While Huck and Jim are on the raft they are simply a man and a boy. For, aboard the raft with only the open sky for a roof, Jim is a free man, and Huck is relieved of the laws and restraints of his society in which color distinguishes people; on the river that flows freely without the interference of men, Jim and Huck can cast off the restrictions of their lives on land and reveal their true natures.
When Huck and Jim spot a frame house floating downstream, they gather what they can, along with some floating lumber, and they construct a raft with a wigwam and an area for a fire. Later on, they spot a steamboat that ran onto a rock. But, because Huck discovers that there are men inside, he feels compelled to help them. So, he makes up a story about his family being hurt and gets a watchman to investigate. For a while he does not see the Jim's light on an island, but finally he does. They tie the raft and "slept like dead people." The next day Jim tells Huck that after he came out of the damaged ship and when he looked for the raft, he nearly died because he figured that "it was all up with him,"
...if he didn't get saved he would get drownded; and if he did get saved, whoever saved him would send him back home so as to get a reward, then Miss Watson would sell him sure. Well, he was right; he was most always right; he had an uncommon level head, for a n****'
Here in this passage, Huck begins to perceive Jim as, at the very least, a fellow human being. Shortly after this, in Chapter XV, Huck and Jim become separated when Huck takes the canoe in order to find somewhere to tie the raft until the fog dissipates. But, he can find no such place. By now, he hears Jim, but it sounds as though Jim is behind him; Huck realizes that Jim is on the other side of the island now. When Huck finally reaches Jim, the man has his head on his knees as he has fallen asleep. Awakened by Huck, Jim exclaims,
..."It's too good for true, honey it's too good for true. Lemme look at you, child, lemme feel o' you....de same ole Huck, thanks to goodness!"
Cruelly, then, Huck pretends that he has been on the raft all along. At first, Jim believes Huck; however, when he notices all the debris upon the raft, he realizes that he has been tricked by Huck. Angry and hurt, Jim scolds Huck and walks to the wigwam. Huck feels so ashamed to have hurt Jim,
It was fifteen minutes before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a n****--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 XXIII, Huck hears Jim as he misses his wife and children; Huck observes,
I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks does for their'n. It don't seem natural, but I reckon it's so.
Finally, from his experiences with Jim, Huck has learned to value the man as a friend. He wrestles with his conscience, deciding to write to Miss Watson that Jim is on the Phelps Plantation, but he throws the letter away, deciding that he will "steal Jim out of slavery again and "just go to hell."
And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me, all the time, in the day, and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a floating along, talking, and singing, and laughing. But somehow I couldn't seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind.