The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

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Chapters 16 and 17 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Two men on a skiff: men looking for runaway slaves

Buck Grangerford: a boy Huck’s age

Bob and Tom: members of the Grangerford family

Betsy: Grangerford’s slave

Summary
Huck and Jim rest all day and start for Cairo at dark. When he thinks about Cairo and gaining his freedom, Jim’s excitement mounts, but Huck becomes increasingly uneasy. Painfully aware that he is helping a slave escape to freedom, his conscience suddenly bothers him. This time he cannot seem to rationalize his actions as he has done before. He does not think Miss Watson, Jim’s owner, deserves such treatment. When Jim incessantly chatters on about buying his wife and children or getting an Abolitionist to help steal them, Huck reaches the breaking point. He decides that he must paddle ashore in the canoe at the first sign of a light and turn Jim in. Unaware of Huck’s intentions, Jim helps prepare the canoe, padding the seat with his coat. He tells Huck that he is the best friend he has ever had. At this, Huck falters a bit, but he still feels he must turn Jim in. When two men in a skiff come along, he weakens, however. He tells them one of his stories about his sick family on board, leading the men to believe they all have smallpox. Out of guilt for not helping a young boy with a sick family, they each give him twenty dollars and hurriedly leave. He feels bad for having “done wrong” but reasons that he would have felt just as bad if he had turned Jim in and done the right thing. Next time, Huck decides, he will just do what is the “handiest.”

The next town they come to is on high ground. Since there is no high ground around Cairo, they begin to suspect that perhaps they had passed Cairo in the fog that night. Jim immediately blames the rattlesnake skin for his bad luck. At daylight their suspicions are confirmed when they see the clear Ohio River water flowing into the muddy Mississippi. Since they cannot take the raft upstream, they will try to paddle the canoe back to Cairo. When they get back to the raft after dark, however, the canoe is missing. Their only choice is to continue downriver until they can purchase another canoe. But their streak of bad luck is not over yet. That night a steamboat runs straight into their raft. Huck and Jim dive off into the water, and Huck swims to shore, but he sees no sign of Jim.

On land Huck runs into a pack of vicious dogs who will not let him pass. The owners of the dogs come out fully armed, demanding to know his name and his possible association with the Shepherdsons. Seeing that he is harmless, they cordially invite him to stay as long as he likes. He befriends their 13-year-old son Buck, who is Huck’s age.

Huck gives his name as George Jackson but forgets it by morning. He tricks Buck into spelling his name, and then he remembers. Huck goes into a long description of the house. He naively admires the furnishings in the Grangerford parlor and takes an interest in the morbid crayon drawings and sentimental poetry having been created by their dead daughter Emmeline Grangerford.

Discussion and Analysis
For the second time, Huck faces a moral decision forcing him to come to grips with the idea that he is helping a slave escape to freedom. On Jackson’s Island his decision was made without thinking. His only concern then was that people would call him a “low-down Abolitionist.” Twain’s biting satire reaches its greatest height when Huck censures Jim for wanting to steal his own wife and children. Huck, a product of the society of his...

(The entire section is 961 words.)