What's the most important theme of the Wilks brothers episode in Huckleberry Finn?
The Wilks’ episode starts in the chapter 24 of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, when the two conmen, the duke and the king, come to know from a foolish, young man in town about the death of someone called “Peter Wilks” who has left all his heritage to his three nieces (Mary Jane, Susan and Joanna). As we know, the Duke and the king try to deceitfully steal the family riches that rightfully belong to these Wilks’ nieces by pretending to be Peter Wilks’ brothers (William Wilks and Harvey Wilks).
Surprisingly enough, we see that Huck feels ridiculous to let the innocent women be cheated by the duke and the king. He decides to do his best to protect the three sisters from them. From this, we get a glimpse of a very different side of Huck’s nature. We notice that he has grown into a mature and responsible person. He is now acting on his conscience. He wants to help the orphan sisters without any real benefit of his own. When Huck finds duke and the king fooling others, he makes a strong point:
It was enough to make a body ashamed of the human race.
Well, Huck is talking about humanity! There's a development in Huck's character. He feels cheating innocent people is an act of shame. It is important to note that Huck doesn’t openly expose the true identity of the two conmen instantly. Instead, he first tries to fail their plan secretly. He, of course, opens up to Mary Jane later in the novel.
Huck feels miserable when he finds out that Mary Jane (whom he has started liking) is upset because of the separation of a slave mother and her two children. But if we carefully notice, Huck does not seem to be really concerned about the misery of the slave family. It looks like he is upset because Mary Jane is upset. But this isn't that simple. Huck has mixed feelings. He has just learned from Jim’s case that the Blacks too have emotional bonding and familial love just like the Whites. Therefore, he now understands that separating slave children from their parents is totally unjustified and cruel. He is struggling hard with “the right” and “the wrong”, and this is the most important theme that this episode brings with it. Although this all sounds a lot somber and serious, it is important to know that Mark Twain presents these revelations brilliantly with humor and sarcasm.