Huck Finn Essay Research Paper Plot Summary

Huck Finn Essay, Research Paper

Plot Summary: Huck introduces himself as someone who appeared in an

earlierbook by Mark Twain, reminding us of what happened at the end ofthat story.

Though he won’t mention it until Chapter 3, hisirresponsible father has left him on his

own. Huck has beenliving with Widow Douglas, a kind woman who wants to teach

himall the things his father has neglected, the things all normalkids learn. He tells us

about Miss Watson, the widow’s sister, who isbent on teaching him manners and religion,

and about Tom Sawyer,a boy Huck looks up to because of his wide reading and

vividimagination. He’s also friendly with Jim, Miss Watson’s blackslave. Huck’s father

returns and takes him away from the widow.When his father begins beating him too

often, Huck runs away andmakes it look as though he’s been murdered. He hides out on

anearby island, intending to take off after his neighbors stopsearching for his body. Jim

is also hiding on the island, since he has run away fromMiss Watson, who was about to

sell him and separate him from hiswife and children. They decide to escape together,

and whenthey find a large raft, their journey along the MississippiRiver begins. After a

couple of adventures on the river, their raft is hitby a steamboat, and Huck and Jim are

separated. Huck goesashore and finds himself at the home of the Grangerfords,

whoallow him to come and live with them. At first he admires thesepeople for what he

thinks is their class and good taste. Butwhen he learns about the deaths caused by a feud

with anotherfamily, he becomes disgusted with them. By this time Jim has repaired the

raft, and Huck rejoins him.They’re soon joined by two men who are escaping the law and

whoclaim to be a duke and the son of the king of France. Huckknows they’re actually

small-time con men, but he pretends tobelieve them. After watching these frauds bilk

people of their money in twotowns, Huck is forced to help them try to swindle an

inheritanceout of three girls who were recently orphaned. He goes along atfirst because

he doesn’t want them to turn Jim in, buteventually he decides that the thieves have gone

too far. Heinvents a complicated plan to escape and to have themarrested. The plan

almost works, but at the last minute the two crooksshow up and continue to travel with

Huck and Jim. When alltheir money-making schemes begin to fail, they sell Jim to

afarmer in one of the towns they’re visiting. Huck learns aboutthis and decides to free his

friend. The farmer turns out to be Tom Sawyer’s uncle, and through amisunderstanding

he and his wife think Huck is Tom. When Tomhimself arrives, Huck brings him up to

date on what’s happening.Tom pretends to be his own brother Sid, and the two boys

setabout to rescue Jim. True to his imaginative style, Tom devises a plan that isinfinitely

more complicated than it has to be. Eventually theyactually pull it off and reach the raft

without being caught.Tom, however, has been shot in the leg, and Jim refuses to

leaveuntil the wound has been treated. The result is that Jim is recaptured and Tom and

Huck have toexplain what they’ve done. Tom, it turns out, knew all alongthat Miss

Watson had set Jim free in her will, so everyone cannow return home together. Huck,

however, thinks he’s had enoughof civilization, and hints that he might take off for the

IndianTerritory instead of going back home. Huck tells us about several people who live

in his town, andhe meets many more on his river voyage. You’ll find comments on these

characters as Huck introduces them. For an idea inadvance of who the main characters

are, the following sketcheswill be helpful.

Characters: HUCKLEBERRY FINN Huck is the son of the town drunkard, a man

who goes away forlong stretches and beats his son when he’s home. Huck cares

forhimself most of the time, though he’s living with a charitablewoman when the novel

begins. He prefers living in the woods tobeing in a home, and he doesn’t think much of

school, religioustraining, or being “sivilized” in general. When he’s in trouble, Huck can

be a first-class liar, butgenerally he’s honest, sensitive about other people’s feelings,and

kind. He sometimes has feelings of guilt over troubles hehasn’t caused, and he has a very

active and intrusiveconscience. Huck has an ambivalent attitude toward himself. On the

onehand, he keeps telling us that he knows he’s “low-down” and”ornery,” that he’s lacking

in all the things that make otherpeople respectable. On the other hand, he almost always

goeshis own way, makes up his own mind, and lives by his ownstandards. His negative

feelings about himself stem from his belief thatcertain qualities make people good–such

things as education,religious training, and a willingness to follow rules. He’sbeen taught

to equate these things with virtue, and the part ofhis mind that believes in the equation

tells him he doesn’tmeasure up. What he doesn’t realize, even at the end of the book, is

thatgoodness is an inner quality, and that it may have no connectionto the kind of

upbringing someone has had, or even to outwardbehavior. if Huck understood this point,

he’d be moreinterested in changing society than in running away from it.But because he

accepts what he’s been taught, he sees himself asan outsider and he would rather run

away. JIM Jim is a slave owned by Miss Watson, the sister of the womanwho’s caring

for Huck. He has a wife and small children, andthe threat of being separated from them

frightens him enough tomake him run away from his owner before she can sell him.

Jimis illiterate, superstitious, and afraid of unnamed forces,characteristics that are the

subject of some of the comedy inthe book. But he’s also tender, sensitive, loyal, and

capableof very deep feeling. In some scenes he seems more childishthan Huck; in others

he’s an adult for Huck to rely on. To some readers, Jim is the most interesting character

in thebook. He’s important to the plot because he gives Huck a reasonto travel on the

river, and his outlaw status makes it necessaryfor Huck to keep silent at times when he

wants to stop some kindof injustice. But Jim is more than a plot device. He’s alsothe

person who brings Huck to a series of important moraldecisions. Because Jim is much

more than a stereotypical slave, Huckdevelops a deep feeling of loyalty toward him. And

in spite ofJim’s simplicity, naivete, and childish superstitions, Twain isable to use him as

a vehicle for a powerful indictment of theinstitution of slavery. TOM SAWYER Tom is

a friend of Huck, a boy Huck admires for his widereading, unbridled imagination, and

flair. An expert atself-promotion, Tom appoints himself leader of a gang dedicatedto

robbing and killing. Unlike Huck, Tom is a dreamer, a weaver of fantastic talesand

grand schemes. Since most of his knowledge of the worldcomes from his reading of

romantic novels, he can be amusing andexasperating at the same time. He’s amusing

when he shows hisimperfect understanding of what he has read, and when he givesliteral

meaning to things that existed only in the imaginationof the people who wrote those

books. He’s exasperating whenbooks lead him to ignore the real world he lives in,

especiallywhen he forgets the people around him and allows his fantasiesto affect their

lives. Huck is as ambivalent about Tom as he is about himself. Onthe one hand, Huck

idolizes him. He sees Tom’s wide reading andvivid imagination as qualities that set Tom

far above himself,and he often mentions how Tom would have enjoyed someparticularly

difficult feat that he himself has just pulledoff. On the other hand, Huck has little

patience with fantasies,including Tom’s. Huck is interested in the concrete,

thehere-and-now, and he doesn’t have the faith necessary to engagein fantasies. He often

becomes annoyed with Tom’s daydreams,but he always goes along because he believes

that Tom is one ofhis betters.

Setting: The setting of Huckleberry Finn–a relatively short southernstretch of the

Mississippi River–is an area that Mark Twainknew as well as anyplace on earth. It

includes not only hishome town of Hannibal, Missouri, fictionalized as St.Petersburg, but

the river he loved as a boy and came to revereduring his days as a riverboat pilot. Many

people have said that the river is a character in thenovel, a living, powerful, even godlike

force that has as muchto do with what happens to Huck as any of the human charactershe

meets during the story. Huck himself encourages this kind ofcomment, since he reserves

his most touching language for hisdescriptions of the river. Even after a flood, even after

ariver accident that nearly destroys the raft, Huck never has anunkind word to say about

this “character.” But the river makes up only part of the book’s setting.There are also all

those towns and villages that Huck visits,and the people who live in them. These limbs

of civilization onthe body of the river give Huck–and Twain, of course–a chanceto

observe and comment on 19th-century American society. If Twain becomes poetic

when he’s writing about the river, hecan be vitriolic about the people who live near it.

Neither ofthese extremes alone would have resulted in a very satisfactorynovel, but

Twain is successful in playing one against the other.He can rail at the human race and

sing hymns to one of nature’sgreatest creations, and he can do it because of the

shiftingsetting, because Huck goes from river to town and back againthroughout the


Themes: “What is the book about?” can be a tricky question. The plotof almost

any novel can be summarized in a few sentences, butthose sentences might tell very little

about what goes on in thebook. Most good books are about dozens of things–plot,

severalcharacters, general setting, specific scenes, dialogue, symbols,description,

implication, and on and on. And when you get totalking about a book that has been read

and loved for more thana century, it’s almost impossible to nail down exactly what

it’sabout. Still, there are some general statements that can bemade about the book, each

of them at least partially true. It’s possible to read Huckleberry Finn with only one of

thesestatements in mind and still get a lot out of it. But yourreading will be more

satisfying if you can keep them all inmind. After you’ve read the novel, you can decide

for yourselfwhich of them come closest to saying what Huck Finn is reallyabout. Here

are some general statements about Huck Finn: 1. Huck Finn is an adventure book about

the escapades of aboy who has run away from home. The main character is

candid,trustworthy, and funny, and he offers us a boy’s-eye view of theinteresting

characters he meets during his trip. 2. Huck Finn is a novel about growing up. Huck

not onlyruns away from his father, he also undertakes to make it on hisown. Before he

can, he has to go through certain rites ofpassage, which will allow him to enter the adult

world. Helpinga slave to escape is one of these rites, since it forces Huck tomake

decisions about right and wrong, decisions that willdetermine the kind of adult he will

be. 3. Huck Finn is a satire of the American South in the 19thcentury. Slavery is its

main target, but it attacks many humantraits and institutions. As likable as he is, even

Huck is theobject of satire, especially his attitude toward blacks. 4. Huck Finn is an

allegory about God and man. TheMississippi River is a god that provides both beauty

and terror.Huck represents mankind’s need to retreat (at least from time totime) from the

real world and to take solace in the pleasures ofreligion. 5. Huck Finn is an allegory

about good and evil. Huckrepresents the forces of good, and most of the people he

meetsrepresent evil. Although he doesn’t win all his battles againstevil, he never gives in

to it. The ending of the book is apessimistic statement about man’s ability to overcome



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