What is Twain satirizing through the duke and the king?

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iandavidclark3 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Examples of satire abound in Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, but perhaps none are as excellent as the duke and the king. Two of my personal favorite characters, the duke and the king are conmen whose actions suggest multiple satirical connotations. For our purposes, I'd like to focus on the fact that, by naming two conmen "the duke" and "the king," Twain satirizes political leaders at large.

It quickly becomes clear that the duke and the king are liars and criminals. Juxtaposing their lofty, imagined nobility with their repeated get-rich-quick schemes, Twain shows both men to be opportunistic parasites who prey on the innocent. Between the two of them, the duke and the king swindle several river communities by various means, such as staging a fake play and impersonating a dead man's relatives to steal his inheritance. Additionally, the two men eventually rule the raft with iron fists, ordering Jim and Huck around with authoritarian pomposity. 

By imagining the nobility as a pair of conmen, Twain satirizes ruling classes and political leaders in general. Those in power, Twain's satire suggests, are often little more than thugs, liars, and windbags preying on honest and hardworking civilians. However, Twain does offer some hope in the end. The duke and the king are ultimately tarred and feathered by a disgruntled community, and so Twain suggests that society need not suffer the deceptive games of crooked political leaders. Indeed, Twain suggests that, through cooperative and organized efforts, a community can free itself from parasitic authority figures.  

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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