Chapter XIV

Was Solomon Wise

BY AND BY, WHEN we got up, we turned over the truck the gang had stole off of the wreck, and found boots, and blankets, and clothes, and all sorts of other things, and a lot of books, and a spy-glass, and three boxes of seegars. We hadn't ever been this rich before in neither of our lives. The seegars was prime. We laid off all the afternoon in the woods talking, and me reading the books, and having a general good time. I told Jim all about what happened inside the wreck and at the ferryboat, and I said these kinds of things was adventures; but he said he didn't want no more adventures. He said that when I went in the texas and he crawled back to get on the raft and found her gone he nearly died, because he judged it was all up with him anyway it could be fixed; for if he didn't get saved he would get drownded; and if he did get saved, whoever saved him would send him back home so as to get the reward, and then Miss Watson would sell him South, sure. Well, he was right; he was most always right; he had an uncommon level head for a nigger.

I read considerable to Jim about kings and dukes and earls and such, and how gaudy they dressed, and how much style they put on, and called each other your majesty, and your grace, and your lordship, and so on, 'stead of mister; and Jim's eyes bugged out, and he was interested. He says:

“I didn' know dey was so many un um. I hain't hearn 'bout none un um, skasely, but ole King Sollermun, onless you counts dem kings dat's in a pack er k'yards. How much do a king git?”

“Get?” I says; “why, they get a thousand dollars a month if they want it; they can have just as much as they want; everything belongs to them.”

Ain' dat gay? En what dey got to do, Huck?”

They don't do nothing! Why, how you talk! They just set around.”

“No; is dat so?”

“Of course it is. They just set around—except, maybe, when there's a war; then they go to the war. But other times they just lazy around; or go hawking— just hawking and sp—Sh!—d'you hear a noise?”

We skipped out and looked; but it warn't nothing but the flutter of a steam-boat's wheel away down, coming around the point; so we come back.

“Yes,” says I, “and other times, when things is dull, they fuss with the parlyment; and if everybody don't go just so he whacks their heads off. But mostly they hang round the harem.”

“Roun' de which?”


“What's de harem?”

“The place where he keeps his wives. Don't you know about the harem? Solomon had one; he had about a million wives.”

“Why, yes, dat's so; I—I'd done forgot it. A harem's a bo'd'n-house, I reck'n. Mos' likely dey has rackety times in de nussery. En I reck'n de wives quarrels considable; en dat 'crease de racket. Yit dey say Sollermun de wises' man dat ever live'. I doan' take no stock in dat. Bekase why: would a wise man want to live in de mids' er sich a blim-blammin' all de time? No—'deed he wouldn't. A wise man 'ud take en buil' a biler-factry; en den he could shet down de biler-factry when he want to res'.”

“Well, but he was the wisest man, anyway; because the widow she told me so, her own self.”

“I doan' k'yer what de widder say, he warn't no wise man nuther. He had some er de dad-fetchedes' ways I ever see. Does you know 'bout dat chile dat he 'uz gwyne to chop in two?”

“Yes, the widow told me all about it.”

Well, den! Warn' dat de beatenes' notion in de worl'? You jes' take en look at it a minute. Dah's de stump, dah—dat's one er de women; heah's you—dat's de yuther one; I's Sollermun; en dish yer dollar bill's de chile. Bofe un you claims it. What does I do? Does I shin aroun' mongs' de neighbors en fine out which un you de bill do b'long to, en han' it over to de right one, all safe en soun', de way dat anybody dat had any gumption would? No; I take en whack de bill in two, en give half un it to you, en de yuther half to de yuther woman. Dat's de way Sollermun was gwyne to do wid de chile. Now I want to ast you: what's de use er dat half a bill? can't buy noth'n wid it. En what use is a half a chile? I wouldn' give a dern for a million un um.”

“But hang it, Jim, you've clean missed the point—blame it, you've missed it a thousand mile.”

“Who? Me? Go 'long. Doan' talk to me 'bout yo' pints. I reck'n I knows sense when I sees it; en dey ain' no sense in sich doin's as dat. De 'spute warn't 'bout a half a chile, de 'spute was 'bout a whole chile; en de man dat think he kin settle a 'spute 'bout a whole chile wid a half a chile doan' know enough to come in out'n de rain. Doan' talk to me 'bout Sollermun, Huck, I knows him by de back.”

“But I tell you you don't get the point.”

“Blame de point! I reck'n I knows what I knows. En mine you, de real pint is down furder—it's down deeper. It lays in de way Sollermun was raised. You take a man dat's got on'y one or two chillen; is dat man gwyne to be waseful o' chillen? No, he ain't; he can't 'ford it. He know how to value 'em. But you take a man dat's got 'bout five million chillen runnin' roun' de house, en it's diffunt. He as soon chop a chile in two as a cat. Dey's plenty mo'. A chile er two, mo' er less, warn't no consekens to Sollermun, dad fatch him!”

I never see such a nigger. If he got a notion in his head once, there warn't no getting it out again. He was the most down on Solomon of any nigger I ever see. So I went to talking about other kings, and let Solomon slide. I told about Louis Sixteenth that got his head cut off in France long time ago; and about his little boy the dolphin, that would 'a' been a king, but they took and shut him up in jail, and some say he died there.

“Po' little chap.”

“But some says he got out and got away, and come to America.”

“Dat's good! But he'll be pooty lonesome—dey ain' no kings here, is dey, Huck?”


“Den he cain't git no situation. What he gwyne to do?”

“Well, I don't know. Some of them gets on the police, and some of them learns people how to talk French.”

“Why, Huck, doan' de French people talk de same way we does?”

No, Jim; you couldn't understand a word they said—not a single word.”

“Well, now, I be ding-busted! How do dat come?”

I don't know; but it's so. I got some of their jabber out of a book. S'pose a man was to come to you and say Polly-voo-franzy—what would you think?”

“I wouldn' think nuff'n; I'd take en bust him over de head—dat is, if he warn't white. I wouldn't 'low no nigger to call me dat.”

“Shucks, it ain't calling you anything. It's only saying, do you know how to talk French?”

“Well, den, why couldn't he say it?”

“Why, he is a-saying it. That's a Frenchman's way of saying it.”

“Well, it's a blame ridicklous way, en I doan' want to hear no mo' 'bout it. Dey ain' no sense in it.”

“Looky here, Jim; does a cat talk like we do?”

“No, a cat don't.”

“Well, does a cow?”

“No, a cow don't, nuther.”

“Does a cat talk like a cow, or a cow talk like a cat?”

“No, dey don't.”

“It's natural and right for 'em to talk different from each other, ain't it?”


“And ain't it natural and right for a cat and a cow to talk different from us?”

“Why, mos' sholy it is.”

“Well, then, why ain't it natural and right for a frenchman to talk different from us? You answer me that.”

“Is a cat a man, Huck?”


“Well, den, dey ain't no sense in a cat talkin' like a man. Is a cow a man?— er is a cow a cat?”

“No, she ain't either of them.”

“Well, den, she ain't got no business to talk like either one er the yuther of 'em. Is a Frenchman a man?”


Well, den! Dad blame it, why doan' he talk like a man? You answer me dat!”

I see it warn't no use wasting words—you can't learn a nigger to argue. So I quit.


  1. 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.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. 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.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. 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.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  5. King of France from 1774 - 1791. Louis XVI was beheaded during the French Revolution along with his wife, Marie Antoinette. Louis XVI's reign was marked by periods of famine and unrest brought on by his deregulation of the grain market, which led to a sharp increase in the price of bread. His reign was succeeded by the leaders of the newly-established First French Republic, which brought a violent end to the monarchy before being itself defeated by Napoleon in his conquest of Europe. Huck mentions Louis XVI to make being a king sound just a little less glamorous.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  6. Huck means "dauphin," the French word for both Prince and dolphin. Louis XVI actually had two sons, Louis Joseph and Louis-Charles; the former died at the age of seven and was succeeded as dauphin by the latter, who died at the age of ten after his father was killed in the French Revolution.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  7. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  8. Recall that in Chapter VIII Jim related the story of how he speculated in "stock" and lost fourteen dollars. Here, he uses the word "stock" in the sense of putting faith in something. In many ways, his speculating on livestock was a case of misplacing his faith in something, wanting to believe that he'd have returns on something that ended up being a bad investment. Here, he doesn't put any emotional or moral stock in Solomon's wisdom, dismissing it as something that would lead him astray.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  9. A house or part of a house where women in Muslim families live. The term "harem" has been widely used in the Western world to refer to a house where women like concubines and prostitutes live. This usage stems from the erroneous belief that all Muslim men have dozens of wives and that they live in a state of sexual freedom. Huck uses this definition of the word here to make the life of a king seem even more luxurious.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  10. King Solomon, the son of David, a character in the Bible best known for building the first Temple in Jerusalem and making wise decisions. Once, two women came to him, both claiming to be a baby's mother, and to determine who was the real mother he ordered that the baby be cut in half, reasoning that whoever protested the most to this was the real mother. This is the story most people refer to when they say Solomon was wise. It's unclear why he didn't just ask around and see who had recently given birth.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  11. It would be easy to say that Jim wouldn't have survived this if not for Huck, but keep in mind that Jim wouldn't have been in that situation in the first place if it weren't for Huck (which is why Jim doesn't thank him). Here, Huck pays him an empty compliment that praises him for his reasoning skills and then undercuts that praise with a very racist comment. Huck may not be nearly as racist as the other characters in the book, but he still has a long way to go.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  12. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor