The Wilks episode contains much humor but also much darkness. What do you find most comical? Most troubling?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The Duke and the Dauphin are both comic characters whose flamboyance and false airs provide much in the way of amusement. Yet at the same time, they're a couple of amoral grifters who'd merrily sell their own grandmothers if the money was right. Although their exploits may be amusing, we're also aware that we're dealing with a couple of serial crooks who routinely con the weak and vulnerable. This adds more than a touch of darkness to their scams.

The Wilks ladies are especially vulnerable on account of their recent loss. They want to believe, for their late father's sake, that the two men who arrive at their house really are their uncles William and Henry. When the Duke and the Dauphin are ripping off greedy suckers, then it's not quite so bad, though still morally and legally unacceptable. But when their latest marks turn out to be sweet, naive, trusting young ladies who've recently suffered a bereavement, then we can only acknowledge the dark void where their souls should be.

Nevertheless, considerable amusement is still to be found in the Wilks episode. Huck gets trapped in a lie, pretending that he attends the same church as the King of England. But as Joanna points out, the king lives in London, whereas Huck claims to live in Sheffield, a city in northern England 142 miles away from the capital. Huck pretends to choke on a chicken bone to give him time to think of a way out of his predicament. But he just keeps on digging himself deeper into trouble, saying that the king regularly stays in Sheffield during the summer to bathe in the sea. Sheffield, however, is landlocked, quite some distance from the coast.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The chapters concerning the duke and dauphin's identity theft and, later, the meeting of the two pairs of Wilks brothers are indeed filled with dark humor and gullible characters. The dauphin's willingness to take every penny possible from the Wilks family shows he is void of sympathy and has no positive traits whatsoever. The ease with which the two scoundrels win over the entire town's confidence is both humorous and disturbing. That it takes the young Huck Finn to thwart the duo's plans and dispose of their riches paints a clear picture of the simple nature of the surviving members of the Wilks family and the foolishness of the townspeople.

My favorite humorous scenes occur when Tom hides among Mary Jane's "frocks" while listening to the plotting duke and dauphin before stealing the gold; and when the second pair of Wilks brothers--the true pair--arrive and come face to face with the fraudulent duo. The most troubling aspect comes when the duke and dauphin escape and meet up with Huck and Jim to resume their con-artistry further down river.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team

We’ll help your grades soar

Start your 48-hour free trial and unlock all the summaries, Q&A, and analyses you need to get better grades now.

  • 30,000+ book summaries
  • 20% study tools discount
  • Ad-free content
  • PDF downloads
  • 300,000+ answers
  • 5-star customer support
Start your 48-Hour Free Trial