The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Summary and Analysis
by Mark Twain
Chapter 21 to Chapter 25
The King and Duke turn their attention to performing scenes from Shakespeare. The King learns the lines for Juliet and practices sword-fighting with the Duke in order to perform part of Richard III. The Duke decides that a great encore would be for the King to perform Hamlet's soliloquy. Unfortunately, without the text at hand, the Duke must piece the famous lines together from memory. The end result is quite different from the true soliloquy, but still contains some elements of drama.
The men stop in a nearby town and decide to set up their show. They rent the courthouse for a night and print up bills proclaiming how wonderful the performance will be. Unfortunately, a circus is also in town, but they hope people will still attend their dramatic performances.
During the day of the show a man named Boggs rides into town. He is a drunk who comes in each month and threatens to kill a man, but never actually harms anyone. This time, he is after a Colonel Sherburn, the wealthiest man in town and a storeowner. Boggs stands outside the store and screams insults at the Colonel. The Colonel comes out of his store and tells Boggs that he will put up with the insults until one o'clock and after that he will kill him if Boggs utters even one word. Boggs continues relentlessly, and at exactly 1pm, the Colonel appears and kills Boggs on the spot. At that exact moment, Boggs's daughter approaches, hoping to save her father, but she is too late. After Boggs is laid to rest, the crowd turns into a mob and concludes that Sherburn should be lynched for the killing.
The crowd travels to Sherburn's store and rips down the front fence. They halt when Sherburn emerges with a shotgun and calmly stands in front of them. He lectures the mob on how pathetic they are, tells them they are being led by half of a man, Buck Harkness, and calls them all cowards. When he finishes his speech, he cocks his gun and the crowd runs off in every direction.
Huck leaves and goes to the circus which is in town until late that night, and after which the Duke and King plan to perform their show. He sneaks in and watches all the fun activities, such as the clown and showgirls. Huck then remarks that it is the best circus he has ever witnessed and the most fun.
That night, the Shakespearean show is a disaster, with only twelve people showing up and none of them staying until the end. In response, the Duke prints up some new handbills touting a show titled the Royal Nonesuch. He then cleverly adds the line, "Ladies and Children Not Admitted" and comments that if such a line does not bring an audience, then he does not know Arkansas.
The Royal Nonesuch opens to a house packed with men. The Duke greets them and hypes up the audience for the King. The King emerges completely naked, covered in paint, and crawling on all fours. The audience laughs their heads off, and he is called back to do it twice more. Then the Duke thanks them all and wishes them a good night.
The men are furious that the show is so short and realize they have been "sold," or cheated. But, before they can rush the stage in protest, one man stands up and tells them that they will be the laughingstocks of the town if it ever is revealed how badly they were cheated. They all agree to leave and tout the show for being wonderful so the rest of the town can be cheated as well.
As a result, the next night's performance is also full, and the audience leaves just as angry. The third night, all the men show up, carrying rotten eggs, dead cats, and other foul items with them. The Duke pays a man to mind the door and he and Huck rush away to the raft. They immediately push out onto the river and the King emerges from the wigwam where he and Jim have been hiding all along. Together, the two con-artists made four hundred sixty-five dollars.
That night, Jim grieves over no longer being able to see his wife and children. Huck remarks that Jim cares almost as much about his family as a white person would. Jim then tells Huck a story about when he was with his daughter, Elizabeth, one day. Jim told her to shut the door and she just stood there smiling at him. Jim got mad that she did not obey and yelled at her until he finally whacked her on the side of the head for not listening to him. Ten minutes later Jim returned and his daughter still had not closed the door. She was standing in the same place, crying. At that moment, a strong wind slammed the door behind her, causing Jim to jump. However, his daughter never moved an inch. Jim realized his poor daughter had lost her hearing. Jim tells Huck that he burst out crying upon making this realization and grabbed his daughter to give her a hug. Ever since, he has felt terrible about how he treated her.
To avoid tying Jim up in ropes during the day (since he has been pretending to be a runaway slave), the Duke figures out a better solution. He paints Jim in blue and makes him wear a costume. Then, he writes a sign that reads, "Sick Arab - but harmless when not out of his head." Jim is happy that he can now move around.
The King and Huck cross the river and meet a young fool waiting for the ferry to Orleans. He proceeds to tell them all about how a Peter Wilks has died, leaving his whole estate to his daughters and brothers. The two brothers have not yet arrived from England, which greatly saddened the man before he died. The King takes a keen interest in the story and gathers every detail he can.
Once he has all the details, the King gets the Duke and tells him the entire story. The two men agree to pretend to be Peter Wilks's brothers from Sheffield, England. Together, with Huck acting as a servant, they get a steamboat to take them to the town and drop them off. Their ploy works perfectly and when they hear that Peter is dead, both men put up a huge cry and lament. Huck remarks that, "It was enough to make a body ashamed of the human race."
The two con artists are taken by the crowd that greeted them upon arrival to visit the family, which consists of three orphaned girls: Mary Jane, Susan, and Joanna. Everyone exchanges hugs and cries, and then the King and Duke go to view the coffin. The two men burst out crying again, and finally the King makes a speech about how sad the whole situation is. They finish off by kissing all the women on the forehead and acting heartbroken. Huck comments that the whole scene is "disgusting."
The King and Duke discover they have received the bulk of the estate holdings as well as three thousand dollars cash. The three girls have also received three thousand dollars and the house they live in. Wilks's will tells them where in the cellar to find the cash, and the two men go downstairs and find it. The King and Duke count the money and come up four hundred and fifteen dollars short. To alleviate any suspicion, they add the money they made from the Royal Nonesuch to the pile. Then, to permanently win the town over to their side, they graciously give their share of the money to the three girls, knowing they can steal it back at anytime.
The King gives a speech and foolishly digresses. A Doctor Robinson enters the crowd, hears the King and laughs heartily, calling the King a fraud because his British accent is such a bad imitation. The townspeople rally around the King, who has been so generous, and defend him. The Doctor warns Mary Jane directly, but in response, she hands the bag of money to the King and tells him to invest it for her. The doctor warns them one final time of the mistakes they are making, and then departs.
In these chapters, Twain again provides commentary on human nature and presents a scathing portrayal of society. Twain's 'version' of Shakespeare, Boggs's death, Jim's feelings about his family, and the Royal Nonesuch all seek to provoke the reader into analyzing the foolish ways of society. Huck assists in this encouragement by adding commentary that brings Twain's critiques into sharper focus.
The use of Shakespeare is at once funny and tragic. In describing the butchered Hamlet's soliloquy, it is immediately obvious that the Duke has muddled the lines. Moreover, the vision of the King, with his white hair and whiskers, playing fair Juliet makes even more of a mockery of the plays.
Boggs's death focuses the reader's attention on a much more serious aspect of the society. Boggs is shot to death in front of a crowd of people, including his daughter. The disrespect Boggs showed to Colonel Sherburn hardly justifies murder. Twain further derides the society for is cowardly actions, as the mob ready to lynch Sherburn is easily manipulated and succumbs to cowardice.
Twain also makes several pointed comments about the general attitude towards blacks when Jim discusses his family. Huck comments that he is surprised to find that Jim is almost as concerned about his family as a white person. This prevailing attitude, often invoked to justify breaking up slave families, is something Huck is beginning to overcome. Jim's touching story about his daughter Elizabeth, in which he hits her for not obeying him, is a powerful indication to Huck that Jim is in fact more concerned about his children than Huck's father ever was about him.
The Royal Nonesuch is perhaps Twain's most brilliant philosophical creation, a show in which the audience sees exactly what it pays for: nothing. Not only does the title accurately describe the show, but Twain cleverly has the Duke and King add the line, "Ladies and Children Not Admitted." Thus the show comments on human nature, namely that we cannot imagine a show being about nothing, even when the very title states it. The men are further fooled into thinking the Nonesuch must be some great, sexual thing, since their wives are excluded. Moreover, to avoid embarrassment, the duped men then talk up the show to their friends. Again, Twain gives a scathing review of his fellow citizens by demonstrating how fragile human egos are. The final showing, which truly is non-existent since the Duke and King run off before it starts, is a coup for the two conmen, who once again give the citizens exactly what they pay for. One wonders whether it is possible to hold them guilty of a crime, considering that in reality, they were honest about the content of the show.
However, the conmen's next adventure proves them highly despicable individuals. The Duke and King sink even lower in their abuse of human gullibility and nature by pretending to be the uncles of three orphaned girls in order to steal their inheritance. Huck's views on this scheme are clear, as he calls the King and Duke "disgusting" and remarks that he is "ashamed of the human race."
These chapters offer us a great deal of new insight into Huck Finn. He is obviously maturing in his views, as evidenced by his belief that black and white people are not so different. He is also changing from a boy who lacks firm morals to a man with a commitment to values. Thus, his commentary is no longer merely descriptive, but increasingly evaluative. It is becoming obvious that Huck will soon not be content to stand aside and let things slide past, as the metaphor of gliding down the river suggests. Instead, Huck will take a stand and assert himself as an individual. Huck's attitudes will eventually bear fruit in his actions, marking the final step in his journey towards maturity.
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