Character Analysis in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Huckleberry Finn: Huck is thirteen years old when the novel begins. He is good friends with Tom Sawyer, and after the events of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, he is in the midst of being “civilized” by the Widow Douglas in effort to combat his lower-class background and lack of much formal education. After running away from his abusive father with a runaway slave, Jim, Huck grows to respect and care for Jim, eventually seeing him as a person deserving of freedom. Because of Huck’s inherent distance from societal customs, he is in a position to notice the hypocrisy of other characters, ultimately developing a moral code outside of society’s norms.
Jim: Jim is a runaway slave who joins Huck on his adventures. Jim often serves as a moral compass for Huck, prompting Huck’s reflection on society’s corruption. Though Jim may be gullible, this trait is portrayed as ultimately positive, showing his faith in and loyalty to his trusted friends. Even though Pap Finn is Huck’s biological father, Jim takes over the father-figure role as Huck matures.
Tom Sawyer: In contrast to Huck, Tom has grown up comfortable and financially secure in a loving family. Tom has a tendency to stick to societal conventions but also relishes the romantic idealism he has learned from adventure novels. To some extent he is selfish—for example, making the rescue of Jim far more complicated than necessary simply for the sake of an exciting adventure.
Character Analysis Examples in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:
"and wouldn't do no good..." See in text (Chapter I)
Notice how non-confrontational Huck is here. This would seem out of character for a teenage boy who's had a hard life and has been taken in by a widow, but is actually a way for Twain to develop and deepen his character. Huck isn't afraid of trouble, nor is he a stranger to it, but is a pragmatist in that he doesn't invite trouble needlessly. This will paradoxically cause more trouble later in the novel.
"Tom's Aunt Polly..." See in text (Chapter I)
Aunt Polly was a major character in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and raised him and his brother Sid after their mother, her sister, died. She's said to have been based on Twain's own mother, Jane Lampton Clemens, and doesn't play a large part in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, though her sister, Aunt Sally, does.
"the bad place..." See in text (Chapter I)
When Huck refers to "the bad place" and "the good place" he's talking about Heaven and Hell, which have been presented to him in this simplistic way so that he'll understand their intrinsic value: one is a place you want to go to, one isn't. The trouble with this construction is that Huck isn't a usual boy and doesn't see "bad" and "good" the way other characters do, and thus doesn't associate Heaven and Hell with good and evil. This naturally causes some frustration for the widow.
"turned around in my tracks three times..." See in text (Chapter I)
This is one of many instances in the novel where Huck's superstitions get the better of him and result in strange, unusual behaviors. These superstitions are a counterpoint to the Widow Douglas' religious beliefs, and while they mean a great deal to Huck, their import to the reader is undermined by this juxtaposition.
"not by a considerable sight..." See in text (Chapter I)
Despite having saved Becky's life and discovered Injun Joe's hidden gold, Tom Sawyer's reputation is not as a hero but as a trickster. He once famously tricked all the boys in town into whitewashing a fence for him, a stunt that naturally left many people suspicious of him.
"of course that was all right..." See in text (Chapter I)
Here Huck points to the essential hypocrisy of the Widow Douglas and, by extension, of the community of Christians she lives in with Huck. Basically, he's saying that morality is more flexible for these people than they like to admit, and that they define it in order to suit their purposes (which is why the widow can take snuff but Huck can't smoke). This hypocrisy will become a major issue later on as the novel beings to deal with issues like racism and slavery.
"The Widow Douglas..." See in text (Chapter I)
In The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huck saved the widow's life by foiling the plot of Injun Joe, who had some years earlier been sentenced to be whipped in public by the widow's husband, Judge Douglas. The Widow Douglas attempts to repay this kindness by taking Huck in and caring for him.
"The Adventures of Tom Sawyer..." See in text (Chapter I)
Though not exactly a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is written in the same style and features a number of the same characters. When we first see Huck in Tom Sawyer, he's wearing an old suit several sizes too large and carrying a dead cat. Twain was so taken with the character that he continued to write about him.
"Jim was most ruined for a servant, because he got stuck up on account of having seen the devil and been rode by witches...." See in text (Chapter II)
Jim, Miss Watson's slave, has achieved higher status in the slave community because everyone believes his story about being transported around the state by witches. His confidence, which is really rooted in gullibility and superstitiousness, ruins him as a servant because he's now "stuck up."
"highwaymen..." See in text (Chapter II)
Highwaymen were horseback-riding thieves who ambushed travelers and stole money and other valuables that the victims carried. Highwaymen were common until the early 19th century, at which point the spread of civilization and population essentially ended their activities. Tom wouldn't have had direct experience with highwaymen but would instead have read about them in books.
"Jo Harper second captain..." See in text (Chapter II)
Notice that Tom doesn't make Huck his second captain, even though they're as close to best friends as they can be. His reticence to give Huck authority seems to stem from Huck's runaway attempt in the first chapter. Remember that Huck only stayed to be a part of this "gang of robbers" and that this friendship is the only thing tethering Huck. This doesn't bode well for the future.
"he slipped Jim's hat off of his head..." See in text (Chapter II)
Though this is our first time meeting Jim, he's well-known to Tom and Huck, who share some of Jim's many superstitions. Knowing this, it seems reasonable for us to assume that Tom knows Jim will see the hat on a branch and think something supernatural happened to him. Tom just wouldn't have expected it to snowball into such an elaborate lie.
"nothing would do Tom..." See in text (Chapter II)
This might be the single best character description of Tom: that nothing would do him, that he just has to play tricks on people. It's in his nature, which at once makes it easily relatable and incredibly frustrating for Huck, who'd rather not go out of his way to get in trouble. This tendency of Tom's will cause problems later in the novel.
"Jim..." See in text (Chapter II)
Many critics feel that Jim, while a slave, is the character with the most humanity in the book. He's uneducated and very superstitious, like Huck, but he's also loyal, trustworthy, and honorable, and it's only through him that Huck comes to understand the truth about slavery and about man's inhumanity towards man.
"you will itch all over..." See in text (Chapter II)
Twain uses this simple observation to characterize Huck, whose discomfort with people of "quality" and with high-stress situations is readily apparent. He's not the kind of boy who enjoys being watched, listened to, or just generally kept tabs on, which is symbolized by his fevered itching.
"“I don't know. But that's what they do. I've seen it in books; and so of course that's what we've got to do.”..." See in text (Chapter II)
What does this comment reveal about Tom Sawyer's character?
"Everybody said it was a real beautiful oath, and asked Tom if he got it out of his own head...." See in text (Chapter II)
What attitude do Huck and the other boys take toward Tom Sawyer?
"Afterwards Jim said the witches bewitched him and put him in a trance, and rode him all over the state, and then set him under the trees again, and hung his hat on a limb to show who done it...." See in text (Chapter II)
What personality trait of Jim’s is revealed in his reaction?
"Providence..." See in text (Chapter III)
Also known as Heaven or "the good place." Remember that in a previous chapter Heaven was described as a place where angels played harps and sang all day, and that Huck wasn't that interested in going there because of it. The differing descriptions of Providence confuse Huck and lead him to conclude that Heaven means different things to different people, and that there might be a heaven out there for him.
"It had all the marks of a Sunday-school...." See in text (Chapter III)
Huck's statement suggests that Tom's fanciful tales of "A-rabs" and Spaniards are reminiscent of the stories taught in Sunday School. In this sense, they can be used as a teaching moment for both Tom's Gang and the readers, who can clearly see the connections between the lies Tom tells and the stories in the Bible.
"We played robber now and then..." See in text (Chapter III)
Huck's use of the word "played" here indicates that the Gang is merely playing a game and that they don't actually think of themselves as robbers. Even Tom, the ringleader of the group, plays make-believe when he speaks of magicians and genies. Twain uses this scene to characterize Tom as a dreamer and Huck as a pragmatist.
"whale me..." See in text (Chapter III)
"Whale" is Huck's way of saying "wail," implying that Pap wailed on him or beat him when he was sober. Since alcoholics tend to be more abusive when they're drunk than when they're sober, this line indicates that Pap's abusive behavior isn't a symptom of his alcoholism but is rather a major character flaw.
"I went out in the woods..." See in text (Chapter III)
Twain makes Huck's connection with nature clear in this passage, in which Huck twice retreats into the woods to think about the "sivilized" world around him. His yearning to escape civilization and his interest in nature represent his character's desire to be free.
"It had all the marks of a Sunday-school...." See in text (Chapter III)
Why does Huck compare Tom's belief to a Sunday-school?
"He said if I warn't so ignorant, but had read a book called Don Quixote, I would know without asking..." See in text (Chapter III)
What does this reveal about Tom's character?
"she warn't ashamed of me..." See in text (Chapter IV)
Huck might not make much of this, but the reader should infer from the fact that he bothered to write this down that it means a great deal to him. Given his history of abuse, it's not unrealistic to assume that this is the first time anyone has ever gone out of their way to say they weren't ashamed of Huck and that they might actually be proud of him.
"he come back and put his head in again..." See in text (Chapter V)
Twain's comedic timing is impeccable. Modern readers will recognize this delayed return as a tactic used in sketch comedies and films and a byproduct of Twain's pacing and expert use of dialect. Huck clearly thinks this is funny, too, or else he wouldn't have told the story this way.
"dandy..." See in text (Chapter V)
Here, "dandy" is meant as a derogatory word for a homosexual male, which Pap applies to Huck because he's dressing well and seems to care about his health and well-being. A dandy is traditionally an effeminate male, making this an odd way to describe Huck and a way for his abusive Pap to question his manliness.
"lay for you..." See in text (Chapter V)
That is, lie in wait. Pap is threatening to stalk Huck and make sure he doesn't fall out of line with Pap's orders. Pap is evidently threatened by Huck's ability to read and fears that as Huck grows, Pap will lose his power over him. This will result in some desperate behavior in future chapters.
"I'll learn her how to meddle..." See in text (Chapter V)
Pap uses the word "learn" the way we use the word "teach," which makes this sentence translate as, "I'll teach her not to meddle." This entire conversation is one long threat, from the first moment Pap opens his mouth to the minute he leaves, and Huck's attitude suggests that this is the true nature of their relationship: not as father and son, but as bully and victim.
"who told you you could..." See in text (Chapter V)
In the context of this argument, "could" doesn't mean being able or allowed to do something so much as being worthy enough to do it. This emotional abuse on Pap's part might account for Huck's discomfort in social situations and his inability to focus in school. It's certainly reason enough for Huck to have self-esteem issues.
"And when they come to look at that spare room they had to take soundings before they could navigate it...." See in text (Chapter V)
Why are the judge and his wife surprised by the appearance of the room?
"Who told you you might meddle with such hifalut'n foolishness, hey? who told you you could?..." See in text (Chapter V)
How does Pap respond to his son's education?
"Adam..." See in text (Chapter VI)
Adam of the Adam and Eve story. In the Bible, God is said to have formed Adam and Eve in His own image out of clay or mud, like a sculptor. This allusion isn't meant to suggest Pap's holiness but rather filthiness and perhaps also his propensity for sin.
"raised Cain..." See in text (Chapter VI)
In the Bible, Cain killed his brother Abel out of jealousy when God decided that He liked Abel's offering best. To "raise" Cain then means to go around town in a drunken, violent rage, jealous of the things other people have and angry at the world for not being "fair."
"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...." See in text (Chapter VI)
What does Pap's rant reveal about him?
"Two months or more run along, and my clothes got to be all rags and dirt, and I didn't see how I'd ever got to like it so well at the widow's, where you had to wash, and eat on a plate, and comb up, and go to bed and get up regular, and be forever bothering over a book, and have old Miss Watson pecking at you all the time...." See in text (Chapter VI)
In what ways does living in the woods change Huck?
"where it was woody and there warn't no houses but an old log hut in a place where the timber was so thick you couldn't find it if you didn't know where it was...." See in text (Chapter VI)
Why does Pap bring Huck to the cabin?
"but I could hear the mumble..." See in text (Chapter VII)
This encapsulates Huck's relationship with civilization, which he hears only in passing as he goes about his daily life. Notice that Huck is interested in what they say, remembers it, and even finds some humor in it, but ultimately would rather not join in with their idea of fun. He's a free-spirit, and the world around him seems "a long ways off."
"Abolitionist..." See in text (Chapter VIII)
Huck's initial commitment to keeping Jim's secret is more about adventure than making a moral choice. Huck isn't interested in taking a stand against slavery. He's intrigued by the thrill of defying authority and doesn't yet grasp the consequences of breaking civil law—which, at this time in the South, was considered equal to moral law.
"and they wouldn't sting me..." See in text (Chapter VIII)
One could read this line as a criticism of Huck, implying that, because bees won't sting idiots, and because they don't sting him, he must be an idiot. However, this line could also be read as an example of Huck showing self-respect, refusing to believe that he's an idiot because a bee won't sting him and dismissing Jim's theory because of it. Either way, this line proves that Huck is in fact a very clever and very intelligent young man.
"fantods..." See in text (Chapter VIII)
Gave him the fantods, as in, made him uneasy. Huck's apprehension when he sees the man stems both from his fear of being caught or trapped (especially by his father) and his social anxieties, which make it difficult for him to relate to other people without suspecting that they're out to get him.
"We could 'a' had pets enough if we'd wanted them..." See in text (Chapter IX)
Often, when someone has a pet or thinks about getting a pet, they're trying to make a family or a home for themselves, using this pet as a kind of anchor to tie them down and provide them with company and comfort. It would appear, from this line, that Huck is attempting to find a new home in the wilderness, and that, even if he doesn't intend to stay on this island, he's going to spend as much of his life as possible in nature.
"you could paddle right up and put your hand on them if you wanted..." See in text (Chapter IX)
Notice the tenderness with which Huck approaches these creatures, both in his narration and in the scene. If Huck were a different kind of boy, focused solely on his own survival, he would see this tameness as an opportunity for him to easily and quickly catch game and make a good dinner. Instead, he thinks about placing his hand on them, as if to pet them, and though this is only a hypothetical, and Huck hasn't necessarily done this, we can assume that he has, if only once or twice.
"it was as bright as glory..." See in text (Chapter IX)
Twain's rough, colloquial language turns lyrical in this passage, as he describes the storm from Huck's point of view. Here, Huck speaks of lightning as a flash of "glory," emphasizing his awe and wonder in the face of nature. Huck has a strong relationship with and affinity for the natural world, as we've seen, and this gives the reader insight into his emotional life. Nature isn't just the only place Huck feels comfortable. It's also the only place he sees real beauty.
"you couldn't start a face in that town that I didn't know..." See in text (Chapter X)
This is both a consequence of the insular nature of small towns and the local fame that Huck's adventures with Tom Sawyer earned him. He knows everyone in part because he likes to know what's going on in town, but it's impossible for people not to know him given that he and Tom both have six thousand dollars in gold. This notoriety and its subsequent lack of privacy have led Huck to runaway, but his running away doesn't rid him of his privilege as a young white man who's rich and well-known.
"I didn't think of that...." See in text (Chapter XI)
Here we see Huck begin to sober and realize that perhaps he isn't as clever as he believed himself to be. His carelessness with regards to the fire and their proximity to the scene of his "murder" have put Jim in danger and, perhaps more importantly, threatened his safety and his idea of himself as a resourceful young man. Thankfully, Huck will learn from this mistake and prove his cleverness again, but for now this woman is putting him in his place without even realizing it.
"she was looking at me pretty curious and smiling a little..." See in text (Chapter XI)
Huck's disguise can't hide the fact that he doesn't know how to walk, talk, or thread a needle like a lady. This woman sees through it pretty easily and, when he's unable to maintain a polite conversation, finally calls him out on it later in this scene. This characterizes her as a fairly intelligent woman (though not one clever enough to understand why, when she talks about catching Jim, Huck clearly gets upset).
"Well, you're innocent, ain't you!..." See in text (Chapter XI)
Twain makes it very clear to the reader that Huck isn't innocent in the way this woman means (young and naive, ignorant of the ways of the world), but rather that he's not the kind of person who would hear of a three hundred dollar ransom and feel determined to get it. This is in part due to the fact that he doesn't agree with polite society's laws and doesn't feel that Jim (or runaway slaves) should be caught and ransomed. He's unintentionally progressive in this way.
"was afeard I had made a mistake coming to her..." See in text (Chapter XI)
Notice Huck's impatience in this passage and his inability to properly empathize with this woman. In later chapters, we'll see him speak to and become friends with other people he meets on the river, but the characters he's closest to are without exception male. This gendered interaction reveals something fundamental about Huck's character: though he's perfectly happy using women and their clothing for his own purposes, he's really only interested in what other men have to say.
"I was so hungry I had to stop two miles below..." See in text (Chapter XI)
This exchange is a great example of Huck thinking on his feet. None of this is planned, he can't be sure what this woman will say, and can only hope that she won't see through his admittedly terrible disguise. Huck won't be able to keep track of his lies in this scene, but the way that he lies and the confidence with which he fishes for information in this scene tells us that he's a clever, resourceful, somewhat arrogant kid whose antics will get him into trouble.
"Well, we can wait the two hours anyway and see, can't we?..." See in text (Chapter XII)
Huck and Jim made a similar compromise earlier in the chapter when they decided not to steal crabapples and persimmons. Here, the two robbers agree to let Turner drown, effectively murdering him without getting their hands dirty, so to speak. Twain draws a parallel between the robbers and the runaways to emphasize how relatively innocent Huck and Jim are by comparison.
"I wish Tom Sawyer was here..." See in text (Chapter XII)
Huck draws an indirect comparison between Jim and Tom, implying that he prefers Tom's adventurous, carefree attitude to Jim's boring, careful one. This comment seems particularly insensitive when Jim responds by grumbling, no doubt feeling judged by Huck, whom he'd been thinking of as a friend. In this line, both Jim and the reader can see where Huck's true loyalties lie.
"then he reckoned it wouldn't be no harm to borrow the others..." See in text (Chapter XII)
Huck and Jim make their first moral compromise in this journey. This will become a habit of theirs as they try to navigate this complex and racist society. Huck in particular will not only have to compromise his morals but determine what they are in the first place, defining what's "right" and "wrong" from his perspective.
"like dead people..." See in text (Chapter XIII)
Twain uses this simile to compare and contrast Huck and Jim with the robbers, who are now presumed dead. That they sleep like the dead robbers emphasizes their similarities and that they let the three men die just as the robbers were going to let Turner die. At the same time, this use of the simile hammers home the fact that Huck and Jim are different from the men, because similes require that two different things be compared. Therefore, the runaways are not the same as the robbers, though some of their actions are similar.
"Why that's all right..." See in text (Chapter XIII)
Once again, Huck expresses some surprise that anyone would care more about money than about someone else's life (or, in Jim's case, his innocence and his freedom). He deliberately made up this story about women and children being trapped on a boat to appeal to this man's emotions, but could very easily have opened with the lie about there being money involved and won him over that way. This further differentiates Huck from the other characters in the novel and sets his interests counter to those of others.
"a sailor's life's the life for me..." See in text (Chapter XIII)
A phrase common amongst sailors and seafarers who preferred life on the water to that on the mainland. This phrase has made its way into many songs and permeated popular culture, but at its heart it's a song about one's relationship with nature and the freedom it offers to people like Huck. It's fitting that this line appears now, just as Huck is beginning to question his life choices, because it reaffirms his desire to live the way he wants to, regardless of the status quo.
"I reckon I hadn't had time to before..." See in text (Chapter XIII)
Huck's first major moral crisis. Thus far in this chapter, Huck has been thinking only of himself and staying alive and hasn't stopped once to consider what might happen to the robbers if he leaves them without a boat. Here, Huck weighs his sense of self-preservation against their lives and fears that doing this makes him no better than the robbers. In the end, he decides to at least attempt to save them, which eases his conscience and allows him to continue his journey.
"you can't learn a nigger to argue...." See in text (Chapter XIV)
To be able to argue productively means being able to recognize and cite logical evidence in order to make a point. Huck may be less racist than many of the other characters in the book, but his statement here illustrates the extreme pervasiveness of racism during this time. Huck implies that Jim would never be able to learn to argue as well as Huck because he is not white. Huck looks down on Jim as if he is lesser and even illogical in comparison.
"Dey ain' no sense in it...." See in text (Chapter XIV)
Huck categorizes people based upon their race or place of birth. So for Huck, it would seem obvious and natural for a Frenchman to speak a different language than Huck does because they are fundamentally different. This is why Huck uses the differing languages of cats and dogs to explain this difference amongst humans. However, Jim’s confusion at this notion points out that this belief is a logical fallacy—a French man is still a man, just as Jim is as much a human being as Huck is.
"But I tell you you don't get the point...." See in text (Chapter XIV)
Even though Huck himself is superstitious, he eventually takes Jim’s superstitions seriously (recall that Huck’s doubts about Jim’s rattlesnake superstitions were erased once they came into some “bad luck” with rattlesnakes.) Jim points out that even though his own views might be seen as silly, he considers the widow’s religion silly and illogical to him as well. Huck’s immediately assuming that Jim simply does not understand the story illustrates his being raised in a racist culture that deems African Americans less intelligent than whites.
"why doan' he talk like a man..." See in text (Chapter XIV)
Here we see that prejudice isn't solely the purview of white people in this novel. Jim espouses a dangerous kind of xenophobia that fosters hate not for one's skin color but for one's ability to speak English. It's important to remember that different regions of the English-speaking world (including different parts of the United States, like for instance the south) have very distinct accents. Thus, Jim's expectation that the Frenchman "talk like a man" (meaning an American man) is incredibly unfair: from listening to the way Jim speaks English, the Frenchman wouldn't know how.
"is dat man gwyne to be waseful o' chillen..." See in text (Chapter XIV)
Keep in mind that Jim himself has children and that by running away from home he has essentially abandoned them, leaving them in the care of their mother and Miss Watson, their slaveowner. Jim doesn't make that connection here, but the reader knows that his leaving has broken up his family just as much as his being sold would've. His best hope now is to get to a free state and send for his kids later.
"We hadn't ever been this rich before..." See in text (Chapter XIV)
Recall that in Chapter VIII Jim referred to himself as a rich man, citing the fact that he's worth $800 (the price his slaveowner was going to fetch for him). Of course, Jim hasn't seen any of this money, so he's not technically rich, and Huck doesn't count it in this appraisal. Their haul here is noticeably better than what they took from the floating house, which was all of very poor quality.
"you look me in de eye..." See in text (Chapter XV)
This line demonstrates how much Jim trusts Huck to tell him the truth when Jim asks him to. Jim knows Huck’s proclivity for telling lies or making jokes, but he (understandably) considers Huck to be trustworthy now that the two have become closer friends. Jim does not imagine that Huck would be able to look him in the eye and lie the way that he does to other people. Jim assumes that he is exempt from Huck’s practical joking—ultimately hurting him more once he sees that this new trust has been betrayed.
"I wouldn't done that one if I'd 'a' knowed it would make him feel that way...." See in text (Chapter XV)
Though Huck still has a long way to go, (it takes him fifteen minutes to “humble himself” to an African American man,) the chapter ends on Huck’s self-reflective remorse about having played such a mean trick on Jim. This last line illustrates the conflicting notions in Huck’s head: society has taught him never to apologize to an African American, but he has been separated from that society for quite a while, long enough to move past these beliefs. Huck is (slowly) learning to look beyond racist ideologies to see Jim as a more complex individual.
"It's too good for true, honey..." See in text (Chapter XV)
Jim’s reaction to finding out that Huck is alive and well signals just how much Jim has grown to care for Huck. Consider Jim’s reaction to seeing Huck after their separation in contrast with Huck’s own father’s reaction to seeing him after their separation in the beginning of the novel. Jim cares for Huck more than Huck’s father does, and while Jim may not necessarily be a father-figure for Huck, he certainly offers Huck the support that he has not received from his father.
"En all you wuz thinkin' 'bout wuz how you could make a fool uv ole Jim wid a lie...." See in text (Chapter XV)
Huck has made a fool out of Jim for no reason other than that he can. This is characteristic of him: he goofs around, plays tricks on people, lies to them, and then expects, like a man with supreme privilege, to still be loved and revered for his cleverness. Jim tells him plainly that this trick has hurt his feelings and that he's gone too far; this is a very important turning point for Huck's character and will affect his actions throughout the rest of the novel.
"Is I me, or who is I?..." See in text (Chapter XV)
Once you see through the humor of Jim's confusion and Huck's trick, this is actually a very philosophical thing for Jim to say and raises the question of how well and if we can know ourselves, and if someone else's opinion of you can change your perception of your self or your identity. In this case, Huck's lies make Jim question what he knows to be true, leading him to wonder if he's the intelligent, perceptive, and shrewd man he thinks he is. Huck's trick reveals him to be gullible; but one can't overlook the fact that it's a mean trick and Jim wasn't expecting Huck to ever do that to him.
"they seemed to come up dim out of last week..." See in text (Chapter XV)
Here we see that the fog has become a metaphorical fog in Huck's mind, preventing him from understanding where he is, why he's here, and what happened to him. It's significant that Twain chose to create this fog almost exactly one-third of the way through the novel, when Huck feels so far away from his past life in the city that he begins to shed that personality. After this fog clears, he comes back to himself slowly, quietly, and with a sense of mild surprise. Is this his life? Yes.
"he would steal his children—children that belonged to a man I didn't even know; a man that hadn't ever done me no harm..." See in text (Chapter XVI)
Twain’s use of irony here illustrates an important contradiction. Huck recognizes that the children are Jim’s while simultaneously stating that his attempts to get them back would be “stealing” and that they “belonged” to Miss Watson and her husband. Huck feels justified in his thinking that he should turn Jim in, but this may be partially contingent upon how well Huck can convince himself that Jim is “stealing” from Miss Watson. This seems to be happening on a subconscious level though, as Huck does not seem to outwardly recognize this contradiction.
"made him all over trembly and feverish to be so close to freedom..." See in text (Chapter XVI)
This line can be read in a few different ways. One way is that Jim is elated about the prospect of reaching the free states. An alternative reading though suggests that the concept of freedom might be a little more complicated for Jim. Consider that many freed slaves would often start their lives in the north with very little or no support. Additionally, once Jim gets safely to the north, he still must find a way to get his children back. This is a terrifying prospect with many unknowns, and we can read this line as being indicative of this mixture of intense emotions—terror, anxiety, elation, relief—all at once.
"“He's white.”..." See in text (Chapter XVI)
Huck's commitment to helping Jim has changed significantly. He is faced with two options: remain loyal to his friend but break the law, or obey the law and turn his friend in. Huck decides to obey the law, but at the last minute protects Jim instead of turning him into the authorities. Huck still doesn't seem to realize that breaking the law (in this case) isn't a sin at all—it's the right thing to do.
"but after this always do whichever come handiest at the time..." See in text (Chapter XVI)
In theory, this sounds dangerously like moral relativism, which states there's no such thing as morality and that everything can seem either good or bad depending on an individual's perspective, e.g. helping a runaway slave even though some people would say that's a crime. In practice, however, Huck's moral relativism isn't really about breaking the law but rather about keeping people out of harm's way (as when he saves the Widow Douglas in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer).
"It hadn't ever come home to me before, what this thing was that I was doing...." See in text (Chapter XVI)
Technically, Jim is still "owned" by Miss Watson, and in helping him to escape Huck has become an accessory to a crime and may well face serious consequences if he's caught. At this point in the narrative, he still hasn't decide how he feels about slavery and if it's right or wrong according to his own moral code. This is Huck's second major moral crisis, and how he resolves it will determine his actions in the rest of the book.
"before he was cold..." See in text (Chapter XVII)
Huck makes a point of saying that Emmeline was very talented and that he respects what she did, but we can see here that he also finds her pictures morbid and depressing and thinks that the extraordinary speed with which she composed her "tributes" is a little disturbing, if not off-putting. We'll see Huck wrestle with his feelings about her and the Grangerfords as we get deeper into the story, but for now Twain wants us to see this as just another example of his dark humor.
"and that was how I come to be here..." See in text (Chapter XVII)
Huck delivers an elaborate, fake family history almost as if it were true. Huck gives everyone in his “family” names, with the exception of “pap,” and makes up very distinct characters with their own complex stories. While Huck may have come up with this narrative simply to seem less suspicious, Twain makes Huck’s story so detailed that we are led to wonder if Huck has imagined having a family like the one he describes here before.
"you could see where pieces had got chipped off..." See in text (Chapter XVII)
These ornamental fruits are a metaphor for the Grangerford family, which, though well-to-do, has begun to lose its veneer of breeding and good-manners, have engaged, as we'll soon learn, in a long and foolish feud with the Shepherdsons, their enemies. Thus, though the Grangerfords may appear rich and comfortable, the reader knows that, underneath, they're no better than Huck or the Shepherdons.
"Do you own a dog? I've got a dog..." See in text (Chapter XVII)
Recall that just moments ago Huck referred to Buck as "about as old" as he is; and yet here we see him act juvenile in a way that Huck has never done. His childish enthusiasm throws Huck's maturity in relief, making him seem much older and smarter than Buck. The similarities in their names, differentiated by only one letter, further indicate that Twain is attempting to draw a comparison between the two boys to show us how grown-up Huck has become.
"he was very frowzy-headed..." See in text (Chapter XVII)
Frowzy meaning scruffy and unkempt. Twain characterizes Buck as a young, disheveled boy who lives in a small, tense household with his evidently strange family. There hasn't (yet) been any mention of their financial situation, but it's implied, just from Huck's description of the house ("a big, old-fashioned double log house") that, though they're well off, the Grangerfords have become an eccentric, insular family.
"but only felt outside with his hands..." See in text (Chapter XVII)
Mr. Grangerford pats Huck down much like a police officer would. At this point in the narrative, Huck has robbed his father, drowned three robbers, helped a runaway slave, and lied to almost everyone he has met, so it's to be expected that he's being treated like a criminal or, in this case, one of the Shepherdsons, with whom the Grangerfords are feuding. Without the raft, Huck has nothing but what's in his pockets; but, as always, Huck will make the best of it.
"the men had slipped around..." See in text (Chapter XVIII)
Huck fails in his role as the watchman and allows the Shephersons to sneak up on Buck and Joe. It's unclear whether Buck's crying caused him to get distracted and lose the Shepherdsons in the brush or if he was just outwitted. Given how guilty Huck feels about it afterward, it's possible that his being a better scout might've made the difference; but it's impossible to know that for sure, and this might just be a case of him beating himself up for no good reason.
"and then I clumb up into the forks of a cottonwood that was out of reach..." See in text (Chapter XVIII)
Recall that earlier in this chapter Huck said of Col. Grangerford, "but when...lightning begun to flicker out from under his eyebrows, you wanted to climb a tree first, and find out what the matter was afterwards." Here, Huck does climb up a tree, not wanting to get in the line of fire, and in so doing abandons his friends in the fight. This is a rare moment of cowardice on Huck's part, and it doesn't end well for the Grangerfords.
"Buck went off 'thout waking me up...." See in text (Chapter XVIII)
There's a hint of dismay in these words. Huck has been staying with the Grangerfords for long enough now to feel like he's more than just a guest and is, rather, a part of the family, but Buck's decision not to wake him up gives this the lie. Huck will never be part of this family or their feud, and, as Twain suggests, his real home is on the raft with Jim.
"he ain't mixed up in it..." See in text (Chapter XVIII)
This isn't entirely true. Jack can say that he hasn't seen Huck and Jim together, yes, but he can't say that he didn't know Jim was a fugitive, or that he didn't help a runaway slave. These were serious crimes in the antebellum south and would've resulted in any slave who helped Jim being beaten, if not worse. Huck knows this, of course, but fails to realize the full gravity of their situation (perhaps because he likes living with the Grangerfords so much).
"and I might go and play now..." See in text (Chapter XVIII)
Notice the word "play" here. Miss Sophia uses it to infantilize Huck, to suggest that he's just a boy and that he doesn't have (or understand) the romantic feelings that this note produces; but in reality Huck, like many adolescent boys, understands what it means to be attracted to someone and can feel desire himself. That he doesn't quite figure out the meaning of Miss Sophia's note doesn't make him a child; it just suggests that she has a deep (and potentially dangerous) secret.
"They always take advantage..." See in text (Chapter XVIII)
Here we see the central difference between the Shepherdsons and the Grangerfords: the fact that the Shepherdsons will take advantage or hide in the bushes instead of facing their enemies in the streets. It seems especially classless when we consider that the Grangerfords have, thus far, been characterized as the most aristocratic of families and that they likely never took "advantage" in this way before. Twain uses this little fact to align the readers with the Grangerfords.
"pommel..." See in text (Chapter XVIII)
In this context, a "pommel" refers to the rounded knob at the front of a saddle, across which this young man has lain his gun so that it will be visible to passersby. This man is Harney Sheperdson, and his gun is a symbol for his violent, feuding nature. Recall, however, that Huck had a gun pulled on him when he first met the Grangerfords, and that both families are thus characterized as being quick draws who are suspicious of everyone and their motives.
"but Buck's was on the jump most of the time..." See in text (Chapter XVIII)
Keep in mind that Buck, though young and childish, has nevertheless grown up in a state of extreme privilege and has never really had to fend for himself. Thus further emphasizes the differences in character and temperament between him and Huck, who has grown up without servants and has had to learn how to do everything himself. Thus, by comparison, Buck is characterized as less resourceful and less clever than Huck, though we have no direct proof of this yet.
"she was twenty-five..." See in text (Chapter XVIII)
In the 1800s, when this novel is set, most women were married off by the time they hit twenty-five, or if not married then certainly engaged. That Miss Charlotte isn't married should be considered a red flag, just as Bob and Tom living as bachelors can be seen as a red flag, given that they're older than Miss Charlotte and certainly have the means to marry. The Grangerfords children are thus characterized as part of a tight-knit family with reasons for staying together that we'll soon learn.
"the least bit in the world..." See in text (Chapter XVIII)
One can easily imagine the Colonel and his wife nodding their heads ever so slightly at their children, not in deference but in expectation, as Tom and Bob go through the motions of pleasing them. In their slights nods we can clearly see the power dynamics at play in the Grangerford household: the Colonel rules with an iron fist, but not in such a way as to engender either dislike or bitterness. He might be an authoritarian, but his family would never think of disobeying him.
"there wouldn't nothing go wrong again for a week..." See in text (Chapter XVIII)
Twain characterizes Col. Grangerford as aristocratic and authoritarian with both physical description (his high nose, his white linen suit) and anecdotal observations about the Colonel's position in his family and power to command respect. This combination leaves us with a good impression of Col. Grangerford, who, in spite of having what appears to be a domineering personality, comes across as cultured, beloved, and moneyed.
"then you don't have no quarrels, and don't get into no trouble..." See in text (Chapter XIX)
That depends on your definition of "trouble." It's true that not calling the "King" and the "Duke" liars to their faces won't cause any trouble with them, but Huck isn't accounting for all the trouble than can (and will be) cause by not calling them out on their nonsense. Huck has a non-confrontational nature, as we've seen before, but this sometimes get him into even more trouble.
"and waited on him first at meals..." See in text (Chapter XIX)
In this we can clearly see that the old man is trying to one-up the new "Duke," claiming to be the King of France even though it's obvious to the reader (if not yet to Huck) that he's lying. Evidently, the "King" was irritated that the "Duke" was getting so much attention, so he tried to out-do his lie in order to be considered the most important person on the raft. This will result in much hilarity in the following chapters.
"And he begun to wipe the corner of his eye with a rag...." See in text (Chapter XIX)
Given that the young man has already claimed to be a "theater-actor" (a tragedian, specifically), the reader can safely assume that this is an act and that the "actor" is making up a story so that he can get some sympathy, attention, and/or money. This act of wiping his eye is very melodramatic, and modern readers will likely see through it quicker than the characters in the book.
"He had an old battered-up slouch hat on..." See in text (Chapter XIX)
Recall that in Chapter V Huck's father was first described as wearing "an old black slouch with the top caved in, like a lid. In appearance and attitude, this old man is very much like Pap, in that he seems to get by mostly on stealing, swindling, and drinking. Twain repeats the image of the slouch hat to clue the reader that this old man, like Pap, shouldn't be trusted.
"show this handbill and say we captured him up the river..." See in text (Chapter XX)
This plan might seem ingenious in that it hides Jim in plain sight, but, in reality, it's likely to cause more problems for Jim by making random people think that they can make money off him. Without weapons on the raft and a commitment to defend Jim, it's possible that he will get captured by those attempting to collect the reward for themselves.
"just crazy and wild..." See in text (Chapter XX)
This is not unlike what the scene would've been at the King's revival. One could liken this to a modern day evangelical megachurch where one charismatic preacher leads a community in prayer, usually from a stage or concert hall in place of a tent. Given that the King has been in and run revivals like this one before, it's no surprise that he knows how to swindle the audience at one.
"Garrick the Younger..." See in text (Chapter XX)
David Garrick (1717 - 1779) was a prominent Shakespearean actor and theatre manager and was well-known even in Twain's time as being one of the best actors to ever perform in a Shakespeare play. Twain alludes to Garrick to both prove to the reader that the Duke has had some theatrical training and to prepare us for his being a very bad actor.
"but I hadn't any clothes on, and didn't mind..." See in text (Chapter XX)
Huck seems to prefer being in nature than wearing clothes. Here, his nudity is a symbol of his freedom and further characterizes him as an easy-going person who's more at home when he's alone or on a raft than when he's in a city. This kind of behavior wasn't uncommon in Huck's time and could be seen in people who lived on the shores of the Mississippi.
"and he was a heap the best-dressed man in that town, too..." See in text (Chapter XXI)
As with his description of Colonel Grangerford in Chapter XVIII, Huck associates being well-dressed with being of a higher social class. He holds the sheriff in much higher esteem than Boggs or all the loafers about town, and in so doing shows how much he was affected by the Widow Douglas and her attempts to "sivilize" him.
"or tying a tin pan to his tail..." See in text (Chapter XXI)
This is all to say that these are mean, backwards, country folks. Huck has been, by and large, a fairly nonjudgemental person, except when it comes to people who have too many rules, and thus far has never shown any signs of classism; yet here we see the limits of carefree and goodnatured attitude. He characterizes these loafers as a poor, ornery bunch, saving their cruelty to animals for last to emphasize that the reader should hold them in disdain.
"Edmund Kean..." See in text (Chapter XXI)
A famed Shakespearean actor who was born in London and went on to perform around the world. He's perhaps best known for his great portrayals of Richard III and Shylock from The Merchant of Venice. Like Garrick, he's considered one of the finest Shakespearean actors to have ever lived, and Twain alludes to him to underscore the Duke and the King's comparative lack of skill.
"Hamlet's soliloquy..." See in text (Chapter XXI)
Hamlet's famed "To be, or not to be?' soliloquy, in which he ruminates on mortality and death. In comparison with the Highland fling and the sailor's hornpipe (a dance and a song, respectively), this soliloquy is incredibly difficult, which leads one to wonder why, exactly, the Duke has given the King the better, more dramatic part. Perhaps he wants the King to mangle it and, thus, to embarrass himself.
"she doesn't bray like a jackass...." See in text (Chapter XXI)
Here we see how the Duke really feels about the King: he's not just a terrible actor, but he's uncultured, rude, and, well, a donkey. Given his performance at the camp-meeting, however, and his impressive haul of over eighty dollars, this antagonism on the Duke's part may be a result of jealousy.
"He often done that..." See in text (Chapter XXIII)
By not waking Huck up for his shift as watchman, Jim is again looking out for Huck’s well-being in a way that Huck’s father never had. Though this may seem a small favor at first glance, Twain emphasizes Jim’s consistently thoughtful and attentive nature, especially where Huck is concerned. We can read Jim’s many small acts of kindness as markers of surrogate fatherhood or simply as friendship, but either way they signal a deep caring for Huck.
"en I'd ben a-treat'n her so!”..." See in text (Chapter XXIII)
Twain could easily have portrayed Jim as angelic and incapable of meanness. However, Jim's unintended cruelty toward his daughter humanizes him even more; he is neither a mocked African American caricature nor an idealized but unrealistic rejection of that caricature. He is a real person, equal to Huck—or even superior, given his honesty.
"en I'd ben a-treat'n her so..." See in text (Chapter XXIII)
This is the only piece of backstory we've gotten about Jim that isn't about slavery, and it's very telling about his character both as a father and in general. We've already learned that he's an impatient man and that he has little to no respect for people of other cultures, countries, and ethnicities (see: his hatred of French people in Chapter XIV), and now we see that he's impatient with his children and possible insensitive to those who are differently abled.
"I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks does for their'n..." See in text (Chapter XXIII)
Slavery dehumanizes people in many ways, most notably by working them to death like animals and by stripping them of all interiority and complexity, making them seem incapable of having relationships or experiencing human emotions. Here, Huck realizes that Jim does, in fact, feel for his children as a white person would. This recognition of Jim's humanity is an important step in Huck's evolution and his disavowal of racist ideas.
"Greenhorns, flatheads..." See in text (Chapter XXIII)
A greenhorn is someone who's inexperiences ("green") at life and is, in general, not a very bright or knowledgeable person. A flathead is a similarly foolish person. The Duke guessed (correctly) that the crowd would be taken in by their scheme and that they'd be able to get out of there without a hitch. It remains to be seen if this strategy will work again.
"the signs of a dead cat being around..." See in text (Chapter XXIII)
This is an allusion to Huck's first appearance in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, where we're introduced to him as a young adolescent boy wearing ill-fitting clothes and carrying a dead cat. Here, Twain repurposes the image to show us that Huck is no longer the poor, abused child carrying the dead cat but is instead the independent free spirit who can smell trouble when it's coming.
"It was enough to make a body ashamed of the human race..." See in text (Chapter XXIV)
Huck is certainly no stranger to pulling tricks when he needs to, but the duke and king’s trick has crossed a line for Huck. Huck typically deceives others in order to survive. If his tricks are not necessary, then they are usually small, improvised, and fairly harmless. Huck is disgusted by the behavior of the duke and the king, in part because it is too contrived—insidious and diabolical in a way that Huck’s trickeries are not.
"that's the deef and dumb one..." See in text (Chapter XXIV)
Recall that in the previous chapter Jim talked about realizing that his daughter was deaf and "dumb," or mute, when he struck her for not shutting a door when he told her to. Here, the deaf mute William is similarly maligned within his family in that one of his brothers hasn't even met him. Together, these two examples give the reader a sense of how looked down upon the differently abled were in the 1800s.
"right out of the ark, and maybe was old Leviticus himself..." See in text (Chapter XXIV)
An allusion to the Bible, in which Noah builds an ark to house two of every species (a male and a female) to repopulate the earth after the flood. Huck mixes up his facts again, confusing Noah with Leviticus, a book in the Bible which takes its name from the "Levites," an Israelite tribe that settled in the land of Canaan. This is all to say that Huck is comparing the King to Noah, who was considered a wise and great man for building the ark.
"a-hunting together..." See in text (Chapter XXV)
Note Huck's word choice here. "A-hunting" indicates that the doctor and the preacher are looking for subjects (or, in hunting terminology, targets) on which to prey. This characterizes them as predatory and somewhat amoral people who take advantage of their position within the community. This is, of course, Huck's opinion of them, but there's very little in this book to improve their image.
"I never see anything so disgusting..." See in text (Chapter XXV)
This marks an important change in Huck's relationship with the King and the Duke. Up until this point, he's been content to let them have their way, for the most part, but his use of the word "disgusting" here indicates that he's tired of their antics and that they've taken it too far. Huck will soon break ties with them.
"I'm letting him rob her of her money..." See in text (Chapter XXVI)
Twain’s use of repetition here helps us better understand Huck’s mental state. Now that Huck sees that Mary Jane has a kind heart, he is almost at a point of disbelief at the duke and king’s con. Huck has slowly been feeling more and more of the injustice of the duke and king’s tricks, and Twain’s repetition subtly reveals that Huck might be working himself up to do something about it.
"just the way people always does at a supper, you know..." See in text (Chapter XXVI)
While everyone at the dinner table knows that the food is delicious, the host still pretends to find something wrong with it and the guests all reassure the host that the food is superb. It is a customary conversation that Huck thinks is filled with “humbug.” This is another instance that illustrates his aversion to what he sees as silly and vacuous social conventions.
"valley..." See in text (Chapter XXVI)
“Valley” means “valet,” or personal attendant. Valet’s were often employed to help with clothing and personal appearance. While Huck has probably never been a valet before, he is perceptive and smart, and thus probably knew enough about high-class styles of dress to be of some help. While the king might act as if he deemed Huck his valet in order to better hide their ruse, the king seems to enjoy reaping the benefits of a new “servant.”
"“Well, I see the niggers go in there several times.”..." See in text (Chapter XXVII)
This is very sneaky of Huck and again illustrates his cleverness. The slaves were sold to Memphis and New Orleans and are already gone by the time the king questions Huck. Thus, the slaves Huck wrongfully accused will not be punished, but Huck will not be discovered either, as we can anticipate that the king is likely to believe Huck’s lie due to his prejudice beliefs about African Americans.
"I reckon I couldn't 'a' stood it all..." See in text (Chapter XXVII)
Here, Twain illustrates the power that the symbol of family has to break down barriers of race and perceived difference in order to evoke empathy. Note that the slaves, the Wilks sisters, and the townspeople are all very distraught that the king has torn apart a family. Huck is disgusted by this, and while he still has a long way to go, he has grown enough to feel the ugliness of this act. Ultimately, the only thing that keeps Huck from taking a stand against this violence is that he knows that the slaves will be brought back once the ruse has been discovered.
"there'd be another person that you don't know about who'd be in big trouble...." See in text (Chapter XXVIII)
Huck is talking about Jim here, as they would need to escape before Mary Jane can reveal the duke and the king to be frauds. Despite Huck’s desire for immediate justice, he values Jim’s safety as a top priority, illustrating further how much Huck has developed as a character.
"it was out before I could think!..." See in text (Chapter XXVIII)
Huck’s reaction to Mary Jane’s saying that the slaves will never see their family again creates a sense of urgency that suggests he is speaking on instinct. This declaration helps characterize Huck as innately good—his first inclination being towards honesty and empathy. Huck has such a hard time watching the kind-hearted Mary Jane cry for the separation of the family that he immediately outs himself before he knows what he is doing.
"Stuff!..." See in text (Chapter XXIX)
In this context, “stuff” is a way of calling out falsehood or trickery. The doctor and the townspeople know immediately that Huck is lying about being from England. While in the beginning of the novel, all of Huck’s attempts at lying were extremely successful, his moral dilemmas might be affecting his ability to lie as effectively.
"You better a blame' sight give yourself a good cussing..." See in text (Chapter XXX)
Though neither parties have gone so far as to question the morality of their actions, the duke ultimately recognizes their fault in the matter and the severity of the situation. Both men have put themselves in danger of imprisonment or death (and though the duke does not acknowledge it, they have put Huck and Jim in danger as well.) While it was Huck who placed the money in the coffin, it was the duke and king who continued this elaborate con to begin with. If anyone is to blame, it is the imposters, and Twain sets the duke up to have learned (at least a bit) from the experience.
"goes to everlasting fire..." See in text (Chapter XXXI)
While at first Huck worries about his reputation if it were to come out that he helped Jim escape, Huck has also been taught that to help a slave escape is “stealing” and that it is a sin punishable in the afterlife. What is ironic here is that the compassion and love that Huck shows for Jim is exactly what the Christian faith purports. Nevertheless, Huck is at odds in a few ways: he wants to help Jim, but to do so breaks written, social, and religious laws or doctrines. Racism is extremely pervasive in all areas of Huck’s life and escaping these ideologies proves to be very difficult.
"It would get all around that Huck Finn helped a nigger to get his freedom..." See in text (Chapter XXXI)
Huck gives a few reasons for not writing to Tom Sawyer about Jim, many of which are taking into account Jim’s well-being, but this one is selfish. Huck is worried about what people will think of him for not turning in a runaway slave, and while this is not a deciding factor in his decision not to write Tom, it is certainly something Huck considers important. Huck still has much to learn about race, slavery, friendship, and freedom, and the inclusion of this selfish reasoning emphasizes this.
"“All right, then, I'll go to hell”—and tore it up...." See in text (Chapter XXXI)
Huck has finally made a conscious moral choice to remain loyal to Jim—and for the right reasons, as opposed to simply wanting to go on an adventure. He is initially relieved when he decides to write Miss Watson about the whereabouts of her runaway slave, but feels guilty when he remembers all of the times Jim saved his life and took care of him. He resigns himself to being banished to hell. Huck's moral development reveals one of Twain's larger projects: suggesting that obeying civil law isn't always the right thing, and breaking the law is sometimes called for.
"No, I didn't see nobody, Aunt Sally..." See in text (Chapter XXXII)
Note that Huck is no longer having trouble lying and easily comes up with a story much like he did before running into the duke and king. This might be due to the fact that Huck knows that these lies may help Jim, something that feels a bit more ethical than lying for money like the conmen.
"No'm. Killed a nigger..." See in text (Chapter XXXII)
By “anybody hurt,” Aunt Sally was really asking whether or not any white people were hurt, suggesting that she (and the antebellum south in general) views African American lives as less valuable. Notice that Huck replies that no one was hurt, but that an African American was killed. African Americans were seen as being outside the category of “person,” and both Aunt Sally’s and Huck’s remarks highlight this, especially considering that Huck has just noticed that the white and African American children are really no different. Although Huck’s statement denies African American humanity, it is unclear if Huck sees the racism in this ideology or not.
"acting the same way..." See in text (Chapter XXXII)
After reflecting on his loneliness without Jim, Huck notices that both the white and African American children behave the same way when they see him. Twain uses this image to further call attention to Huck’s process in breaking down his assumptions about race and the barriers between whites and African Americans. Huck’s perceptiveness allows him to continue to transcend society’s conventions, even if he may not be aware of it.
" It takes up more room than all the rest of a person's insides, and yet ain't no good, nohow..." See in text (Chapter XXXIII)
Despite the duke and the king’s cruelty in selling Jim, Huck still feels compassion and even guilt for their suffering. Twain complicates Huck’s emotions here by illustrating how Huck internalizes society’s actions. Huck calls his feelings “guilt”; however what he seems to be feeling is not necessarily guilt as an individual, but guilt as a part of a collective whole that enacts these kinds of cruelties upon one another. Huck knows that he did not cause their fates and reflects that “conscience ain’t got no sense,” but his feelings of culpability ultimately come from the fact that “human beings can be awful cruel to one another.”
"So, then, what you want to come back and ha'nt me for?”..." See in text (Chapter XXXIII)
Notice that Tom’s reaction to seeing Huck for the first time after Huck faked his own death is very similar to Jim’s. Both immediately think that Huck is a ghost who has come to haunt them. Recall that Tom exploited Jim’s spirituality and superstition for a cruel practical joke in the beginning of the novel. Twain points out Tom’s hypocrisy here—Tom thinks Jim’s spirituality is silly and uses it as a means to look down on Jim, but Tom is superstitious himself. Twain pushes the reader to compare Tom and Jim to ultimately point out that while they are very different in character, they share a few very human similarities.
"If I had Tom Sawyer's head..." See in text (Chapter XXXIV)
While Huck and Tom are very bright, Tom uses his smarts much differently than Huck, usually pulling tricks for a good laugh rather than for the greater good. Huck typically has good intentions for his tricks, especially as he grows older. Also,Tom’s plans are often fairly extravagant, and he tends to ignore Huck’s more practical plans. This often gets the two characters into even more trouble, which we also see in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer . Huck actually utilizes his intelligence less foolishly than Tom, though Huck does not see this.
"But he said I didn't need it to get out of prison with..." See in text (Chapter XXXV)
Twain uses irony to point out Tom’s hypocrisy. Tom tells Huck that he should not have stolen the watermelon because it is not necessary to steal in order to set Jim free. This is ironic because had they gone along with Huck’s plan in the first place, they would not have had to steal any of the things that they have stolen thus far. Note also, that Huck has not stolen something without sheer necessity since he was living with his father. Tom preaches as if he is more ethical than Huck, but ultimately Tom is the one who influences Huck to start stealing again.
"Blame it, this whole thing is just as easy and awkward as it can be..." See in text (Chapter XXXV)
The fact that Tom is disappointed that rescuing Jim is turning out to be much easier than he thought suggests that Tom is much more interested in the adventure than saving human lives. Tom even goes so far as to say that they will need to “invent all the difficulties” in this mission. For Tom, Jim is merely a minor role in another one of his grand adventures.
"if he'd been imagining he saw something again..." See in text (Chapter XXXVI)
Tom exploits Nat’s superstitions similarly to the time that he fastened Jim’s hat to the branch to make him think there were spirits in chapter two. However this time, Tom uses the excuse that he had to trick Nat so that Nat would not tell on them. Note again though, that all of this could have been avoided had Tom listened to Huck’s more reasonable plan in the first place.
"and let on it's case-knives..." See in text (Chapter XXXVI)
Given the seriousness of this situation, it can be easy to forget that Tom and Huck are still pretty young. While pretending that the picks are knives might be a way for Tom to inflate the sense of adventure, it is also Twain’s way of reminding us that both Tom and Huck are still kids. By doing so, Twain also calls attention to the fact that Huck in particular has been forced to grow up very quickly, facing dangers that many adults surrounding him have never even had to face.
"Pitchiola..." See in text (Chapter XXXVIII)
“Pitchiola” is an allusion to Picciola by X.B. Saintine, a novel about a political prisoner in Piedmont, Italy, who maintained his sanity in prison by cultivating a very small flower that was growing out of the pavement in the prison yard. Tom again shows how influenced he is by literature, but he takes it to the extreme—his desire to act out the fantasies he reads about borders on obsessive.
"I knowed he was white inside..." See in text (Chapter XL)
What Huck suggests in this line is that because Jim behaves benevolently and honorably, traits that Huck (and antebellum society at large) sees as inherently white, Jim is more “like a white person.” The problem with this insidious comment is that while it seems on the surface to show Huck’s viewing Jim as his equal, it actually reinforces the racist ideology that African Americans intrinsically have less integrity than whites. Huck characterizes Jim as an exception to other African Americans, who Huck still views as lesser than whites. So while Huck might be able to view Jim as an “equal” of sorts, it is only by thinking of Jim as “white inside.”
"Ef it wuz him dat 'uz bein' sot free..." See in text (Chapter XL)
Here, Jim is essentially saying that if the tables were turned and Tom was the one being set free, Tom would never let the group leave without getting Jim a doctor. Ironically, we can confidently assume that this would not be the case—Tom regards his well-being above everyone else’s. Jim ultimately acts heroically because he is a more ethical person than Tom, not because Tom would do the same for Jim.
"just you slide down cellar and fetch it..." See in text (Chapter XL)
Tom wants to make Jim’s “rescue” feel as close to his adventure novels as possible, so he frequently treats Huck and Jim as if they were his personal servants. Tom behaves like a dictator and many of the tasks he has had Huck and Jim carry out are pointless and self-serving. In this way, Twain uses Tom as a foil for characterizing Huck. They are alike in certain ways, both mischievous and intelligent, but they are different in one crucial aspect: Huck learns as he grows up to use his sneaky smarts for good—and Tom does not. Twain uses Tom to show us how much more mature Huck is than Tom is, despite their many similarities.
"but after that I wouldn't 'a' went, not for kingdoms..." See in text (Chapter XLI)
Huck is now reflecting on how much havoc his and Tom’s actions have wreaked on Aunt Sally and the rest of the Phelps family. Whereas previously Huck might have ignored Aunt Sally’s request for him to stay in the house so that he could go to Tom, he exercises restraint and stays home so as to not upset her. Huck shows a consideration and compassion for Aunt Sally that might otherwise have been trumped by Tom’s bad influence. Separated from Tom, Huck is given the freedom to act honorably and selflessly.
"Why, I wanted the adventure of it..." See in text (Chapter XLII)
Tom reveals that he knew all along that Miss Watson had freed Jim in her will. When Tom finally admits that he chose to “rescue” Jim merely for “the adventure of it,” we also see that he did so knowing that there were no stakes—Jim was already free. This not only further emphasizes Tom’s cruelty and inability (or unwillingness) to see Jim as a human being, but it also shows Miss Watson’s cruelty as well. While Miss Watson sets Jim free, she does so in her will—meaning that Jim would have been her slave until her death. Miss Watson may have been “ashamed” of her decision to sell Jim and felt “compassion” towards him, but that empathy only extends so far. Twain leads us to wonder whether Miss Watson is really all that more ethical than Tom in this situation.
"I tell you, gentlemen, a nigger like that is worth a thousand dollars—and kind treatment, too..." See in text (Chapter XLII)
The doctor helps defend Jim, but he also places a monetary value on him. Additionally, while the doctor’s speech about Jim’s valiant behavior helps humanize him to the townspeople, the doctor still brought him back to town locked in chains. In essence, the doctor’s intentions may be “good,” but he is still perpetuating racism and slavery. In this way, Twain creates a character that highlights the scale and depth of institutional racism. Even otherwise “good” people during this time have difficulty erasing deeply-rooted racist beliefs, as the doctor, Huck, Uncle Silas, and many other characters demonstrate.
Chapter the Last
"Tom give Jim forty dollars..." See in text (Chapter the Last)
Tom essentially puts a price on Jim’s freedom. Not only is this racist in itself, but it is also an incredibly low amount for what Tom has put Jim through. The fact that Tom feels this is sufficient, or that the atrocities that he has put Jim through can even be made up for monetarily, is a marker of how little he has learned.