How would you describe the funeral in Chapter XXVII? How does it help to characterize the townspeople?

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MaudlinStreet | High School Teacher | (Level 2) Senior Educator

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At first, the funeral seems to be what one would expect. It's quiet, people are solemn and each person takes a turn paying respect for the dead. Huck uses the word "solemn" several times to characterize the funeral, which almost makes it seem as though people are overdoing their sadness, or perhaps faking their grief. Certainly not the Wilks girls, but the townspeople may be putting on a show for each other.

Twain does give us more evidence for the funeral being a spectacle for the townspeople in the character of the undertaker. He is described almost as a spectre:

He never spoke; he moved people around, he squeezed in late ones, he opened up passageways, and done it with nods, and signs with his hands. Then he took his place over against the wall. He was the softest, glidingest, stealthiest man I ever see; and there warn't no more smile to him than there is to a ham.

During the preacher's speech, the undertaker goes to the basement to silence a dog that was howling because it had a rat. When the undertaker comes back, he stage whispers this inofrmation to the preacher. Huck notices how happy the townspeople are for that, and says that the undertaker has done a good thing by letting them know too. So we can see that the townspeople like their gossip as well.

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jameadows | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Before Peter Wilks's funeral in Chapter 27, Huck hides the bag of gold in the dead man's coffin (literally in the dead man's hands). Then, the undertaker arrives, and the funeral begins. The townspeople seem to be playing a part and acting like they think mourners should act. As Huck describes them, they "looked down at the dead man’s face a minute, and some dropped in a tear." The undertaker, who Huck describes as "the softest, glidingest, stealthiest man I ever see" arranges the ceremony and the people. Then, everyone hears a racket in the cellar, and the undertaker goes down to the cellar to quiet the dog who is making the noise. When he returns, he has to explain to the mourners that a rat was causing the dog to make noise, and Huck says, "You could see it was a great satisfaction to the people, because naturally they wanted to know."

The townspeople seem to be affecting sorrow but are not truly grieving. If they were, they wouldn't be so perfunctory in their show of grief, and they wouldn't pay so much attention to the howling dog and the undertaker's explanation that the dog had a rat. From this description, we can surmise that the townspeople are superficial and hypocritical, as they pretend to feel grief when they don't. 

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