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.