food is good, and there are bushels of it.
Chapter 18: Why Harney Rode Away For His Hat
Huck describes the head of the house, Colonel Grangerford, in just the terms we would expect to be used in describing an old-time Southern plantation owner. When the scowls, nothing goes wrong for a weak. He is head of a large family - there are Bob and Tom and Buck, Miss Charlotte and Miss Sophia. In addition, three sons were killed and Emmeline died young. The family - together with cousins from miles around - gathers frequently for social calls. The colonel owns hundreds of acres of farmland, and well over 100 slaves. He is carrying on a feud with a neighboring aristocratic family, the Shepherdsons. We learn about this feud when Huck and Buck (who is Huck's age, about 13 or 14), out in the woods hunting, see Harney Shepherdson riding along on his horse. Buck shoots at Harney, but misses him and only knocks his hat off. Despite the fact that he has a clear target, Harney doesn't shoot back. Instead, he rides off after his hat. When Huck asks Buck why the shooting occurred, Buck tells him about the feud.
Huck describes how the Grangerfords go to church the following Sunday, carrying their rifles. They hear a very good sermon on brotherly love. On the way home they talk about theological subjects.
Later that Sunday, Miss Sophia asks Huck to go to the church and get her Bible for her. Huck doesn't know it, but the Bible has a note in it from Harney Shepherdson, the man Sophia is in love with. The note tells the hour when Harney and Sophia will elope, go across the river and be married.
That afternoon, the slave who is assigned to wait on Huck takes him out to the woods and leads him to a cleared spot. Huck looks around and finds Jim. The two are re-united, and Jim tells Huck that he has repaired the raft. They can be on their way again.
The next morning, when Huck wakes up, he learns that the Grangerfords have all ridden out to intercept Sophia and Harney before they can cross the river. He follows after and sees a gunfight in which Buck and his cousin Joe (who at this point are the last living male members of the Grangerford family) are cut down. The shooting, Huck tells us, "made me so sick I most fell out of the tree [where he was hiding]. I ain't agoing to tell all that happened-it would make me sick again if I was to do that. I wished I hadn't ever come ashore that night to see such things. I ain't ever going to get shut of them - lots of times I dream about them." When it gets dark, Huck climbs down from his tree, finds Buck's body, covers its face, and goes to where Jim has the raft hidden. After a moment of panic when he doesn't see the raft because Jim has moved it to a place where they can move out swiftly, Huck finds Jim and the raft. They glide out into the river - at this place a mile and a half broad - and Huck feels "free and easy and comfortable" again.
In Chapters 17 and 18 we are given a picture of life among civilized people. The theme of man's inhumanity to man is well developed. The proud, fierce Grangerfords and Shepherdsons fight over some incident that no one can now recall. They respect each other, but they kill each other. They go to church and hear sermons on brotherly love, then set ambushes for each other. The churchgoing incident illustrates the underlying problem and underscores it ironically.
The love affair between Sophia and Harney reminds us of the love in Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet. Both Romeo and Juliet were members of feuding families; the difference between Shakespeare's characters and Twain's is that Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet died before they could enjoy their married life together, and their deaths brought the feuding families together in peace.
It is important to notice how Huck is happy when he gets to the river, the raft, and Jim again. The sordidness, the bloodthirstiness, and the cruelty and stupidity of these highly respectable families makes him feel sick inside.
Chapter 19: The Duke And The Dauphin Come Aboard
Huck and Jim spend some quiet days and nights on the river, which are ended the morning that Huck picks up two men running from a mob of angry townspeople. They are obviously con-men who have been found out by their victims. Huck brings these men to the raft. The younger of the two men, about thirty years old, says he is the rightful claimant to the title of Duke of Bridgewater, but that he has been cheated out of his inheritance. He moans and sighs for awhile, until Huck and Jim offer to make him feel better by calling him by titles of respect ("Your Grace," and the like), and by waiting on him. By and by, it turns out that the other man, who is about seventy years old, is the rightful claimant to the throne of France, the Dauphin. The only way Huck and Jim can make him feel good is to call him "Your Majesty" and stand until he tells them they can sit.
Huck realizes that the two men aren't really royalty, but he says nothing because it wouldn't pay. All he wants to do is keep peace in the family. He adds, "If I never learnt nothing else out of pap, I learnt that the best way to get along with his kind of people is to let them have their own way."
The idyllic journey Huck describes in the opening paragraphs of this chapter is about to be interrupted for good by the appearance of the king and the duke. The description of the river at daybreak is a song of appreciation of the simple beauty and goodness of Nature, marred only where it has been touched by the hand of man. Huck enjoys the stillness, the calm and the quiet of the river.
Contrasted with this mood is the behavior of the king and duke, the two river characters who make their livings swindling the simple village folk.
Huck's love for peace and quiet is further brought out in this chapter when, after he notices that the two men are frauds, he decides to keep quiet, because to do otherwise would only cause trouble. By keeping quiet about what he knows, Huck is in a favorable position so far as his dealings with the scoundrels are concerned. He knows they are frauds; they think he doesn't know. Beginning with this chapter the theme of Jim's escape from slavery is dropped into the background. It comes up later in the story where it forms the nucleus of the farcical escapade that Huck engages in with Tom Sawyer on the farm of Silas Phelps.