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In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, how is the steamboat portrayed at the end of...

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thhslax24 | Student | eNotes Newbie

Posted December 26, 2011 at 1:41 PM via web

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In The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, how is the steamboat portrayed at the end of chapter 16?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 2) Distinguished Educator

Posted December 26, 2011 at 3:53 PM (Answer #1)

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Chapter 16 of Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn finds Huck and Jim search of Cairo, Illinois where Jim can go free. When they see lights, Huck sets out in the canoe and inquires of a man setting a trot-line if the town is Cairo, but the man replies no.  So, he returns to the raft and they continue on until they spot a town on high ground and realize they have passed Cairo.  They decide to paddle the canoe back to Cairon; however, after they have rested in a cotton wood thicket, they discover that their canoe has been stolen. So, Jim and Huck get back onto the raft and light the lantern so that steamboats will see them. 

Because raft transportation preceded the steamboat, there was a disdain by steamboat men for the rafters since steamboat'smode of transportation was superior in its quickness and size. Huck narrates that normally the steamboat captains like to have the wheel "bite off a sweep" of a raft as they stick their heads out, laughing at the raftsmen.  But, the steamboat that approaches Jim and Huck's raft does not sheer off and "her monstrous bows and guards hang[ing] right over us." Consequently, Huck and Jim are forced to dive as deeply as they can under the water to keep the wheel of the steamboat from killing them.

Of course there was a booming current; and of course that boat started her engines again ten seconds after she stopped them, for they never cared much for raftsmen; so now she was churning along up the river.

There is clearly an unconcern for the consequences of the steamboat's destruction of Huck and Jim's raft. On the river it is the survival of the largest and strongest.

Interestingly, Mark Twain, whose nom de plume is riverboat slang that means water is at least two fathoms (twelve feet) deep and easily navigable, was himself a steamboat pilot on the Mississippi River, a position that provided him firsthand knowledge of steamboat captains and their attitudes, along with the perils as well as the beauty of the river.

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