The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

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Chapters 8 and 9 Summary and Analysis

Huck has a comfortable feeling as he wakes up on Jackson’s Island the next morning. Too lazy to get up and cook breakfast, he watches the sun filter through the tall trees, spotting the ground with “freckled places.” His peace is soon interrupted, however, with the loud “boom” of the cannon being fired from a ferryboat loaded with prominent townspeople who are looking for his murdered body. The cannon is fired over the water periodically to make Huck’s supposed dead body come to the surface. Since he has had no breakfast, he is getting hungry, but he does not dare risk starting a fire because he is afraid they will see the smoke. He suddenly remembers that loaves of bread, filled with quicksilver, are also used to locate drowned bodies. Snagging one of the loaves with a stick, he removes the quicksilver and eats the bread for breakfast. The ferryboat skirts the shore of the island, sounding the cannon occasionally, while its passengers look for Huck’s washed-up body. After an uneventful search, the boat finally leaves.

Three days pass and Huck gets lonely. He decides to explore the three-mile-long island. He feels satisfied that the different types of berries and green summer grapes that he finds will come in handy, but he is suddenly startled by the ashes of a campfire that is still smoking. Terrified, he runs back to his camp, hides his possessions in his canoe, and climbs a tree. After two hours he decides to come down and paddle to the Illinois side of the river, but after arriving he soon hears the voices of other campers. Afraid they will spot him, he goes back to the island. After a fearful, sleepless night, he resolves to find out who is on the island with him. When he discovers the spot where he had seen the ashes, he notices a tall man wrapped in a blanket still sleeping. Hiding in the bushes, Huck waits and soon realizes it is Miss Watson’s slave, Jim. Relieved and happy, Huck jumps out, startling Jim, who thinks that he is seeing Huck’s ghost. Huck convinces him that he is, indeed, very much alive; he tells Jim the story of his escape. Jim, in turn, also confesses that he has “run off.” Huck promises not to tell, in spite of the fact that people will call him a “low-down Abolitionist.” Jim explains that he had seen slave traders in the area and overheard Miss Watson say she was tempted to sell him down the river for eight hundred dollars.

Huck and Jim move their belongings into a cave in a high bluff that Huck had found earlier while he was exploring the island. Here they are sheltered from thunderstorms and hidden from people who might happen to come to the island. The move seems to come just in time, for it begins to rain and the river continues to rise for ten or twelve days, flooding the low spot where Huck’s camp had been before. They explore the island in their canoe, and one night they find a large raft that has floated down in the rising waters.

Another night a two-story frame house floats by. They climb into the top story and find many useful items. As they are rummaging around, they run into a dead man who has been shot in the back. Jim covers him with old rags and asks Huck not to look at his ghastly face. They load their new-found possessions into the canoe and head back to the island.

Discussion and Analysis
The playful, relaxed tone at the beginning of Chapter 8 is set in juxtaposition to the preceding chapter where Huck frantically escapes from the clutches of his abusive father. It is noteworthy that he does not, however, run into the waiting arms of the Widow Douglas. Twain’s theme of individual freedom is apparent in the contrast of the natural life on the island where Huck is “comfortable and satisfied,” to the respectable, hypocritical life on the shore where he faces the tyranny of his father and the Widow Douglas. Although the island offers peace and freedom, by the same token it is also the agent of...

(The entire section is 1,062 words.)