Last Reviewed on May 20, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1401
Huck and Jim find a cave in the middle of the island and bring the supplies from Huck’s canoe inside to make a camp. They stay there while the river rises, breaking its banks, and covering much of the island. One day they find a section of a lumber-raft which is large enough for them to use as a raft for themselves and their possessions. Another time, while they are out in the canoe, they see a frame house floating along the river, with a dead man inside. Jim covers the man’s body, and they take various supplies from the house, including candles, a lantern, knives, clothes, bedding, and numerous pieces of junk. Their haul includes a ratty old quilt, which they use to cover Jim when out on the open river, as it is otherwise obvious from a long way off that there is a black man in the canoe.
As a joke, Huck leaves a dead rattlesnake curled up by Jim’s bed, hoping to frighten him. However, the mate of the dead rattlesnake comes and bites Jim. His foot and leg swell up, but he drinks a lot of whiskey and is a great deal better after being laid up for four days.
The days pass, and the river goes down between its banks. Huck and Jim go fishing and promptly land a catfish as big as a man, which weighs over two hundred pounds. The next day, Huck is bored and decides to cross the river and see what is going on. Jim agrees but says he must go at night and suggests that he should disguise himself as a girl, using the clothes from the dead man’s house. Huck does so and, when he arrives in town, sees a light in the window of a house that had been unoccupied for a long time when he was last there. He sees a woman of about forty, who is a stranger to him, and decides that there will not be much risk in talking to her and learning the most recent news. He knocks on the door, reminding himself that he must behave like a girl.
The woman invites Huck in and begins talking to him. He says his name is Sarah Williams and makes up a story to explain why he is in town. The woman has lived there for two weeks and relays a great deal of gossip, concluding with the news of Huck’s murder. She says that at first people blamed Pap for Huck’s death, but when it was discovered that Jim had run away on the same night, many came to regard him as the guilty party. A reward of $300 is being offered for Jim, and one of $200 for Pap, who has also disappeared. The woman is keen to try for the $300 reward herself and says that her husband is going to try hunting around Jackson’s Island, the nearby island in the middle of the river where Huck and Jim are in fact hiding out. She believes she has seen smoke coming from the island, which was described to her as being uninhabited. Her husband has just returned from a trip and intends to search the island for Jim that very night.
As Huck continues talking to the woman, she sees through his disguise but says she will not give him away. He tells her another story, saying that his name is George Peters and he is looking for his uncle. The woman, who tells Huck that her name is Judith Loftus, gives Huck a snack and sends him on his way. Huck rushes back to the island and warns Jim that a search party will soon be hunting all over the island for them. They quickly pack up all their belongings and leave the island on their raft.
Huck and Jim take the raft along the river, traveling at night to avoid being seen. They pass towns, including, on the fifth night, St. Louis, where the “wonderful spread of lights” astonishes Huck. They develop a routine of feeding themselves through a combination of buying provisions in small riverside villages, stealing fruit and poultry, and occasional hunting.
One night they come upon the wreck of a steamboat. Huck wants to explore it, and though Jim is reluctant, they go aboard. They hear voices coming from the captain’s cabin, and Huck manages to see a man tied up on the floor, with two men standing over him, one holding a lantern and the other a pistol. They are discussing whether to kill their prisoner. Huck says to Jim that they should find the men’s boat and set it adrift, trapping them on the wreck so the local sheriff will be able to bring them to justice. However, Jim tells him that their own raft has broken loose from its mooring, and they are trapped themselves.
Huck almost faints with terror but appreciates that they must find the men’s boat now, not to set it adrift, but to use it for their own escape. They manage to locate the boat, cut the rope, and float silently away. After some searching, they recover the raft, and soon afterward, they see a ferryboat. Huck tells the watchman (who also turns out to be the owner) of the boat that his family is on board the wreck. Having given this alarm so that the men on the boat will not be stranded and will be brought to justice, Huck finds Jim again. They make for an island, hide the raft, sink the men’s boat, and are soon sleeping like the dead.
In this section of the book, Huck and Jim become inseparable companions, as Huck and Tom have previously been. It is significant that, when Huck learns of Mr. Loftus’s intention to search the island for the runaway slave, it does not occur to him to protect himself. He rushes straight back to the danger of the island to warn Jim, and he does so with the words “They’re after us.” This is not strictly true. The men are hunting only for Jim, who has a $300 price on his head. No one is looking for Huck, who is presumed dead. Jim’s presence makes Huck more conspicuous, and his life consequently more dangerous, but they work together as partners, without ever questioning the arrangement. It is also noteworthy that, in a book often criticized for racist language, the issue of race does not arise between the two of them.
Jim is more cautious than Huck, which is only reasonable, as he is running a much greater risk. Huck has already grown up considerably since he used to play at being robbers with Tom Sawyer, but his development into an adult is a continuous process, which is still far from complete at this stage in the novel. In chapter 10, his prank with a dead rattlesnake leads to Jim being bitten by a live one and laid up for four days. At this stage, Huck does not know that Jim is suspected of murdering him or that there is a price on Jim’s head. However, if he thought for a moment, he would realize that, as a runaway slave, Jim is bound to be in danger, and his immobility could have had serious consequences. This idea does not seem to trouble him at all, and he continues in his reckless attitude.
When Huck and Jim run their greatest risk, by exploring the wreck where the men are planning to commit murder, Huck still recalls Tom Sawyer, asking Jim rhetorically, “Do you reckon Tom Sawyer would ever go by this thing?” and wishing Tom were with them, since he would share Huck’s adventurous attitude. Although Huck is genuinely frightened by what he sees on the wreck, he approaches this, like his other escapades, in the spirit of adventure, as though it has no real consequences. Twice in this section, he delights in fabricating stories, first for the benefit of Mrs. Loftus when he goes into St. Petersburg in search of news, then for the watchman whom he sets on the trail of the conspirators on the wreck. Even in the latter case, Huck includes more detail than is necessary for his stated purpose and clearly takes some pride in his histrionic talents.
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