The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn - Summary

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      The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, is considered the novelist's masterpiece. On the other hand, due to the theme of racism that pervades the novel, it is also Twain's most criticized work. Critics have had incessant arguments about the suitability of the book for young school children as well as for sophisticated classes. The repeated use of the "N" word is the prime reason for these severely critical comments. Moreover, the novelist, Mark Twain, is accused of having used unpolished jargon that has the latitude to corrupt cultured tastes. But the fact remains that, though critics have argued a great deal about whether or book should be banned, a unanimous opinion is yet to be arrived at.

      A sequel to his The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, it was published in 1884, eight years after the earlier novel. It begins with Huck's first-person narrative. Like its predecessor, it is another novel in the Picaresque tradition but, beyond that, it is an attempt to portray the socio-political scenario in Post-Civil War America. A cursory reference is made to Twain's earlier novel, at the end of which Huck and Tom land up laying their hands on the robbers' booty hidden inside a cave. The money, amounting to twelve thousand dollars, is shared equally between the two friends. They invest the money with Judge Thatcher. The investment fetches each of them one dollar a day. We see the various characters and the socio-political scenario in America, from the eyes of the fourteen-year-old adolescent, Huckleberry Finn.


      Huck is a crude lad, a pariah, who likes to dress up in rags, smoke and loves his life of abandonment. He doesn't have a mother. His father, Pap, is a boorish drunkard and leads a wretched life. So, Huck is virtually an orphan. He is adopted by Widow Douglas who takes it upon herself to civilize the gauche lad. She tries to dress him up in decent clothes and teaches him the code of conduct that is appropriate to civilized society. The Widow is almost like a surrogate mother to the young orphan. Besides making incessant attempts to refine his gauche ways, she is also reasonably tolerant of all his shortcomings. She possesses a soft heart because of which Huck, to a certain extent, reciprocates her feelings. Huck understands her good intentions behind her efforts with him. Nevertheless, he can't endure her lessons on grooming because they are contrary to the kind of life that he likes to live. Huck desires a carefree life with no restrictions, whereas the Widow imposes certain codes of refined social behavior that Huck can not relate to.

      Her sister, Miss Watson, endeavors to acquaint him with the teachings of the Bible. She possesses a more stern nature. She chides Huck for his faults and expresses her vehement disapproval of his ways. Even Huck is not particularly fond of her. Nor does he hold her in very high esteem.

      Despite the efforts of both the sisters, Huck doesn't enjoy all these lessons. He can not relate to the concept of "Heaven" and "Providence". He perceives these concepts as an absolute eye-wash and doesn't subscribe to the hollowness that he notices. These two ladies have been portrayed as the exponents of Religion but do not practice what they preach. Widow Douglas instructs Huck not to smoke but uses "snuff", a form of tobacco, herself. Miss Watson teaches Huck all about the "Moses and the Bullrushers", She urges him to do good so that he can go to "Heaven". But she goes against the teachings of the Bible and propagates the concept of slavery. Huck is extremely unwilling to let his spirit be restrained by the chains of civilization and manages to abscond. Dressed up in his old clothes again, he feels satisfied to be back to his old ways of life.


      Excited at the prospect of some adventure, Huck joins Tom Sawyer's robber gang. Membership to the gang entails signing a gory oath and each member vows his loyalty to the gang. The gang promises great exploits. In true quixotic style, they chart a strategy to loot Spanish merchants and Arabs who are supposed to be carrying diamonds. But eventually, the entire adventure loses its thrill and Huck views it as a mere 'Sunday school picnic'. Tired of these empty pursuits and make-believe exploits, he leaves the gang and goes away.

      One day, he notices his father, Pap's footprints on the snow. This is the point in the novel at which we are introduced to the unhealthy "father-son" relationship. Dreading that his father will come back to take away all his money, Huck rushes to Judge Thatcher and signs off all his money for a "consideration" of one dollar. Pap returns and manages to Wring out whatever money he can from the boy. He chastises his son for the latter's willingness to go to school. Though Huck too detests the idea of school, he continues just to spite his father. Widow Douglas, Huck's caretaker, and Judge Thatcher try to take complete custody of the boy. Pap even tries to sue the Judge for trying to separate father and son and thus break a family. The lawsuit takes a long time. Pap feels restless and starts ill-treating Huck. He kidnaps his son and hides him in a log cabin across the river, on the Ilinois side. Initially, Huck is glad to get away from the restrictions of society and the good conduct that it demands. He enjoys his lazy days, smoking and whiling away his time.

      One day, Pap, in an inebriated state, tries to kill Huck. Tired of Pap's brutal ways, Huck plans to fake his murder and getaway. Smearing hog's blood all over his clothes, he engineers the scene inside the cabin in such a way so as to give it the semblance of murder.


      He manages to escape to Jackson's island where he sustains himself on the ration of edibles that.he had brought from the log cabin. A few days later, he notices the remnants of another campfire. Spurred by curiosity, he moves ahead to see who his fellow inhabitant is and bumps into Miss Watson's slave, Jim. The latter is shocked to see Huck because, like the others, he too believed the presumption about his murder. He extracts a promise from Huck that the latter would not let out Jim's secret. Then he tells Huck all about how Miss Watson had planned to sell him to slave traders from Orleans for a sum of eight hundred dollars. Petrified at the thought of being separated from his family, Jim had decided to run away. Huck assures him of his dependability. Both of them feel happy to have a companion and start exploring the island. They chance upon a big cavern on top of the hill. The cavern is big enough to accommodate an entire family. Feeling relaxed and secure, they make themselves comfortable.

      Soon afterward, the river rises significantly, and a terrible flood results. It wrecks many houses and boats. One night, the- two of them notice a two-storeyed frame house floating in the river. They go up to have a look inside and see what they can retrieve. They perceive a dead body lying on the floor. Jim goes closer and realizes it is that of Pap. But he doesn't let Huck see it, as it is too "gashly". They collect whatever booty they can from the floating frame house and move out.

      One day, Huck kills a rattle-snake and places the dead body on Jim's leg, while the latter is asleep. When the dead snake's mate discovers its companion near Jim's feet, it bites him on his heel. According to Jim's instructions, Huck roasts the snake's body so that Jim can eat it, as an antidote to the poison. He also takes off the rattles, strings them together, and ties them around his waist. Jim downs jugs of Whisky to drown the pain that he is experiencing and starts feeling better after four days. Jim goes through tremendous trouble and Huck feels sorry for Jim. He vows never to play such practical jokes on Jim again.


      They decide to gauge people's minds about Huck's supposed death and Jim's escape. So, Huck decides to go to the town of St. Petersburg, disguised as a girl. He assumes the name of "Sarah Williams" and goes to speak to an old lady named Mrs. Judith Loftus. She tells Huck that the villagers believe Huck has been murdered and also about Pap's sudden disappearance. She also says that people suspected Pap or Jim could have killed Huck. She expressed her conviction that Jim was on Jackson's island because she had seen smoke rising from there. She rattles out all about her husband's plans to raid the island that night and claim the reward of three hundred dollars.

      At the lady's house, Huck picks up the task of sewing because he is feeling edgy when he hears of her husband's plans for that night. In his disquiet, he does a poor job of sewing and invites the lady's suspicion. On being asked his name, Huck commits another faux pas by saying a different name this time. The lady then asks him to throw a piece of lead at the rats to keep them at bay. She is smart enough to judge Huck in a girl's disguise. Nevertheless, she is unable to discern his true identity and believes his story that he is on his way to his Uncle, Abner Moore's house in the town of Goshen. Huck starts walking in the direction that the lady has advised. As soon as she is out of sight, Huck sprints towards the island where Jim is. They hurriedly escape in a raft.

      On the fifth night of their voyage, they reach St. Louis. That night there is a heavy storm. They chance upon a wrecked steamboat. Driven by his quest for adventure, Huck wants to explore the steamboat and goes inside. They overhear two men threatening to kill their comrade. The boys decide to set their boat loose so that they can't get away from the steamboat leaving their companion to his fate. Soon, they realize that their raft has gone loose. They manage to escape in the robber's boat. Outfoxing all of them, they run away with the plunder of boots, blankets, shoes, and other odd things. For the first time, Huck feels sorry for the robbers' plight. He is overcome with his sense of guilt and he imagines what a dreadful situation they are in. So shaken up he is that he even contemplates going back to them in an attempt to rescue them. At the first landing, Huck spots a ferry watchman. In an attempt to quieten the voice of his conscience, he goes up to him and tells him a cock and bull story of his family that is trapped inside the wrecked boat. He pleads with the watchman to rescue them. The watchman immediately gets to work but, before long, the wrecked boat floats by and Huck realizes that there would be no survivors. Then he goes up to where Jim is and they settle for the night.


      By now, Huck and Jim have become close friends. Together, they decide to go to Cairo, where the Mississippi joins Ohio, and thus have access to the Free States. Jim, in his search for freedom from slavery, is enthused at the prospect of reuniting with his family members. Huck, on the other hand, seeks to attain freedom from the shackles of "sivilized society" and wishes to get away from its clutches, once and for all.

      It is a foggy night and Huck and Jim get separated in the fog. When they reunite in the morning, Jim is sleeping on the raft. Huck pretends that their separation was just a dream. Initially, Jim believes him but on realizing that he has been made a fool of, he feels extremely hurt and chides him for his insensitivity. On realizing that he has hurt Jim, Huck feels extremely remorseful and feels a stronger bond with the latter.

      Anticipating freedom, Jim is really excited. Nevertheless, Huck feels restless because, for the first time, he is cognizant of the "crime" that he is committing. He becomes conscious that he is helping a runaway slave escape. He tries to justify his actions because, after all, he was not the one to take Jim away from his rightful owner. On the other hand, he chides himself for having behaved in the most despicable way with Miss Watson, who was good to him in every possible way. On the spur of the moment, Huck resolves to end his dilemma and hand over Jim. Two armed men in a skiff, who are looking for runaway slaves, summon him. He goes through a terrible mental dilemma but decides against letting Jim down. They come across two slave hunters and Huck pretends that the other man on the raft is his father who is suffering from Smallpox. The men believe him. More importantly, they dread the prospect of catching an infection and find it a better deal to leave him alone with forty dollars as help. Soon, Huck and Jim realize that they had passed Cairo that night in the fog.


      A few days later, a steamboat runs over the raft, forcing Huck and Jim to jump overboard. The two boys get separated again and Huck lands at the house of the Grangerfords, a family belonging to the Southern Aristocracy. Huck is introduced to the family and makes friends with the youngest son, Buck. The latter tells him about the age-old family feud with the Shepherdsons, another Southern Aristocratic family. Soon, the slave of the family reveals to Huck that Jim is hiding in a nearby swamp. iuck goes to meet him and both are happy to know that the other is safe. Everything goes on serenely until, one day, Miss Sophia Grangerford elopes with Harvey Shepherdson, thus rekindling the feud. This leads to a bloody fight that kills all men in the Grangerford family including Buck. This saddens Huck because Buck had, by now, become a very dear friend. Huck laments over the death of his good friend, Buck, and then runs back to the swamp and finds Jim. Jim is elated on seeing him alive. They decide to sail downriver in the raft that Jim has repaired.


      During their journey downriver, they meet two frauds. The older one introduces himself as Louis the XVII while the younger one pretends to be the Duke of Bridgewater, both of whom lament the loss of their fortune and status. Both Huck and Jim feel sorry for their predicament and vow to indulge them with all the respectability and politesse that becomes royalty. Immediately, the two newcomers assume charge of the raft. Huck, after observing their behavior for some time, concludes that they are no royalty but plain "low-down humbugs and frauds". He decides against divulging his real feelings to anybody and simply lets them be. He keeps his feelings secret from Jim as well because he is not sure how Jim would react to it. After some time, the two frauds execute various strategies to dupe people and raise money. On one such Occasion, they hold a "Royal Nonesuch". Presenting a show on Shakespeare's famous tragedies, they raise more than four hundred and sixty-five dollars. When the people realize they have been duped, they plan revenge but the swindlers escape with all their booty.

      Going further downriver, the four of them bump into a young man on his way to Orleans. He tells them about a wealthy tanner, Peter Wilks' death, and the large fortune that he has left behind for his family consisting of three nieces and two brothers. He also tells them that the two brothers are expected any moment from England. The two frauds extract as much information from the young man as they can, and subsequently, proceed to pretend like the two English brothers of the deceased. The nieces are so happy to see their "uncles" that they fail to see behind the masquerade. Everyone, except a doctor named Robinson, reposes unshakable trust in the "Duke" and the "King". Capitalizing on the gullibility of the townspeople, the two men leave no stone unturned to rob the family. Huck empathizes with the innocent girls and vows to salvage the situation for them. He reveals the evil designs of the girls' uncles" and takes Mary Jane, the eldest, into confidence. He steals the bag of gold from the King's room and hides it in Peter Wilks' coffin. Soon afterward, the real brothers of Peter Wilks arrive. The townspeople try to ascertain the authenticity of the four men. The two frauds fake their roles so perfectly that it becomes difficult to do so, until one of the real brothers mentions the tattoo on the deceased's chest. He dares the King to identify it. To establish the truth of this claim, it is decided to unearth the coffin. In doing so, the bag of gold is discovered. Huck runs for dear life. The king and Duke also escape and join Huck and Jim after some time.


      Farther down the river, the Duke and King sell Jim to a family. When Huck realizes this, he decides to go to their house and look for a way to rescue Jim. Fortunately, the family is that of Tom Sawyer s aunt, Aunt Sally. Her Husband, Uncle Silas is a kind, old man. Since, Aunt Sally is expecting her nephew, Tom, to visit her, Huck pretends to be Tom. He feels at home with the old couple. The real Tom arrives and pretends to be Tom's younger brother, Sid Sawyer. Together, they plan to rescue Jim from captivity. Tom, driven by all the prison stories and novels of adventure, wants to escape as complicated and adventurous as possible. Though there is a fairly simple way to help Jim escape Tom thinks of more and more complicated ways. He makes it very difficult for Jim by making him write mournful inscriptions on pieces of rock. He almost tortures him by forcing him to have spiders, rats, and snakes as inmates in his cabin. Though Huck does not subscribe to all of Tom's plans, nevertheless, he acquiesces with the latter because he does not see any other way out of the terrible situation. At this juncture Jim's freedom and safety are most important to him and, therefore, he lets Tom take the reins of the escapade into his own hands and simply goes according to his directions.

      One fine day, they come to know about Uncle Silas' plans to advertise for Jim in the local newspapers. Huck starts panicking and urges Tom to hurry up the entire exercise of Jim's escape. Through a unanimous letter, they convince the townspeople that a gang of robbers is plotting to rob Jim. Everybody takes these threats seriously and plans to confront the gang. That night, misconstruing the boys as the members of the "gang", the armed men run after them. During the chase, Tom gets shot in his leg Seeing his condition, Jim refuses to leave him. Despite Tom's protests, Huck goes to look for a doctor and leaves Jim by Tom's side. Huck returns home and the others are very worried about Tom who is still missing. The doctor returns with Tom, on a stretcher, and Jim, all tied up again. Jim is treated badly and cursed for attempting to escape. The doctor comes to his rescue by putting in a good word for him. He tells everyone that, without Jim's help, it would have become difficult to manage the wounded Tom. This makes the people mellow down and treat Jim with more kindness.


      When Tom is apprised of Jim's recapture, he protests vehemently and reveals the fact about Miss Watson's Will. Tom tells everyone present that the lady, before dying, had freed Jim of his slavery. Jim has been a free man for the past two months - a fact that was known only to Tom. Subsequently, Tom rattles off the fact he, along with Huck and Jim, were party to all this game of Jim's escape. When everyone becomes aware of the reality, that the anonymous letter was, the brainchild of Tom, they are confounded. Shortly afterward, Aunt Polly, Aunt Sally's sister, and Tom's guardian, walks in and exposes the real identity of both the boys.

      The mystery, having been solved, Jim is a free man. Tom feels better and stronger and proposes another plan to seek more adventure amongst the "Injuns over in the Territory". Huck gives his consent but soon realizes that, by now, his father must have used up all his money. At this point, Jim makes an important revelation - that regarding Pap's death. He tells Huck that the body that they had seen in the floating frame house was that of Pap. Aunt Sally offers to "adopt" Huck but Huck protests vehemently. He decides to flee to the "Territory" amongst the "Injuns" to avoid an attempt by Aunt Sally to civilize him. He dreads the prospect, because he has already gone through enough of this, and is glad that the story has come to an end.

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