Mark Twain blends many comic elements into the story of Huck Finn, a boy about 13 years old, living in pre-Civil War Missouri. Huck, the novel’s narrator, has been living with the Widow Douglas and her sister, Miss Watson, in the town of St. Petersburg. They have been trying to “sivilize” him with proper dress, manners, and religious piety. He finds this life constraining and false and would rather live free and wild. When his father hears that Huck has come into a large amount of money, he kidnaps him and locks him in an old cabin across the river. To avoid his father’s cruel beatings, Huck elaborately stages his own death and then escapes to Jackson’s Island. He finds Jim, Miss Watson’s runaway slave, on the island, and the two decide to hide out together. To avoid danger of discovery, they decide to float down the river on a raft they had found earlier. Sleeping during the day and traveling at night, they plan to connect with the Ohio River at Cairo, Illinois, which would lead them north into the free states, where slavery is outlawed. They miss Cairo in the fog one night and find themselves floating deeper into slave territory. While they are searching for a canoe, a steamship hits the raft and damages it. Huck and Jim are separated.
Huck swims ashore where he meets the feuding Grangerfords and Shepherdsons. He claims to be George Jackson, a passenger who fell from a steamboat and swam to shore. After witnessing a violent eruption of the feud in which many people are killed, he finds Jim, and they return to the raft.
They continue down the river. Two conmen, calling themselves a king and a duke, find their way to the raft. In one of the towns the king and the duke impersonate the two brothers of Peter Wilks, who has just died and left a small fortune. Huck thwarts their plan to swindle Wilks’ family out of their inheritance. The king and the duke escape, but further down the river the two decide to sell Jim to Silas Phelps, who turns out to be Tom Sawyer’s uncle.
Visiting his aunt and uncle, Tom persuades Huck to join him in an elaborate, ridiculous plan to free Jim. Huck prefers a quicker escape for Jim but caves in to Tom’s wishes. Only after Tom’s plan has been played out, and Jim recaptured, does Tom reveal that Miss Watson had actually freed Jim two months earlier, just before she died. Huck decides to “light out for the Territory,” to head west toward the frontier before anyone can attempt to “sivilize” him again.
List of Characters
Huckleberry Finn—Narrator of the novel. Son of the town drunkard. The Widow Douglas, his guardian, tries to “sivilize” him.
Jim—Miss Watson’s black slave. Huckleberry Finn’s traveling companion on the raft. Widow Douglas—Huck’s guardian while his pap is gone. She is determined to civilize Huck.
Miss Watson—The widow’s sister who tries to improve Huck’s manners.
Tom Sawyer—Huck’s best friend who conjures up intriguing plans derived from his imagination and the books he reads.
Pap—Huck’s drunken father who kidnaps Huck and locks him in a cabin.
Aunt Polly—Tom Sawyer’s aunt and guardian.
Judge Thatcher—The good-hearted judge who invests Huck’s money.
Tommy Barnes, Jo Harper, and Ben Rogers—Members of Tom and Huck’s gang.
Mrs. Judith Loftus—A lady whom Huck visits while he is disguised as a girl.
Bill and Jim Turner, Jake Packard—Men whom Huck discovers arguing on a sinking ship.
The Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons—Two feuding families. The Grangerfords adopt Huck for a time.
The duke and the king—Two conmen who pretend to be royalty. They join Huck and Jim on the raft. They also appear as impostors at the funeral of Peter Wilks.
Buck Harkness—He tries to turn the people against Colonel Sherburn.
Boggs—Drunkard in Arkansas who is shot by Colonel Sherburn.
Colonel Sherburn—The man who shoots Boggs.
Peter Wilks—A wealthy man who has died. The family is waiting for his brothers from England to attend the funeral.
Mary Jane, Joanna, and Susan—The three nieces of the dead Peter Wilks.
William and Harvey Wilks—Peter Wilks’ two brothers from England whom the duke and the king impersonate.
Levi Bell and Dr. Robinson—A lawyer and a doctor who suspect that the king and the duke are frauds.
Silas Phelps—Aunt Sally’s husband who buys Jim.
Aunt Sally Phelps—Silas Phelps’ wife. Tom Sawyer’s Aunt Sally.
Estimated Reading Time
The reading of the novel is slowed somewhat by an unfamiliarity with Twain’s use of regional dialects and nonstandard English. After the first few chapters, a familiarity with the unique speech of each of the characters should, however, speed the reading process. The reader should be able to finish the novel in approximately 12 hours.
Summary (Masterplots, Revised Second Edition)
Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn had found a box of gold in a robber’s cave. After Judge Thatcher had taken the money and invested it for the boys, each had the huge allowance of a dollar a day. The Widow Douglas and her sister, Miss Watson, had taken Huck home with them to try to reform him. At first, Huck could not stand living in a tidy house where smoking and swearing were forbidden. Worse, he had to go to school and learn how to read. He did, however, manage to drag himself to school almost every day, except for the times when he sneaked off for a smoke in the woods or to go fishing on the Mississippi River.
Life was beginning to become bearable to him when one day he noticed a boot print in the snow. Examining it closely, he realized that it belonged to his worthless father, whom he had not seen for more than a year. Knowing that his father would be looking for him when he learned about the money, Huck rushed to Judge Thatcher and persuaded him to take the fortune for himself. The judge was puzzled, but he signed some papers, and Huck was satisfied that he no longer had any money for his father to take from him.
Huck’s father showed up one night in Huck’s room at Widow Douglas’ home. Complaining that he had been cheated out of his money, the old drunkard later took Huck away with him to a cabin in the Illinois woods, where he kept the boy a prisoner, beating him periodically and half starving him. Huck was allowed to smoke and swear, however, and before long he began to wonder why he had ever liked living with the widow. His life with his father would have been pleasant if it had not been for the beatings. One day, he sneaked away, leaving a bloody trail from a pig he had killed in the woods. Huck wanted everyone to believe he was dead. He climbed into a canoe and went to Jackson’s Island to hide until all the excitement had blown over.
After three days of freedom, Huck wandered to another part of the island, and there he discovered Jim, Miss Watson’s black slave, who told Huck that he had run off because he had overheard Miss Watson planning to sell him down south for eight hundred dollars. Huck swore he would not report Jim. The two stayed on the island many days, Jim giving Huck an education in primitive superstition. One night, Huck paddled back to the mainland. Disguised as a girl, he called on a home near the shore. There he learned that his father had disappeared shortly after the people of the town concluded that Huck had been murdered. Since Jim had disappeared just after Huck’s apparent death, there was now a three-hundred-dollar reward posted for Jim’s capture, for most people believed that he had killed Huck.
Knowing that Jackson’s Island would soon be searched, Huck hurried back to Jim, and the two headed down the Mississippi on a raft. They planned to sell the raft at Cairo, Illinois, and then go on a steamboat up the Ohio River into free territory. Jim told Huck that he would work hard in the North and then buy his wife and children from their masters in the South. Helping a runaway slave bothered Huck’s conscience, but he reasoned that it would bother him more if he betrayed a good friend. One night, as they were drifting down the river on their raft, a large steamboat loomed before them, and Huck and Jim, knowing that the raft would be smashed under the hull of the ship, jumped into the water. Huck swam safely to shore, but Jim disappeared.
Huck found a home with a friendly family named Grangerford, who were feuding with the nearby Shepherdson family. The Grangerfords treated Huck kindly and left him mostly to himself, even giving him a young slave to wait on him. One day, the slave asked him to come to the woods to see some snakes. Following the boy, Huck came across Jim, who had been hiding in the woods waiting...
(The entire section is 1557 words.)
Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Adventures of Huckleberry Finn may at first have seemed to Twain to be an obvious and easy sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, but this book, begun in the mid-1870 s, then abandoned, then taken up again in 1880 and dropped again, was not ready to be published until 1884. It was worth the delay. It proved to be Twain’s finest novel—not merely his finest juvenile work but his best fiction, and a book that has taken its place as one of the greatest novels written in the United States. In some ways it is a simpler novel than The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; it has nothing like the complication of plot which made that earlier novel so compelling.
Huck, harassed by the Widow Douglas and her...
(The entire section is 1353 words.)
Summary (Censorship (Ready Reference series))
The story of a poor and uneducated boy from eastern Missouri, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is narrated by Huck himself. He relates his adventures as he travels down the Mississippi River on a raft with a runaway slave named Jim. The book satirizes antebellum Southern society and the constraints of civilization, which both Huck and Jim are attempting to escape. Mark Twain’s use of dialects is one of the most original and influential aspects of the novel, and in many ways sets it apart as a masterwork of American literature. However, his use of dialect has also sparked controversy.
Almost immediately upon publication, the rough language Huck uses evoked calls for excluding the book from libraries. As the...
(The entire section is 420 words.)
Chapter Summary and Analysis
Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis
Huckleberry Finn: the protagonist and narrator
Widow Douglas: Huck’s guardian
Miss Watson: the widow’s sister
Tom Sawyer: Huck’s best friend
Huck Finn introduces himself as a character who has already appeared in Mark Twain’s earlier novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. He briefly reviews the end of Tom Sawyer’s story, reminding the reader how he and Tom found money that robbers had hidden in a cave. Judge Thatcher has invested the money for them, six thousand dollars apiece in gold, and the interest alone is now worth a dollar a day, a large amount of money at that time.
The Widow Douglas has...
(The entire section is 515 words.)
Chapters 2 and 3 Summary and Analysis
Jim: Miss Watson’s black slave
Jo Harper and Ben Rogers: two members of Tom and Huck’s gang
Tommy Barnes: the youngest member of the gang
As Huck and Tom Sawyer tiptoe through the garden, Huck stumbles over a root, which gets the attention of Jim, Miss Watson’s slave. He calls out, but the boys, afraid of being caught sneaking out at night, become extremely quiet. Jim sits down between them but falls asleep before he is aware that they are near enough to touch. Tom cannot resist the temptation to play a trick on Jim. He hangs Jim’s hat in the tree, knowing that Jim will wonder how it got there. The next day, seeing his...
(The entire section is 655 words.)
Chapters 4 and 5 Summary and Analysis
Judge Thatcher: former judge who invests Huck’s money for him
Pap: Huck’s father
The new judge: tries to reform Pap
The new judge’s wife: takes Pap into her house
Huck has been going to school for about three or four months and has learned to read and write. Although he plays “hooky” occasionally, he is learning to tolerate school. He is also becoming more comfortable living with the widow.
Huck has almost forgotten his father until one day he sees his footprints in the snow. Pap’s bootheel has left the imprint of a cross made of nails, used to ward off the devil. Afraid his father has come...
(The entire section is 673 words.)
Chapters 6 and 7 Summary and Analysis
Huck continues to go to school despite the thrashings from his father. With a firm resoluteness he is determined to continue his education, more to spite his father than for any other reason. Pap is waiting around for the court to decide about Huck’s money, but it is a slow process. He hangs around the Widow Douglas’ house too much, and she threatens to make trouble for him. Angered by her attempts to intimidate him, he decides to kidnap Huck and head for the Illinois side of the river in a skiff. They settle in an old abandoned cabin where he keeps Huck locked up when he goes into town for supplies. In spite of all this, living in the woods is relaxing and easy for Huck, and he wonders why he had...
(The entire section is 578 words.)
Chapters 8 and 9 Summary and Analysis
Huck has a comfortable feeling as he wakes up on Jackson’s Island the next morning. Too lazy to get up and cook breakfast, he watches the sun filter through the tall trees, spotting the ground with “freckled places.” His peace is soon interrupted, however, with the loud “boom” of the cannon being fired from a ferryboat loaded with prominent townspeople who are looking for his murdered body. The cannon is fired over the water periodically to make Huck’s supposed dead body come to the surface. Since he has had no breakfast, he is getting hungry, but he does not dare risk starting a fire because he is afraid they will see the smoke. He suddenly remembers that loaves of bread, filled with...
(The entire section is 1062 words.)
Chapters 10 and 11 Summary and Analysis
Mrs. Judith Loftus: a lady whom Huck visits in town
The next morning Huck wants to discuss the dead man he and Jim had seen in the two-story frame house, but Jim says talking about it will bring bad luck. Huck argues that touching a snakeskin with his hands was supposed to have brought bad luck too, but to the contrary they have found all those useful items in the floating house and eight dollars besides. They have, in his opinion, had nothing but good luck. Jim’s predictions come true, however, when a rattlesnake bites him that evening. Huck plays a joke on Jim by putting a dead rattlesnake in his blanket. When Jim goes to bed, the snake’s mate is...
(The entire section is 847 words.)
Chapters 12 and 13 Summary and Analysis
Jim Turner: robber and potential informer on the Walter Scott
Bill and Jake Packard: robbers conspiring to kill Jim Turner
Captain: watchman of the ferryboat
After traveling all night, Huck and Jim tie up to a towhead on the Illinois side of the river. The towhead, a sandbar thick with cottonwood trees, is an ideal spot to hide during the day and watch the steamboats go up and down the river. Killing time until dark, Huck tells Jim all about his conversation with the woman on the shore. He explains that he had built the campfire to throw the woman’s husband off track, but Jim maintains that if her husband was as smart...
(The entire section is 1191 words.)
Chapters 14 and 15 Summary and Analysis
Jim and Huck take a breather after their narrow escape from the wrecked steamboat and the gang of robbers. They spend time looking over their “truck,” or goods, that the robber gang had stolen and loaded into the skiff. They find interesting articles of clothing, books, blankets, and boots, but the most valuable find is the boxes of cigars. They spend all afternoon talking, and Huck reads the newly-acquired books about kings, dukes, and earls. They get into a lengthy discussion about how royalty wears fancy clothes and everyone addresses them with “your majesty, your lordship, or your grace.” King Solomon from the Bible is the only king Jim has ever heard of, and he is not impressed with him....
(The entire section is 669 words.)
Chapters 16 and 17 Summary and Analysis
Two men on a skiff: men looking for runaway slaves
Buck Grangerford: a boy Huck’s age
Bob and Tom: members of the Grangerford family
Betsy: Grangerford’s slave
Huck and Jim rest all day and start for Cairo at dark. When he thinks about Cairo and gaining his freedom, Jim’s excitement mounts, but Huck becomes increasingly uneasy. Painfully aware that he is helping a slave escape to freedom, his conscience suddenly bothers him. This time he cannot seem to rationalize his actions as he has done before. He does not think Miss Watson, Jim’s owner, deserves such treatment. When Jim incessantly chatters on about...
(The entire section is 961 words.)
Chapters 18 and 19 Summary and Analysis
Colonel Grangerford: father of the Grangerford family
Mrs. Grangerford: mother of the family
Miss Charlotte: member of the family (twenty-five years old)
Miss Sophia: her twenty-year-old sister
Harney Sheperdson: the man Miss Sophia marries
Jack: Huck’s personal servant
Duke of Bridgewater: an imposter
The Dauphin: an imposter, supposed son of the late Louis XVI, King of France
Huck’s description of Colonel Grangerford, from his white linen suit to his gentlemanly ways, paints a picture of a typical aristocratic landowner of the day. He is a wealthy man who supplies...
(The entire section is 1159 words.)
Chapters 20 and 21 Summary and Analysis
Boggs: drunkard shot by Colonel Sherburn
Colonel Sherburn: the man who shoots Boggs
The king and the duke question the idea of traveling by night and hiding by day. Huck responds with common sense to their suspicions that Jim might be a runaway slave. He assures them that a runaway would not be traveling south. In order to be more convincing, however, he produces another imaginary story about his whole family dying and leaving him, after the debts are paid, with only sixteen dollars and the family slave Jim. His pa and four-year-old brother had fallen off the raft and drowned, so he and Jim are the only ones left. He explains that they...
(The entire section is 968 words.)
Chapters 22 and 23 Summary and Analysis
Buck Harkness: man who leads the lynch mob
After the shooting, someone in town suggests that Colonel Sherburn should be lynched, and the people, led by Buck Harkness, suddenly go wild. The crowd turns into an angry mob, stopping at nothing in pursuit of revenge against Sherburn. Even children run for their lives to get out of the way of the raging mob. In a frenzy they tear down Colonel Sherburn’s picket fence and pour into his yard, ready for action.
The crowd suddenly calms down, however, when Sherburn steps out onto the roof of his porch flashing a double-barrel gun. At first he simply stares at them, saying nothing, but then he laughs...
(The entire section is 814 words.)
Chapters 24 and 25 Summary and Analysis
Mary Jane Wilks: nineteen-year-old daughter of Peter Wilks
Susan Wilks: her sister, age 15
Joanna Wilks: the youngest sister, age 14
Dr. Robinson: Peter Wilks’ friend before Wilks died
The king and the duke waste no time making plans to “work the towns” again for more money as soon as an opportunity arises. Their escapades into town have been difficult for Jim, however. He has been posing as a runaway slave who needs to be tied up while they are gone. To avoid any further discomfort for Jim, the duke devises an ingenious disguise so that people will think he is a sick Arab instead of a runaway slave. He dresses...
(The entire section is 1131 words.)
Chapters 26 and 27 Summary and Analysis
After Dr. Robinson leaves, Mary Jane takes the visitors up to their rooms. The duke is assigned the spare room, Huck will sleep in the garret or attic, and the king is given Mary Jane’s room.
At supper that night, Huck is obligated to stand behind the king and the duke and wait on them since he is posing as their servant. The women make degrading comments about their own cooking in order to draw compliments from their guests. Huck and Joanna eat later in the kitchen. The charade is nearly exposed as she questions him about England. His information is sketchy at best, and he often contradicts himself. While Joanna is accusing him of lying, Mary Jane and Susan step into the room and...
(The entire section is 977 words.)
Chapters 28 and 29 Summary and Analysis
Harvey Wilks: Peter Wilks’ true brother
William Wilks: deaf brother of Peter Wilks
Levi Bell: Peter Wilks’ lawyer friend
Hines: a husky man who believes the king is an imposter
In the morning, Huck passes Mary Jane’s room and sees her crying through the open door. Heartbroken about the separation of the slaves’ families, she tells Huck that her beautiful trip to England is spoiled. Uneasy about her crying, Huck quickly replies that the slaves will be back in less than two weeks. He has spoken too soon, but since he is in a “tight place,” he decides to tell the truth even though it is risky. He asks Mary...
(The entire section is 1090 words.)
Chapters 30 and 31 Summary and Analysis
The king, angry at Huck for trying to give them “the slip,” grabs him by the collar when they catch up with the raft. Afraid for his life, Huck tries to appease him with a story about the nice man who had held his hand on the way to the cemetery. Because he reminded him of his dead son, the man let him go, telling him to run for his life. Jim verifies Huck’s story, and finally the duke comes to Huck’s defense, reminding the king that he had not been concerned about Huck’s whereabouts when they had run from the scene.
The king and duke begin to argue and blame each other for hiding the money in the coffin. They both acknowledge the fact that they were tempted to keep the money for...
(The entire section is 1233 words.)
Chapters 32 and 33 Summary and Analysis
Mr. Silas Phelps: Tom Sawyer’s uncle
Mrs. Sally Phelps: Tom’s aunt
Huck arrives at the Phelps Plantation, noticing that things are rather “still and Sunday-like.” Everyone seems to be out in the fields, and Huck paints a rather bleak picture of the depressing surroundings. As he approaches the kitchen, he hears the hum of a spinning wheel. He walks up to the house, trying to decide what to say but finally leaving it to Providence. He has aroused fifteen of the sleeping dogs that quickly surround him with their barking and howling. With her rolling pin raised, a servant steps out and silences them. Hearing the commotion, Mrs. Phelps...
(The entire section is 1116 words.)
Chapters 34 and 35 Summary and Analysis
Nat: a slave who brings food to Jim
Tom uncovers the secret of Jim’s whereabouts on the Phelps Plantation by observing one of the slaves bringing watermelon, along with other food, to a nearby hut. Since he would not be feeding watermelon to dogs, it follows that someone must be in the hut. The door to the hut is locked, and Uncle Silas holds the key. Sure that the prisoner must be Jim, Huck and Tom begin immediately to make plans to rescue him. Huck’s plan is easy. He suggests they steal the key out of Uncle Silas’s pants pocket, release Jim, and take off down the river on Huck’s raft. Tom criticizes the plan for being “mild as goosemilk.”...
(The entire section is 1096 words.)
Chapters 36 and 37 Summary and Analysis
Tom and Huck get right to work digging a tunnel into Jim’s cabin with their case knives. After several hours their hands are sore in spite of the fact that they have made little progress. Tom finally admits that his plan will not work, so they change to picks pretending they are case knives. Happy that Tom is finally becoming level-headed, Huck wholeheartedly agrees with the change of plan. They dig a sizable hole and decide to continue the next day. As usual Tom tries to climb up the lightning rod to the second floor. Dead tired and sore, he finally agrees to “let on” that the stairs are lightning rods after a bit of coaxing from Huck.
Between them the boys manage to pilfer a pewter...
(The entire section is 949 words.)
Chapters 38 and 39 Summary and Analysis
While Jim and Huck file pens out of candlesticks and a saw out of a case knife, Tom is busy working on the coat of arms for Jim. He comes up with one that is unintelligible, but it does not seem to matter as long as it comes from a book. Huck questions the meaning of such terms as “fess” and “bar sinister,” but Tom refuses to answer. Since dungeon walls were always made of stone, Tom suddenly strikes upon the idea that they could chisel both the coat of arms and the mournful inscriptions on one rock. He suggests they use the grindstone down at the mill. Huck and Tom find it too heavy to move to the cabin, however, so they decide to ask Jim to help them. He willingly takes the chain off the...
(The entire section is 1062 words.)
Chapters 40 and 41 Summary and Analysis
The Doctor: removes the bullet from Tom’s leg
Old Mrs. Hotchkiss: a neighbor of the Phelps
After the last warning note has been sent, Huck and Tom take a picnic lunch and go fishing in the river. They check out the raft to make sure everything is in order. When they arrive home for supper that night, everyone in the house is in a state of frenzy. Worried about the threatening letter, Aunt Sally hustles them up to bed after supper without a word.
At half past eleven the boys get up and begin eating the lunch they had stolen from the cellar cupboard. Noticing the butter is missing, Tom sends Huck back to the cellar to get it...
(The entire section is 1176 words.)
Chapters 42 and 43 Summary and Analysis
The next morning Uncle Silas looks for Tom in town but comes back discouraged. He hands Aunt Sally a letter from her sister that he had picked up at the post office the day before. She starts to open the letter, but glances out of the window and drops it as she sees Tom being brought in on a mattress. He is followed by the doctor and Jim, who has his hands tied behind his back. Thinking Tom is dead, Aunt Sally runs up to him, but he is delirious and can only mutter something unintelligible. Aunt Sally is happy just to see him alive.
While the others go into the house with Tom, Huck follows the men who take Jim back to his cabin. He hears them cursing Jim and giving him an occasional blow...
(The entire section is 1094 words.)