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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

by Mark Twain

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Summary

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain is an 1884 novel about a boy named Huck living in the American South who escapes his abusive father and journeys down the Mississippi River.

  • Huck runs into Jim, a runaway slave, and travels with him downriver.
  • Eventually, Huck and Jim pick up two conmen. After Huck exposes them, they turn Jim over to another slave owner.
  • Huck and his friend Tom Sawyer attempt to rescue Jim unsuccessfully. Then it is revealed that Jim’s previous owner died, allowing Jim to go free. Huck decides not to return home and to keep wandering instead.

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Last Updated November 3, 2023.

The book starts with Huckleberry Finn, the first-person narrator, referring to Mark Twain’s earlier novel, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.

This book, which Huck says was mostly truthful, ended with Huck and Tom becoming rich when they discovered a cache of gold, amounting to a fortune of $6,000 for each of them. Huck went to live with the Widow Douglas, a wealthy and respectable woman who, along with her sister, Miss Watson, has been educating and civilizing him.

Many people believe that Huck’s father, a violent, abusive alcoholic, has been drowned, but Huck does not believe it, and he is proved right when one day in winter he sees the print of his father’s boot in the snow. He quickly entrusts all his money to his lawyer, Judge Thatcher, so that his father cannot gain access to it.

His father, whom Huck calls “Pap,” is horrified by Huck’s newfound respectability and education. Having tried unsuccessfully to wrest the money away from Judge Thatcher, Pap captures Huck and takes him to a log cabin three miles up the river, where they live together for some time.

Huck adapts well to his new life and enjoys having nothing to do except smoke and catch fish, but his father’s drunken rages become oppressive, and he decides to run away. He finds a canoe on the river and, one night when Pap is away, fakes his own death and escapes.

After his escape, Huck encounters Jim, Miss Watson’s slave, who is running away because Miss Watson planned to sell him for $800. The two of them set up camp together in a cave on an island in the middle of the river. The river rises and various objects float down it, including a frame house with a dead man inside it.

One day, Huck returns to town in disguise and talks to a woman who only moved there two weeks ago, meaning that she does not know him. She tells Huck that both Pap and Jim are suspected of murdering Huckleberry Finn and that a reward is being offered for both of them. She has seen smoke coming from the island where Huck and Jim are staying and has persuaded her husband to go and investigate that very night, in hopes of securing the prize of $300 offered for the runaway slave who is suspected of murder.

Huck returns to warn Jim, and the two of them escape from the island quickly. As they travel along the river, they find a wreck where some criminals are hiding and, having taken their boat, ensure that they are discovered and brought to justice.

On another occasion, a steamboat hits their raft at night, and the two are hurled into the river and separated. Huck climbs onto the riverbank near the house of a family named Grangerford, who take him into their splendid and comfortable home. The Grangerfords have a long-running feud with their neighbors, the Shepherdsons, and while Huck is staying there, Colonel Grangerford’s daughter runs away with young Harney Shepherdson, leading to a gunfight between the two families. Huck, newly reunited with Jim, who has repaired the raft, continues his journey along the river.

Huck and Jim soon encounter two raggedly dressed tricksters who claim to be the Duke of Bridgewater and the Dauphin of France. Huck quickly realizes that they are not who they say they are but pretends to believe them for the sake of peace.

The Duke and the Dauphin decide to make some money in the towns through which they pass by performing scenes from Shakespeare. In the first town where they try this, the audience is disappointed by the brief performances, but the two men escape with their money before the townspeople are able to pelt them with rotten eggs and vegetables, as they planned to do on the last night.

As they continue their journey along the river, Huck, Jim, and their new associates meet a young man who tells them about the recent death of a rich man in a nearby town. He says that the two brothers of the deceased stand to inherit some of his property, but no one knows if they will make the journey from England, where they have lived for years, in time for the funeral.

The Duke and the Dauphin decide to impersonate the two brothers. They are accepted by the family and even take charge of $6,000 in gold, which the deceased left to be divided between his brothers and his daughters. The Duke is in favor of absconding with the gold immediately, but the Dauphin wants to wait a few days for the property to be sold since they can make more money in this way.

They follow this course, but just as the dead man’s property is being auctioned off, two more men claiming to be the dead man’s brothers arrive in town. Huck manages to escape in the subsequent confusion and returns to the raft, where Jim is waiting for him. However, it turns out that the Duke and the Dauphin have also managed to escape, and they rejoin Huck and Jim, who are not eager for their company.

Eventually, Huck manages to leave behind the Duke and the Dauphin, but as soon as he has done so, he is separated from Jim again. He discovers that Jim has been purchased for a pittance by a farmer called Silas Phelps. Huck goes to the Phelps cotton plantation, where Silas’s wife, Sally, mistakes him for her nephew, who is coming to visit. She asks many questions about his family, which Huck is at a loss to answer until she mentions that the nephew she was expecting is none other than Tom Sawyer.

Huck is able to tell her all about Tom’s family before intercepting Tom and explaining the situation. Tom impersonates his own younger brother, Sid, to give himself a reason for staying at the Phelps plantation with Huck.

Huck and Tom discover that Silas Phelps is keeping Jim chained up in a hut. Huck wants to steal the key, release Jim, and continue along the river on their raft, but Tom will not hear of such as simple scheme and introduces endless baroque complications, with secret tunnels, ropes concealed in pies, and inscriptions carved in stone (which they have to bring into the hut, since the walls are wood and Jim is illiterate). He even sends Silas an anonymous letter telling him that plans are afoot to steal Jim.

Tom, Huck, and Jim make their escape but are pursued by farmers, one of whom shoots Tom in the leg. Jim is recaptured, but Tom reveals that the whole plan to liberate him was a charade, since he is free already, though he does not know it.

Miss Watson died two months ago and left Jim his freedom in her will. Jim also reveals a secret of his own. When he and Huck found the frame house floating down the river at the beginning of the journey, Huck did not examine the dead man in it, but Jim did: it was Huck’s Pap. Huck, therefore, is also free to do whatever and go wherever he wants.

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