The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Essential Quotes by Theme: Moral Law vs. Civil Law
by Mark Twain

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Essential Quotes by Theme: Moral Law vs. Civil Law

Essential Passage 1: Chapter 8

“How do you come to be here, Jim, and how'd you get here?”
He looked pretty uneasy, and didn't say nothing for a minute. Then he says:
“Maybe I better not tell.”
“Why, Jim?”
“Well, dey's reasons. But you wouldn' tell on me ef I 'uz to tell you, would you, Huck?”
“Blamed if I would, Jim.”
“Well, I b'lieve you, Huck. I—I run off.”
“But mind, you said you wouldn' tell—you know you said you wouldn' tell, Huck.”
“Well, I did. I said I wouldn't, and I'll stick to it. Honest injun, I will. People would call me a low-down Abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum—but that don't make no difference. I ain't a-going to tell, and I ain't a-going back there, anyways. So, now, le's know all about it.”


Huck has escaped his father by going to Jackson Island. After a few days, Huck notices signs of some other inhabitants on the island. Frightened that it might be his father, he hides for a few hours and then goes in search of who it might be. He comes across a figure sleeping by a fire and discovers it is Jim, Miss Watson’s slave. The two join forces and prepare a meal. Huck explains to Jim his deception in order to escape. He then asks Jim how it is that he is alone on the island. Jim confesses that he has run away, which had been a crime in the slave states prior to the Civil War. He begs Huck not to turn him in. Huck has promised he would not and he intends to stick by it. This promise is problematic because Huck can be held liable for not reporting a runaway slave. However, at this first instance of a moral choice, Huck refuses to turn Jim in to the authorities, even if he is called a “low down Abolitionist,” a term that is of high contempt in the South.

Essential Passage 2: Chapter 16

“Dah you goes, de ole true Huck; de on'y white genlman dat ever kep' his promise to ole Jim.”
Well, I just felt sick. But I says, I got to do it—I can't get out of it. Right then along comes a skiff with two men in it with guns, and they stopped and I stopped. One of them says:
“What's that yonder?”
“A piece of a raft,” I says.
“Do you belong on it?”
“Yes, sir.”
“Any men on it?”
“Only one, sir.”
“Well, there's five niggers run off to-night up yonder, above the head of the bend. Is your man white or black?”
I didn't answer up prompt. I tried to, but the words wouldn't come. I tried for a second or two to brace up and out with it, but I warn't man enough—hadn't the spunk of a rabbit. I see I was weakening; so I just give up trying, and up and says:
“He's white.”


As Jim and Huck approach Cairo and freedom, Huck becomes more bothered by what he is doing. On the one hand, Jim is fast becoming his friend. Jim has confided in Huck, relating to him his plans to buy his family eventually. On the other hand, Huck feels bound by the law, which states that it is a crime to aid an escaping slave. As Huck prepares to go to shore to ascertain their exact location, he decides his conscience is leading him to report Jim to the authorities. He feels the heaviness lifting somewhat; he is feeling that he is doing the right thing. Almost sensing the choice that Huck has before him, Jim mentions that he can count on Huck, who has promised not to tell of Jim’s location. These words are still in Huck's ears when he approaches men who are looking for escaped slaves. When the men ask Huck if the other man on the raft is white or black, Huck is presented with a moral choice, more insistent than before. With some hesitation, he chooses once again to stick to his promise to Jim. He goes against the law and tells the men that his friend is white.

Essential Passage 3: Chapter 31

So I was full of trouble, full as I could be; and didn't know what to do. At last I had an idea; and I says, I'll go and write the letter—and then see if I can pray. Why, it was astonishing, the way I felt as light as a feather right straight off, and my troubles all gone. So I got a piece of paper...

(The entire section is 1,806 words.)