Chapter I

I Discover Moses and the Bulrushes

YOU DON'T KNOW about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth. That is nothing. I never seen anybody but lied one time or another, without it was Aunt Polly, or the widow, or maybe Mary. Aunt Polly—Tom's Aunt Polly, she is—and Mary, and the Widow Douglas is all told about in that book, which is mostly a true book, with some stretchers, as I said before.

Now the way that the book winds up is this: Tom and me found the money that the robbers hid in the cave, and it made us rich. We got six thousand dollars apiece—all gold. It was an awful sight of money when it was piled up. Well, Judge Thatcher he took it and put it out at interest, and it fetched us a dollar a day apiece all the year round—more than a body could tell what to do with. The Widow Douglas she took me for her son, and allowed she would sivilize me; but it was rough living in the house all the time, considering how dismal regular and decent the widow was in all her ways; and so when I couldn't stand it no longer I lit out. I got into my old rags and my sugar-hogshead again, and was free and satisfied. But Tom Sawyer he hunted me up and said he was going to start a band of robbers, and I might join if I would go back to the widow and be respectable. So I went back.

The widow she cried over me, and called me a poor lost lamb, and she called me a lot of other names, too, but she never meant no harm by it. She put me in them new clothes again, and I couldn't do nothing but sweat and sweat, and feel all cramped up. Well, then, the old thing commenced again. The widow rung a bell for supper, and you had to come to time. When you got to the table you couldn't go right to eating, but you had to wait for the widow to tuck down her head and grumble a little over the victuals, though there warn't really anything the matter with them,—that is, nothing only everything was cooked by itself. In a barrel of odds and ends it is different; things get mixed up, and the juice kind of swaps around, and the things go better.

After supper she got out her book and learned me about Moses and the Bulrushers, and I was in a sweat to find out all about him; but by and by she let it out that Moses had been dead a considerable long time; so then I didn't care no more about him, because I don't take no stock in dead people.

Pretty soon I wanted to smoke, and asked the widow to let me. But she wouldn't. She said it was a mean practice and wasn't clean, and I must try to not do it any more. That is just the way with some people. They get down on a thing when they don't know nothing about it. Here she was a-bothering about Moses, which was no kin to her, and no use to anybody, being gone, you see, yet finding a power of fault with me for doing a thing that had some good in it. And she took snuff, too; of course that was all right, because she done it herself.

Her sister, Miss Watson, a tolerable slim old maid, with goggles on, had just come to live with her, and took a set at me now with a spelling- book. She worked me middling hard for about an hour, and then the widow made her ease up. I couldn't stood it much longer. Then for an hour it was deadly dull, and I was fidgety. Miss Watson would say, “Don't put your feet up there, Huckleberry;” and “Don't scrunch up like that, Huckleberry—set up straight;” and pretty soon she would say, “Don't gap and stretch like that, Huckleberry—why don't you try to behave?” Then she told me all about the bad place, and I said I wished I was there. She got mad then, but I didn't mean no harm. All I wanted was to go somewheres; all I wanted was a change, I warn't particular. She said it was wicked to say what I said; said she wouldn't say it for the whole world; she was going to live so as to go to the good place. Well, I couldn't see no advantage in going where she was going, so I made up my mind I wouldn't try for it. But I never said so, because it would only make trouble, and wouldn't do no good.

Now she had got a start, and she went on and told me all about the good place. She said all a body would have to do there was to go around all day long with a harp and sing, forever and ever. So I didn't think much of it. But I never said so. I asked her if she reckoned Tom Sawyer would go there, and she said not by a considerable sight. I was glad about that, because I wanted him and me to be together.

Miss Watson she kept pecking at me, and it got tiresome and lonesome. By and by they fetched the niggers in and had prayers, and then everybody was off to bed. I went up to my room with a piece of candle, and put it on the table. Then I set down in a chair by the window and tried to think of something cheerful, but it warn't no use. I felt so lonesome I most wished I was dead. The stars were shining, and the leaves rustled in the woods ever so mournful; and I heard an owl, away off, who-whooing about somebody that was dead, and a whippowill and a dog crying about somebody that was going to die; and the wind was trying to whisper something to me, and I couldn't make out what it was, and so it made the cold shivers run over me. Then away out in the woods I heard that kind of a sound that a ghost makes when it wants to tell about something that's on its mind and can't make itself understood, and so can't rest easy in its grave, and has to go about that way every night grieving. I got so down-hearted and scared I did wish I had some company. Pretty soon a spider went crawling up my shoulder, and I flipped it off and it lit in the candle; and before I could budge it was all shriveled up. I didn't need anybody to tell me that that was an awful bad sign and would fetch me some bad luck, so I was scared and most shook the clothes off of me. I got up and turned around in my tracks three times and crossed my breast every time; and then I tied up a little lock of my hair with a thread to keep witches away. But I hadn't no confidence. You do that when you've lost a horseshoe that you've found, instead of nailing it up over the door, but I hadn't ever heard anybody say it was any way to keep off bad luck when you'd killed a spider.

I set down again, a-shaking all over, and got out my pipe for a smoke; for the house was all as still as death now, and so the widow wouldn't know. Well, after a long time I heard the clock away off in the town go boom—boom—boom— twelve licks; and all still again—stiller than ever. Pretty soon I heard a twig snap down in the dark amongst the trees—something was astirring. I set still and listened. Directly I could just barely hear a “me-yow! me-yow!” down there. That was good! Says I, “me-yow! me-yow!” as soft as I could, and then I put out the light and scrambled out of the window on to the shed. Then I slipped down to the ground and crawled in among the trees, and, sure enough, there was Tom Sawyer waiting for me.

Footnotes

  1. What theme does this incident illustrate?

    — Wesley, Owl Eyes Editor
  2. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  3. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  4. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  5. According to the Bible, Moses' mother hid him in a basket that floated down the river when the Pharaoh declared that all the male Hebrew children were to be drowned in the river. This story is an example of foreshadowing in the novel, which will later see Huck float down the river on a raft.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  6. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  7. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  8. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  9. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  10. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  11. This refers to the action of saying grace over a meal, which Huck neither understands nor respects. Based on this line, we can assume that Huck isn't religious and doesn't understand why he should read the Bible (though he does refer to its stories when it suits him).

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  12. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  13. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  14. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Editor
  15. Tom Sawyer's cousin and ally from *The Adventures of Tom Sawyer*, Mary isn't a major character in *The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn* and is invoked here primarily in reference to her saintliness and seeming inability to lie. Huck has no real use for saintly characters, as is implied by his offhand reference to a character he'll never mention again.

    — Stephen Holliday
  16. That is, with some lies (as in *stretching the truth*). This use of colloquialisms in dialect is characteristic of Twain's work and represents perhaps the best use of the rural Southern American dialect in fiction to date. Both this novel and *The Adventures of Tom Sawyer* are written in this colloquial voice.

    — Stephen Holliday
  17. In this case, the n-word is synonymous with "slaves." Remember that this novel is set in the years before the Civil War and that the n-word was a part of the cultural landscape. While there's some debate about whether or not to include the word in modern editions, removing it would be historically inaccurate and create anachronisms in the novel.

    — Owl Eyes Reader