The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

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Chapters 22 and 23 Summary and Analysis

New Character
Buck Harkness: man who leads the lynch mob

After the shooting, someone in town suggests that Colonel Sherburn should be lynched, and the people, led by Buck Harkness, suddenly go wild. The crowd turns into an angry mob, stopping at nothing in pursuit of revenge against Sherburn. Even children run for their lives to get out of the way of the raging mob. In a frenzy they tear down Colonel Sherburn’s picket fence and pour into his yard, ready for action.

The crowd suddenly calms down, however, when Sherburn steps out onto the roof of his porch flashing a double-barrel gun. At first he simply stares at them, saying nothing, but then he laughs scornfully, and stages a long diatribe criticizing the mob for its cowardice. He accuses them of hanging on to the coattail of Buck Harkness who is only “half a man.” Sherburn orders them to leave, and the crowd breaks up with Buck Harkness on their heels.

After the excitement Huck decides to go to the circus. To avoid paying, he slips under the tent on the back side. With wide-eyed amazement, he watches the beautiful women on horses with their million-dollar outfits, the men showing their acrobatic skills, and the clowns cracking the funniest jokes Huck has ever heard. A supposed drunk comes along and insists upon riding the horses. The ringmaster finally gives in. At first the crowd laughs at him, but he turns out to be an accomplished rider and a part of the act.

The king and the duke stage their Shakespearean show, but they only attract twelve people who laugh inappropriately throughout the performance. Since these “lunkheads couldn’t come up to Shakespeare,” the duke decides to change to low comedy. He advertises their next show as the tragedy of The King’s Cameleopard, or The Royal Nonesuch with a caption at the bottom that reads, “ladies and children not admitted.” He thinks this would surely draw a crowd. The first night the house is packed, but the show is a fraud, consisting of the king displaying his painted body and demonstrating a few of his ludicrous antics on stage. Too embarrassed to admit they had been taken in, the townspeople speak favorably about the show in town the next day. The second night the house is again full, but the third night the king and duke hustle down to the raft and take off down the river to avoid the anger of the crowd. They have successfully conned the townspeople out of four hundred and sixty-five dollars.

Discussion and Analysis
Colonel Sherburn’s speech to the would-be lynch mob is a harsh invective against mob action of any kind. Twain speaks out against lynch mobs who do not fight with courage but come like cowards in the middle of the night wearing masks. As Sherburn demonstrates, the mob crumbles with cowardice when they come face to face with one strong individual.

We see the aggressive action in Twain’s use of extended metaphor presenting the mob as “the front wall of the crowd” rolling “in like a wave.” But when Sherburn steps out “the wave sucks back” in calm passivity. The metaphor is sustained until the...

(The entire section is 814 words.)