Irony in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Irony Examples in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn:

Chapter XVI 1

"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..."   (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.

"breathe the pure air of freedom..."   (Chapter XIX)

It is ironic that the “duke” talks about his great-grandfather coming to the United States to “breathe the pure air of freedom.” As we know, the only people who are free in the United States at this time are the whites and the few African Americans who can (successfully) make it to the northern states. Further, the duke says this in front of a man who has never been free (and whom we are still uncertain ever will be) despite his very best efforts.

"do you reckon a nigger can run across money and not borrow some of it?..."   (Chapter XXVI)

The duke implies that African Americans are all dishonest thieves, but note the hypocrisy and irony in this. Not only do the duke and king make all of their money by conning people, but they are in the midst of an elaborate heist at the same time that they are making these false, racist claims. Twain uses irony to illustrate this comical hypocrisy—especially when we note that most of the conning and thievery that takes place throughout the novel is at the hands of Huck, Tom, the duke and the king.

"they was all took by surprise by finding the gold..."   (Chapter XXX)

It is very ironic that the townspeople are right in the midst of investigating these criminals when they get distracted by gold and allow the king and the duke to escape. Twain points out that although society preaches charity and justice, it often ultimately values wealth above all.

"But he said I didn't need it to get out of prison with..."   (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.