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Facts in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Facts Examples in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:

Chapter I

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"snuff..."   (Chapter I)

A kind of fine, ground tobacco meant to be inhaled, snuff was first brought to Europe in the mid 16th Century and became a favorite amongst members of the ruling class before being adopted by the general public. It was generally kept in gold or silver tins ("snuffboxes") and would've been common at the time the novel was written. It wouldn't have been unusual for a religious woman like the widow to use snuff.

"Mr. Mark Twain..."   (Chapter I)

Mark Twain, born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, was a well-known novelist and humorist who wrote many great comic works, of which The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn are the most highly regarded. This self-referential remark is characteristic of Twain's sense of humor and sets the tone for the rest of the novel.

"a dollar a day apiece..."   (Chapter I)

Given that The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is set in the years before the Civil War, when adjusted for inflation, a dollar a day for them equates to over twenty dollars a day for us now. That's an incredible amount of money for two teenage boys.

"for a consideration..."   (Chapter IV)

In legal terms, a "consideration" is an item of value which is offered by one or more parties when entering into a contract. It requires that both parties assent to the terms of the contract and that some amount of money is paid for the consideration. This is why the Judge can pay one dollar to buy six thousand dollars. It's perfectly legal.

"half-yearly..."   (Chapter IV)

In financial terms, a "half-yearly" refers to an amount of money garnered over the course of half a year. In this case, a hundred and fifty plus dollars, equal to a dollar a day for six months. The Judge wisely suggests that this is too much to give to Huck at once, given his age.

"“trot” line..."   (Chapter VII)

A trotline is a heavy fishing line with a row of hooks hanging on smaller lines called "snoods." Trot lines like this one were used by fishermen and tramps to continuously catch fish, typically on a river or a swift-moving body of water.

"a steamboat..."   (Chapter VII)

In the 18th and into the 19th Centuries, steamboats were the primary means of travel by water and were employed on the Mississippi as both passenger and cargo ships. Twain was himself a pilot of a steamboat and drew his pen name, Mark Twain, from the term meaning the water was two fathoms deep (safe for a steamboat to travel).

"The river looked miles and miles across..."   (Chapter VII)

This is the Mississippi River. In Twain's youth, he was a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi, an experience he chronicled in his nonfiction work, Life on the Mississippi. His experience and the characters he met on the river greatly influenced this book, which is largely set on the Mississippi.

"anybody dat put in a dollar would git fo' dollars mo' at de en' er de year..."   (Chapter VIII)

If this sounds like a Ponzi scheme, that's because it is. Ponzi schemes are fraudulent operations that trick people into investing their money by offering a high rate of return and then use the money invested by new targets to pay the original investors (the only ones who profit in this scheme). Needless to say, Jim doesn't get his money back, and this loss builds on the themes of money and poverty in the novel.

"to coat it over so and make a ball of it..."   (Chapter X)

When foreign objects like this spool are introduced into the digestive tract, many animals, whales in particular, secrete a substance that will coat the object and protect it from damaging the intestinal lining. This substance is called ambergris in whales and coats the sharp points of squid beaks to allow them to pass. Here, the catfish is described as having "lots of rubbage" in its stomach, which testifies to the pollution of the Mississippi River.

"a texas..."   (Chapter XII)

On a steamboat, a "texas" is a structure that encloses the pilothouse and the crew's quarters. This is located on the hurricane deck, which is also called the texas deck. In this context, no one risks their life for the texas and the pilothouse because these are the only parts of the boat that aren't underwater (meaning, the boat is worthless).

"a sailor's life's the life for me..."   (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.

"Highland Marys..."   (Chapter XVII)

“Highland Mary” was a nickname for a woman named Mary Campbell, whom Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote about in his most popular poems: From their love affair, to Mary’s death from illness, and his ensuing sadness at the loss. The poems were extremely well known, and before Mary’s death, Scottish painter Thomas Faed gained popularity for painting portraits of the two lovers. These are probably the “pictures” that the Grangerford’s have hanging on their wall, though most-likely they are reprints, not originals.

"Washingtons and Lafayettes..."   (Chapter XVII)

This refers to George Washington and the French military officer Gilbert du Motier, Marquis de La Fayette (known in the United States by the name Lafayette.) The family probably has pictures of these two on their walls because they both fought in the American Revolutionary War for the United States. Lafayette was a good friend of George Washington and gained notoriety for his skill in battle.

"water-moccasins..."   (Chapter XVIII)

A “water-moccasin,” also known as a “cottonmouth” snake, is a venomous water snake found in the southern United States and especially common along the Mississippi River. Because their venom causes the area surrounding a bite to hemorrhage very quickly, they are extremely dangerous to humans. This is why Huck finds Jack’s behavior so strange—no one would be excited to find these snakes or go looking around for them.

"mudcat..."   (Chapter XVIII)

A “mudcat” is a slang term for the “catfish” that can be found in the “muddy” Mississippi River. Huck uses the term as a way of characterizing his father as being of lower social ranking than Colonel Grangerford is, probably due to the fact that these catfish were very common, low-to-average quality, and generally did not fetch much on the market.

"powwow..."   (Chapter XIX)

In this context, the “powwow” Huck mentions is the steamboat's “paddlewheel,” a large wheel that propels the boat forward. The fact that the steamboat continues to send waves towards Huck and Jim “a long time after she was gone,” suggests that the boat was fairly large.

"strawtick..."   (Chapter XX)

A “strawtick” is a bed made out of a thick canvas or cotton material and typically stuffed with straw, but the term was often used for any “tick” bed. Wealthy individuals used feathers to stuff the tick and travellers or the poor used any plant materials that were readily available, such as the uncomfortable corn husks that neither the king nor the duke want to sleep on.

"divining-rod..."   (Chapter XX)

A “divining-rod,” also known as a “dowsing rod,” is a forked rod or stick that some people claim can be used to locate groundwater and minerals by holding it over the ground while walking and waiting for any signs of movement in the rod. There is no current scientific evidence to suggest that the dowsing method actually works, and psychologists attribute any “movement” from the rod as being a psychological response in which the person moves the rod unconsciously.

"Phrenology..."   (Chapter XX)

Phrenology was the study of the size and shape of the human skull based on the notion that these characteristics could explain certain mental capacities and traits. Phrenology has been criticized as a form of scientific racism, as its “findings” have been used in the past to further racist stereotypes and ideologies about marginalized groups. Psychologists since the mid-19th century have almost entirely ruled out the practice as pseudoscience, or a collection of beliefs that have no scientific basis.

"eating bread that's got sand in it..."   (Chapter XXII)

It used to be that wheat for bread was milled on large rock slabs and that sand or grit would often get caught in the flour in the process. In ancient cultures, this lifelong consumption of gritty bread would wear down a person's teeth until they were just nubs, leaving them in near constant pain. Modern milling practices prevent sand from getting in flour, but this still sometimes happened in the 1800s, when this novel is set.

"King Lear's outfit..."   (Chapter XXIV)

King Lear is another tragedy written by Shakespeare. In this play, King Lear of ancient Britain decides to relinquish his throne and divide the kingdom amongst each of his three daughters. Lear plans to give the largest portion of the kingdom to the daughter who can convince him that she loves him the most, which he feels certain will be his favorite of the three, Cordelia. However, Cordelia says that words cannot describe her love for her father and this offends Lear enough to banish her and divide his kingdom between his two remaining daughters, Goneril and Regan. Goneril and Regan ultimately plot their father’s demise and Lear realizes that Cordelia was the only one who was genuine in the first place.

"pluribus-unum..."   (Chapter XXVIII)

“Mumps” is a highly contagious viral infection that affects the salivary glands. Today, a vaccine easily protects against the mumps, but during Twain’s time it was considered a serious illness. The strain that Huck mentions called “pluribus-unum” is not a real strain of mumps. Huck gets the phrase “pluribus-unum” from the United States motto “E pluribus unum” meaning “out of many, one.” The saying refers to the Union that was formed by all of the separate states and congress granted this the national motto in 1776. The saying can be found on U.S. currency.

"cylinder-head..."   (Chapter XXXII)

A “cylinder-head” is the cover that rests over the top of the cylinders in an internal combustion engine, creating the combustion chamber. Most engines have cylinder-heads that need to allow enough space for exhaust gases to escape otherwise it can result in engine misfires or explosions.

"The Iron Mask..."   (Chapter XXXV)

Tom is referring to “The Man in the Iron Mask” who was an unidentified prisoner arrested during the reign of King Louis XIV. The man was imprisoned in a number of different French prisons, including the Bastille. He has become the subject of many different myths and legends throughout history due to his mysterious identity and the fact that we are still unsure as to why he was imprisoned. Alexandre Dumas writes about this prisoner in his fictional story The Man in the Iron Mask which continues the story of The Three Musketeers. In this story, the prisoner is revealed to be King Louis XIV’s twin brother.

"corn-pone..."   (Chapter XXXVI)

“Corn-pone” also called “pone bread” or simply “pone” is unleavened bread typically made from cornmeal and water that is then fried or baked. It differs from “cornbread” in that “pone” usually means it is made with less ingredients and tends to be cheaper. It was associated with poorer people and soldiers due to this and would have been a standard kind of food to give prisoners.

"Mayflower..."   (Chapter XXXVII)

The Mayflower was a ship that sailed from Plymouth, England to a place in North America that would be later called Plymouth, Massachusetts, named after the port that the Mayflower departed from. The ship carried the English “Separatists” or “pilgrims,” over to North America in order to form a church in their own new colony.

"Acts Seventeen..."   (Chapter XXXVII)

“Acts Seventeen” is a reference to the seventeenth chapter of the Acts of the Apostles in the New Testament of the Christian Bible. It concerns St. Paul and one of his journeys as a missionary to Jerusalem. It is unclear why Tom lies about reading this particular chapter, but it may have been a choice he made at random or a chapter that he knew well.

"Look at Lady Jane Grey,” he says; “look at Gilford Dudley; look at old Northumberland..."   (Chapter XXXVIII)

Lady Jane Gray held the throne of England for only nine days after her predecessor King Edward VI died. She was later imprisoned for treason and executed in the Tower of London along with her husband, Guildford Dudley, and his father John Dudley, the Duke of Northumberland. It is possible that Tom might have read a book entitled, The Tower of London, by William Harrison Ainsworth, which details these events as a historical romance.

"Louis XVI..."   (Chapter XXXIX)

King Louis XVI was the king of France from 1774 to 1792, during the French Revolution. He was tried and convicted for conspiracy and executed by guillotine in Paris. What Tom is referring to by “tooleries” is “Tuileries,” a palace in Paris that King Louis XVI was forced to relocate to due to his inadequacies as king. He attempted to flee the country during this relocation but was unsuccessful.

"brain-fever..."   (Chapter XL)

“Brain-fever” refers to a medical condition in which the meninges (membranes that cover the brain and spinal cord) become inflamed and cause symptoms that mimic that of a fever. In the literature of Twain’s time, “brain-fever” was thought to be caused by intense emotional stress, but today we know it to be caused by bacterial infection.

"Nebokoodneezer..."   (Chapter XLI)

Mrs. Hotchkiss means to allude to Nebuchadnezzar II, a king of ancient Babylon. He is featured in the Old Testament of the Bible and most widely known for his part in the Book of Daniel. Mrs. Hotchkiss is specifically referencing the fourth chapter of the Book of Daniel, in which Nebuchadnezzar temporarily goes insane after his mind is replaced with that of an ox’s for seven years in order to teach him God’s sovereignty.

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