The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

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Chapters 20 and 21 Summary and Analysis

New Characters
Boggs: drunkard shot by Colonel Sherburn

Colonel Sherburn: the man who shoots Boggs

The king and the duke question the idea of traveling by night and hiding by day. Huck responds with common sense to their suspicions that Jim might be a runaway slave. He assures them that a runaway would not be traveling south. In order to be more convincing, however, he produces another imaginary story about his whole family dying and leaving him, after the debts are paid, with only sixteen dollars and the family slave Jim. His pa and four-year-old brother had fallen off the raft and drowned, so he and Jim are the only ones left. He explains that they travel at night because people are always assuming Jim is a runaway slave, and this is their way of avoiding trouble.

Satisfied with Huck’s story, the king and the duke begin to settle down on the raft, making themselves at home. One night they instruct Huck and Jim to act as watchmen until a storm blows over. Without any apparent twinge of conscience they both crawl into the wigwam occupying the only beds on the raft. To make matters worse, there is a big thunderstorm that night, but Huck does not mind. He says he wouldn’t have wanted to miss it “because a body don’t see such a storm as that every day in the week, not by a long sight.” When he is finally overcome with exhaustion, however, Jim offers to take Huck’s watch. The wigwam is too full, however, so he decides to sleep out in the rain anyway.

The next day the king and the duke begin planning another “campaign,” as they call it. They decide to make some money in the next town performing the balcony scene in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet and the swordfight in Richard III. The king will play the part of Juliet. That night they stop in town for supplies and the king decides to “work the camp meeting” for a few extra dollars. He introduces himself as a pirate from the Indian Ocean who has just become a changed man as a result of the camp meeting. He cons the people at the meeting into taking up a collection by telling them he is planning to go back to reform other pirates. In this way he collects eighty-seven dollars and seventy-five cents. In the meantime the duke has managed to swindle the owner of a printing office out of $9.50 while he also prints a handbill about Jim’s escape from a plantation south of New Orleans. This gives them an alibi in case they are questioned about Jim while traveling in the daytime. They are simply going down to claim their reward for Jim’s capture.

The king and the duke begin rehearsing for the Shakespearean performance that will take place in one of the next towns. When they reach a little “one-horse” town in Arkansas, the circus has already come to town, drawing the people they need for their show. The duke enthusiastically rents the courthouse and distributes the playbills around town.

While they wait for the circus to leave town, a man named Boggs rides into town for his “monthly drunk.” He shouts around, threatening to kill Colonel Sherburn. People laugh and do not take him seriously until the colonel himself steps out with a gun, threatening to kill Boggs if he doesn’t stop by one o’clock. In spite of the warning, Boggs continues his ceaseless tirade against Colonel Sherburn. Heeding the seriousness of the situation, the townspeople send for Boggs’ daughter, but she is too late. He is dying from Colonel Sherburn’s gunshot wound just as she arrives.

Discussion and Analysis
Huck must necessarily produce another story at this point in the novel to protect...

(The entire section is 968 words.)