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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

by Mark Twain

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How does Huck feel about the killing of Boggs in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

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During their journey downriver in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain, Huck and Jim, the runaway slave, meet up with two con men. One calls himself the Duke of Bridgewater, and the other says he is the Dauphin, the rightful heir to the throne of France. In chapter 21, the duke and the king plan to enact various scenes from Shakespeare in a "one-horse town" in Arkansas.

After sticking up advertisements for the performance, Huck wanders around town, noticing the poorly-made shacks, weed-strewn gardens, mud streets, ubiquitous trash, and lazy, tobacco-chewing inhabitants. Boggs is an old man who lives in the country. He shows up in town for what some of the bystanders say is his "little old monthly drunk." Boggs rides into town already drunk and "whooping and yelling like an Injun." Through the townspeople bantering back and forth, Huck learns that Boggs has come to town to kill Colonel Sherburn, who he accuses of having swindled him. When Boggs encounters Sherburn, he follows him around cursing him until Sherburn gets fed up and shoots him dead in the street.

At first Huck seems merely curious. He observes the body and then watches in interest as a lanky man paces out the event and notes the places where Boggs and Sherburn stood. In chapter 22, a mob moves on Sherburn's house to lynch him, but Sherburn comes out on his porch with a shotgun and talks them down. The crowd disperses, and Huck says, "I could a stayed if I wanted to, but I didn't want to."

Although Huck, as the narrator, could have explained his feelings about this incident, he doesn't. He relates it as if it is another curiosity that he encounters on his journey. A clue to his attitude is in his fairly comprehensive description of the town when he first enters it. He is used to visiting this kind of town with these types of people, and he doesn't find anything particularly unusual about the behavior of Boggs or of Colonel Sherburn. That's why the death of Boggs does not deeply affect him.

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Huck doesn't state how he feels personally about Bogg's death. Nor does he give away much about how he feels in the way he reacts. He does seem to feel an affinity with him. On page 88 he implies he is annoyed at how the the towns people are using the drunk Boggs for their own entertainment. However from the moment Boggs rides in to town to the moment Colonel Sherburn shoots him dead, Huck's role only seems to that of a neutral observer.

Maybe it's because he has already gone through so much and therefore is no longer surprised at the cruelty of people who are older than him and supposedly his superiors. Even in this chapter, Boggs scares Huck by asking him, "You prepared to die?" Whether he means what he says or not, it still has a strong impact on a young boy who has already witnessed the death...

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of his friend Buck.

In this respect, Huck's sympathy is reserved for Bogg's daughter. As she is weeping over her dead father's body, Huck states

She was about sixteen, and very sweet and gentle looking, but awful pale and scared.

He possibly feels drawn to her because she has been, like him, let down by the adult world.

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Huck has seen plenty of death in a few short chapters in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  In Chapter 18, he sees his friend Buck die in the bloody shoot out during the family feud between the Shepardsons and the Grangerfords, and just a few short chapters later, he sees the unnecessary killing of Boggs in Chapter 21. Both deaths were on account of pride and honor, something Twain feels isn’t reason enough to kill someone. Through Huck and these two episodes, Twain shares this message. 

In many ways, Huck might also see his own father, Pap, in Boggs.  Like Pap, Boggs is the town drunk, and for some reason, Boggs has gotten on the bad side of the rich and powerful, Colonel Sherburn.  When Boggs insults Sherburn, the Colonel tells him to get out of town, or he will shoot him.  Boggs doesn’t heed the warning although he is starting to sober up and is attempting to get out of town when Sherburn steps out and shoots him in cold blood.

Just like Buck, Boggs is harmless and didn’t deserve to die because of a person’s misguided pride and honor.  These two episodes affect Huck’s understanding of the cruel, inhumane world in which he lives.  Throughout the novel, Huck must deal with violence and cruelty in not only the treatment of the slave, Jim, but also with the needless deaths he witnesses.

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