Chapter XV

Fooling Poor Old Jim

WE JUDGED THAT three nights more would fetch us to Cairo, at the bottom of Illinois, where the Ohio River comes in, and that was what we was after. We would sell the raft and get on a steamboat and go way up the Ohio amongst the free states, and then be out of trouble.

Well, the second night a fog begun to come on, and we made for a towhead to tie to, for it wouldn't do to try to run in a fog; but when I paddled ahead in the canoe, with the line to make fast, there warn't anything but little saplings to tie to. I passed the line around one of them right on the edge of the cut bank, but there was a stiff current, and the raft come booming down so lively she tore it out by the roots and away she went. I see the fog closing down, and it made me so sick and scared I couldn't budge for most a half a minute it seemed to me—and then there warn't no raft in sight; you couldn't see twenty yards. I jumped into the canoe and run back to the stern, and grabbed the paddle and set her back a stroke. But she didn't come. I was in such a hurry I hadn't untied her. I got up and tried to untie her, but I was so excited my hands shook so I couldn't hardly do anything with them.

As soon as I got started I took out after the raft, hot and heavy, right down the towhead. That was all right as far as it went, but the towhead warn't sixty yards long, and the minute I flew by the foot of it I shot out into the solid white fog, and hadn't no more idea which way I was going than a dead man.

Thinks I, it won't do to paddle; first I know I'll run into the bank or a tow-head or something; I got to set still and float, and yet it's mighty fidgety business to have to hold your hands still at such a time. I whooped and listened. Away down there somewheres I hears a small whoop, and up comes my spirits. I went tearing after it, listening sharp to hear it again. The next time it come I see I warn't heading for it, but heading away to the right of it. And the next time I was heading away to the left of it—and not gaining on it much either, for I was flying around, this way and that and t'other, but it was going straight ahead all the time.

I did wish the fool would think to beat a tin pan, and beat it all the time, but he never did, and it was the still places between the whoops that was making the trouble for me. Well, I fought along, and directly I hears the whoop behind me. I was tangled good now. That was somebody else's whoop, or else I was turned around.

I throwed the paddle down. I heard the whoop again; it was behind me yet, but in a different place; it kept coming, and kept changing its place, and I kept answering, till by and by it was in front of me again, and I knowed the current had swung the canoe's head down-stream, and I was all right if that was Jim and not some other raftsman hollering. I couldn't tell nothing about voices in a fog, for nothing don't look natural nor sound natural in a fog.

The whooping went on, and in about a minute I come a-booming down on a cut bank with smoky ghosts of big trees on it, and the current throwed me off to the left and shot by, amongst a lot of snags that fairly roared, the current was tearing by them so swift.

In another second or two it was solid white and still again. I set perfectly still then, listening to my heart thump, and I reckon I didn't draw a breath while it thumped a hundred.

I just give up then. I knowed what the matter was. That cut bank was an island, and Jim had gone down t'other side of it. It warn't no towhead that you could float by in ten minutes. It had the big timber of a regular island; it might be five or six miles long and more than half a mile wide.

I kept quiet, with my ears cocked, about fifteen minutes, I reckon. I was floating along, of course, four or five miles an hour; but you don't ever think of that. No, you feel like you are laying dead still on the water; and if a little glimpse of a snag slips by you don't think to yourself how fast you're going, but you catch your breath and think, my! how that snag's tearing along. If you think it ain't dismal and lonesome out in a fog that way by yourself in the night, you try it once—you'll see.

Next, for about a half an hour, I whoops now and then; at last I hears the answer a long ways off, and tries to follow it, but I couldn't do it, and directly I judged I'd got into a nest of towheads, for I had little dim glimpses of them on both sides of me—sometimes just a narrow channel between, and some that I couldn't see I knowed was there because I'd hear the wash of the current against the old dead brush and trash that hung over the banks. Well, I warn't long loosing the whoops down amongst the towheads; and I only tried to chase them a little while, anyway, because it was worse than chasing a Jack-o'-lantern. You never knowed a sound dodge around so, and swap places so quick and so much.

I had to claw away from the bank pretty lively four or five times, to keep from knocking the islands out of the river; and so I judged the raft must be butting into the bank every now and then, or else it would get further ahead and clear out of hearing—it was floating a little faster than what I was.

Well, I seemed to be in the open river again by and by, but I couldn't hear no sign of a whoop nowheres. I reckoned Jim had fetched up on a snag, maybe, and it was all up with him. I was good and tired, so I laid down in the canoe and said I wouldn't bother no more. I didn't want to go to sleep, of course; but I was so sleepy I couldn't help it; so I thought I would take jest one little cat-nap.

But I reckon it was more than a cat-nap, for when I waked up the stars was shining bright, the fog was all gone, and I was spinning down a big bend stern first. First I didn't know where I was; I thought I was dreaming; and when things began to come back to me they seemed to come up dim out of last week.

It was a monstrous big river here, with the tallest and the thickest kind of timber on both banks; just a solid wall, as well as I could see by the stars. I looked away down-stream, and seen a black speck on the water. I took after it; but when I got to it it warn't nothing but a couple of saw-logs made fast together. Then I see another speck, and chased that; then another, and this time I was right. It was the raft.

When I got to it Jim was setting there with his head down between his knees, asleep, with his right arm hanging over the steering-oar. The other oar was smashed off, and the raft was littered up with leaves and branches and dirt. So she'd had a rough time.

I made fast and laid down under Jim's nose on the raft, and began to gap, and stretch my fists out against Jim, and says:

“Hello, Jim, have I been asleep? Why didn't you stir me up?”

“Goodness gracious, is dat you, Huck? En you ain' dead—you ain' drownded—you's back agin? It's too good for true, honey, it's too good for true. Lemme look at you chile, lemme feel o' you. No, you ain' dead! you's back ag'in, 'live en soun', jis de same ole Huck—de same ole Huck, thanks to goodness!”

“What's the matter with you, Jim? You been a-drinking?”

“Drinkin'? Has I ben a-drinkin'? Has I had a chance to be a-drinkin'?”

“Well, then, what makes you talk so wild?”

“How does I talk wild?”

How? Why, hain't you been talking about my coming back, and all that stuff, as if I'd been gone away?”

“Huck—Huck Finn, you look me in de eye; look me in de eye hain't you ben gone away?”

“Gone away? Why, what in the nation do you mean? I hain't been gone anywheres. Where would I go to?”

“Well, looky here, boss, dey's sumfn wrong, dey is. Is I me, or who is I? Is I heah, or whah is I? Now dat's what I wants to know.”

“Well, I think you're here, plain enough, but I think you're a tangle-headed old fool, Jim.”

“I is, is I? Well, you answer me dis: Didn't you tote out de line in de canoe for to make fas' to de tow-head?”

“No, I didn't. What towhead? I hain't see no towhead.”

“You hain't seen no towhead? Looky here, didn't de line pull lose en de raf' go a-hummin' down de river, en leave you en de canoe behine in de fog?”

“What fog?”

“Why, de fog!—de fog dat's been aroun' all night. En didn't you whoop, en didn't I whoop, tell we got mix' up in de islands en one un us got los' en t'other one was jis' as good as los', 'kase he didn' know whah he wuz? En didn't I bust up ag'in a lot er dem islands en have a turrible time en mos' git drownded? Now ain' dat so, boss—ain't it so? You answer me dat.”

“Well, this is too many for me, Jim. I hain't seen no fog, nor no islands, nor no troubles, nor nothing. I been setting here talking with you all night till you went to sleep about ten minutes ago, and I reckon I done the same. You could-n't 'a' got drunk in that time, so of course you've been dreaming.”

“Dad fetch it, how is I gwyne to dream all dat in ten minutes?”

“Well, hang it all, you did dream it, because there didn't any of it happen.”

“But, Huck, it's all jis' as plain to me as—”

“It don't make no difference how plain it is; there ain't nothing in it. I know, because I've been here all the time.”

Jim didn't say nothing for about five minutes, but set there studying over it. Then he says:

“Well, den, I reck'n I did dream it, Huck; but dog my cats ef it ain't de powerfulest dream I ever see. En I hain't ever had no dream b'fo' dat's tired me like dis one.”

“Oh, well, that's all right, because a dream does tire a body like everything sometimes. But this one was a staving dream; tell me all about it, Jim.”

So Jim went to work and told me the whole thing right through, just as it happened, only he painted it up considerable. Then he said he must start in and “'terpret” it, because it was sent for a warning. He said the first towhead stood for a man that would try to do us some good, but the current was another man that would get us away from him. The whoops was warnings that would come to us every now and then, and if we didn't try hard to make out to understand them they'd just take us into bad luck, 'stead of keeping us out of it. The lot of towheads was troubles we was going to get into with quarrelsome people and all kinds of mean folks, but if we minded our business and didn't talk back and aggravate them, we would pull through and get out of the fog and into the big clear river, which was the free states, and wouldn't have no more trouble.

It had clouded up pretty dark just after I got on to the raft, but it was clearing up again now.

“Oh, well, that's all interpreted well enough as far as it goes, Jim,” I says; “but what does these things stand for?”

It was the leaves and rubbish on the raft and the smashed oar. You could see them first-rate now.

Jim looked at the trash, and then looked at me, and back at the trash again. He had got the dream fixed so strong in his head that he couldn't seem to shake it loose and get the facts back into its place again right away. But when he did get the thing straightened around he looked at me steady without ever smiling, and says:

“What do dey stan' for? I'se gwyne to tell you. When I got all wore out wid work, en wid de callin' for you, en went to sleep, my heart wuz mos' broke bekase you wuz los', en I didn' k'yer no' mo' what become er me en de raf'. En when I wake up en fine you back ag'in, all safe en soun', de tears come, en I could 'a' got down on my knees en kiss yo' foot, I's so thankful. En all you wuz thinkin' 'bout wuz how you could make a fool uv ole Jim wid a lie. Dat truck dah is trash; en trash is what people is dat puts dirt on de head er dey fren's en makes 'em ashamed.”

Then he got up slow and walked to the wigwam, and went in there without saying anything but that. But that was enough. It made me feel so mean I could almost kissed his foot to get him to take it back.

It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger; but I done it, and I warn't ever sorry for it afterward, neither. I didn't do him no more mean tricks, and I wouldn't done that one if I'd 'a' knowed it would make him feel that way.


  1. 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.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. 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.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. 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.

    — Kayla, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  5. Twain uses Jim's interpretation of the "dream" as foreshadowing: the pair will meet a lot of quarrelsome folks, and they will get into a lot of trouble, but it remains to be seen whether or not they'll make it to the free states. At this point in the narrative, it's important for both the reader and Twain to know that what follows isn't just a random series of events taking place on a river and that this journey will eventually lead us somewhere. Where that is, we'll have to find out.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  6. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  7. After the ordeal of trying to find the raft in the fog, it's understandable that Huck's irritated with Jim and the way he handled their separation that night. It's easy for him to think, because he had such a hard time of it, that Jim didn't, and that his friend was just floating along easy as pie. This simple line puts that idea to rest, showing Huck that Jim had his fair share of problems on the raft and that he probably couldn't have, as Huck wanted, spent the entire banging a pot. He had a pretty rough time of it.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  8. 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.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  9. This is a metaphor for Huck's journey: as he travels down the river, he doesn't stop to think about how fast he's going in comparison to the rest of the world and how much more he knows than everyone else in his life, particularly the ones he leaves behind. He thinks he's just the same old Huck, but he knows that Jim's innocent, that there was no murder, and that he himself isn't dead. These things will lead him to make some conclusions about race, society, and his place in it; but for now anyway he thinks he's just sitting still.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor
  10. Twain uses the idea of Cairo and the steamboat to solve a problem: his characters can't possibly want to sail to the Mississippi and follow it, because the South would be even worse for a runaway slave than his owner's home. Here, their plan is to alter the course and go north to the free states; but, given Twain's personal experiences on the Mississippi River, we can assume that his characters are going to spend most of their time there.

    — Sinead, Owl Eyes Contributor