December 16, 2021

#08-166: Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain

Huckleberry Finn with a rabbit

Note: A candidate for the Great American Novel, Twain's masterpiece is also a scathing indictment of the practice of slavery.

Get Ready: Is it sometimes all right to help a person out of a terrible situation, even if it meant breaking the law?

I have often mentioned Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn, but we've never really discussed the outline of the story. Let's take a look.

It begins in St. Petersburg, Missouri, a fictional version of Hannibal, where Twain grew up. "Huck" tells his story in the first person in a dialect which is unfortunately difficult for some readers to understand today.

Huck's father "Pap" is an abusive alcoholic, so Huck lives with the Widow Douglas and her mean sister Miss Watson, who try to "sivilize" him. He and his pal Tom Sawyer still manage to sneak out, but one day Pap--hoping to get his hands on some money Huck has--kidnaps the boy.

Huck escapes from Pap by faking his own murder and drifts down the Mississippi in a canoe. He runs into Jim, Miss Watson's escaped slave, and together the two runaways travel down the river. Huck is conflicted over helping Jim break the law as a runaway, but they become good friends, and as Jim helps Huck more and more, the boy finds himself questioning the morality of keeping people enslaved.

Most of the book is taken up by this journey, with many adventures and meetings with colorful characters along the way.

In one story, Huck disguises himself as a girl to learn what people are saying about him and Jim. A woman he questions finds him out, but finally lets him go.

In another, Huck and Jim board a riverboat that has run aground on the riverbank. They encounter two thieves, and sneak away with the criminals' loot.

The friends are separated several times. During one of these separations, Huck lives with the family of a boy he met, and takes their side in a feud. When that boy is killed along with all the men in his family, Huck runs away again and reunites with Jim.

In one of the funniest (and most suspenseful) stories, the two meet a couple of con men calling themselves the Duke of Bridgewater and the lost son of King Louis XVI of France. The four characters have several adventures together. In one of these, Huck helps the con men cheat some young girls out of their inheritance--at first. In the end, he must escape the two rascals, and rescue Jim as well, whom the two have sold back into slavery. Huck again feels he's doing wrong by helping a slave escape, but at last says, "All right, then, I'll go to hell!" for his actions--a major turning point in the book.

While rescuing Jim, Huck is surprised at the arrival of his friend Tom Sawyer, and the two of them cook up an elaborate scheme to free Jim. But when Tom gets shot in the leg, Jim stays by his side and cares for him, even though he knows he'll be caught.

The sympathetic doctor who tends to Tom has no choice but to turn Jim in, but in the nick of time, Tom's Aunt Polly arrives and tells the boys that Miss Watson had died two months before; by the terms of her will Jim is a free man. Jim reveals to Huck that along the way he had seen Pap's dead body, and it's now safe for Huck to return home. But rather than be "civilized," he announces his intention to "light out for the [Indian] Territory"--that is, Oklahoma.


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. abusive
  2. civilized
  3. con men
  4. dialect
  5. drifts
  6. elaborate
  7. in the nick of time
  8. loot
  9. morality
  10. sympathetic

  1. kind-hearted
  2. people who live by cheating others
  3. tamed; made to behave properly
  4. floats along without purpose
  5. idea of right and wrong
  6. a criminal's money
  7. just before it's too late
  8. a local way of speaking
  9. complicated; fancy
  10. treating someone badly

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for December 16, 2021

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. j; 2. c; 3. b; 4. h; 5. d; 6. i; 7. g; 8. f; 9. e; 10. a