What three things strengthen Huck's allegiance to Jim and what's the moral dilemma that ends with the letter to Miss Watson in Chapter 31?

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kipling2448 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn provides a number of moral quandaries in which Huck and Jim find themselves.  Already confronted with whether to run away from the Widow Douglas and whether to join Tom Sawyer’s “band of robbers,” the quandaries confronting Huck after he teams up with Jim take on a whole new dimension.  No longer are the ethical dilemmas confined to the relatively benign and inconsequential choices of whether to participate in a make-believe band of brigands, or whether to reject the Biblical teachings of the Widow Douglas.  Now, the choices involve fundamental questions of human dignity.  In Chapter Fifteen, Jim has fallen asleep and dreamt that Huck had disappeared, possibly drowned, and was clearly upset that Huck had been dishonest with him earlier.  Huck’s feelings of guilt indicate a growing sense of empathy and the development of an increasingly stronger bond between the two:

“It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger; but I done it, and I warn’t ever sorry for it afterwards, neither. I didn’t do him no more mean tricks, and I wouldn’t done that one if I’d a knowed it would make him feel that way.”

In Chapter Sixteen, as the two begin to develop a sense of freedom, with Jim confident that they have reached freedom, Huck experiences pangs of conscience regarding his role in Jim’s escape:

“Jim said it made him all over trembly and feverish to be so close to freedom. Well, I can tell you it made me all over trembly and feverish, too . . . because I begun to get it through my head that he was most free—and who was to blame for it? Why, me. I couldn’t get that out of my conscience . . .It got to troubling me so I couldn’t rest; I couldn’t stay still in one place. It hadn’t ever come home to me before, what this thing was that I was doing. But now it did; and it stayed with me . . . I tried to make out to myself that I warn’t to blame, because I didn’t run Jim off from his rightful owner; but it warn’t no use, conscience up and says, every time, “But you knowed he was running for his freedom, and you could a paddled ashore and told somebody.”

The moral quandaries that confront Huck throughout the story begin increasingly to hinge on his growing love for the escaped slave.  Huck begins to question whether he was, in fact, doing Jim a favor by abetting his escape.  After Jim has been captured in one of the communities they chance upon, and is facing a fate worse than that from which he as fled, Huck pens his letter to Miss Watson:

“So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn’t know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I’ll go and write the letter—and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper and a pencil, all glad and excited, and set down and wrote:

‘Miss Watson, your runaway nigger Jim is down here two mile below Pikesville, and Mr. Phelps has got him and he will give him up for the reward if you send. HUCK FINN.’

I felt good and all washed clean of sin for the first time . . .”

Huck and Jim have developed a relationship of mutual love and respect.  Jim has proven himself in Huck’s eyes to be a better person than any Huck has encountered along their journey.  But he remains tormented by the possibility that Jim’s fate could turn out worse than had they stayed put.

Read the study guide:
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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