Huck Finn

Consider Huck’s reaction
when the ferry boat passes:
He does nothing, even though
he is close enough to touch
the people who care about
him. Maybe that means he is
in perfect control of his
emotions; or maybe he cares
nothing for these people in
return; or maybe he doesn’t
understand how sorrowful
they are.
“There ain’t no better way to
put in time when you are
lonesome”: It sounds like
Huck has had that problem
Notice Huck’s reaction to Jim’s news that
Jim is running away: Remember that
Huck grew up with people who believed
that stealing a slave was as serious as
committing murder. He is shocked. He
has never heard anyone question
slavery and has every reason to believe
that Jim has done something terrible.
Yet, Huck promises Jim that Huck won’t
say a word: “I ain’t a-going back there,
anyways,” he explains.
Not turning Jim in is a monumental
decision for Huck to make:
He runs away with Jim because he
decides to turn his back on everything
“home” stands for, even one of its most
cherished beliefs.
Notes adapted from Joseph Claro in “Mark Twain’s Huckleberry
Finn,” Barron’s Educational Series; and Ronald Goodrich in “The
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” Living Literature Series.
Abolitionist: one who
advocated the legal
extinction of slavery as
an institution.
Before the Civil War,
abolitionists often helped
slaves escape to free
Nearly all pre-Civil War
Southerners hated
abolitionists as enemies
who struck at the very
heart of Southern society
and economy.
 Huck, as
a member of
a society that
considers slavery
morally justified and
necessary, realizes
that people will
condemn him as an
abolitionist – the
lowest kind of
Huck has a sense of right and
wrong that would shame some of
the people he calls his “betters.”
His conscience now causes him
great pain because he can’t find
an easy solution to his dilemma in
helping Jim escape. Does he live
up to the rules of the society he
has been brought up in? Or does
he do what seems to be the right
thing for a friend?
On the way to shore to turn Jim in,
Huck decides to do “wrong” – he
doesn’t turn Jim in, and it never
occurs to him that what he’s done
might be considered the right
thing. He has too low of an
opinion of himself to think that.
Huck reasons, why do right (turn
Jim in) if he wouldn’t feel any
Huck and Jim start their new lives
Jim discovers a dead man in the
floating house but doesn’t talk to Huck
about it.
Most of chapter 10 is about bad luck
and its causes: listen for Twain
laughing in the background.
But it’s much more than a way for
Twain to get laughs: Good and bad
luck comes up often in the narration,
and it tells us something about Jim’s
attitude toward the supernatural and
his self-image.
To Jim, the world is an endlessly
threatening place. Danger is hiding
behind every tree and under every
rock. At any moment, everything he
has can be taken away from him by
forces over which he has no control
(his wife and children included).
Here, Huck shows that he not only
does not have reservations about
lying, he actually seems to enjoy
it. He’s good at it, too.
The first adventure on the
Mississippi begins.
Note: The raft is 12 X 16 feet,
about the size of a typical
bedroom in modern houses.
This chapter makes some
interesting distinctions between
stealing and borrowing: Huck has
his own set of moral standards
that he tries to live up to.
Interestingly, Huck says he won’t
leave just yet because “Tom
Sawyer wouldn’t back out now.”
 “It
was kind of
solemn, drifting down
the big, still river,
laying on our backs
looking up at the
stars, and we didn’t
even feel like talking
loud, and it warn’t
often that we laughed
– only a little kind of
Both Huck and Jim are impressed
by the majesty and peace of the
Mississippi: almost a worship that
establishes the river as the
novel’s central symbol.
The river is unconsciously
revered as a kind of god or a
manifestation of God.
The solemnity and peace of the
great river under the eternal stars
are sharp contrasts to the
pettiness and violence of men on
the shore.
For Huck and Jim, the Mississippi
represents freedom, while the
shore is the snare that would
enslave them.
Again and again, they struggle to
return to this sanctuary and enjoy
their deepening friendship.
Note: The Walter Scott is probably a
reference to Sir Walter Scott, author of
Ivanhoe. Twain often wrote scathing
criticisms of such novels, believing that
they were written by hacks who knew
little about the real world and nothing
about the people who live in it.
Steamboat terms:
Texas: a shelter for officers on the upper
Pilot-house: an enclosed structure from
which the ship is navigated.
Derrick: a device for lifting cargo on or off
the ship
Labboard (larboard): Left side of the ship
Stabboard (starboard): Right side of the
Guys: ropes or cables
Skylight: the pilot-house roof, which can
be opened and closed
The scene that follows the steamboat
episode is interesting for two reasons:
Huck once again proves himself to be
a champion liar (In order to save the
three criminals from almost certain
drowning, he tells a ferryboat captain
an elaborate tale about his family
being stranded on the disabled
boat.); two, note Huck’s quick mind
and understanding of what makes
people tick: Jim Hornback.
Huck feels better after helping the
men and wishes the widow could have
seen him: Huck is unknowingly
referring to the Christian belief that
sinners deserve more help than the
rest of us. Several of the parables of
Jesus in the New Testament make this
Three important developments
over the next three chapters:
• The relationship between Huck and
Jim begins to change in a way Huck
never thought possible.
• Huck has serious doubts about the
morality of helping a slave escape.
• The two of them are separated by an
accident on the river.
In chapter 14:
• A comic layer: Huck and Jim have a
conversation that’s similar to dozens
seen in TV and movies with comedy
teams. Two characters are talking
about a subject, and neither one
knows much about it. But one is the
dominant one, even though the
audience knows both are
uninformed. Huck is the dominant
one here, simply because he is white
(the tale is one about Solomon).
• The outcome of the argument is
the second layer of meaning:
Huck gives in without winning
the argument, which means he
is willing to lose the argument
to a slave; and Jim dares to
argue with a white person until
he wins. Without realizing it,
both characters have
undergone a radical change in
their attitudes, which would
shock just about everyone they
At the end of chapter 14,
Twain takes a poke at the
French, whom he had a
powerful bias against. By the
way, it’s not “dolphin” but “
Jim’s reaction to Huck’s joke
on Jim is very emotional and
very daring for a slave who
hasn’t reached a free state yet.
He says he was ready to die
when he thought he’d lost
Huck, adding that anyone who
plays such a prank on a friend
is trash.
This exchange shows that Jim
no longer thinks of Huck as a
white person but as a friend.
Huck is less certain: It takes
him 15 minutes “before I
could work myself up to go
and humble myself to a
nigger.” But he does it.
We all face this dilemma at some time:
Do you always live by the rules, or do
you follow your conscience? Twain
stacks slavery against friendship, and
that stacks the deck in favor of
individual conscience over rules of
This leads to some of the disapproval
over this book: Critics say it glorifies a
lawbreaker by making him likable
and by manipulating the audience
into approving what he does. The
larger moral question of conscience
versus societal rules is one that has to
be determined individually, but there
is little question that Huck has done
the right thing.

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