The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Summary and Analysis
by Mark Twain
Chapter 31 to Chapter 35
The Duke and King spend a few days plotting how to recover their fortunes. Soon, they reach a village named Pikesville. The King leaves and tells the Duke and Huck to follow him if he does not return by midday. After he fails to reappear, they go to find him, leaving Jim with the raft. Huck and the Duke search for quite some time, and finally find the King in a tavern. Soon, both the Duke and King are drunk.
Huck sees his chance and runs straight back to the raft, but when he arrives Jim is gone. A young man on the road tells him Jim, a runaway slave, was just captured and sold to the Phelps family, down the road. Huck realizes that in an effort to make some money, the King had snuck back to the raft while he and the Duke had been searching for him, took Jim, sold him for forty dollars, and returned to the town to drink.
Huck sits down and contemplates his next move. He is torn between his friendship for Jim and his belief that helping a runaway slave is a sin. Huck finally writes a letter to Miss Watson explaining where Jim is. Not quite satisfied, he thinks about it some more, and, in one of the most dramatic scenes in the novel, rips apart the letter saying, "All right, then, I'll go to hell!"
Huck starts walking to the Phelps's farm, but encounters the Duke along the way. The Duke is posting advertisements for the Royal Nonesuch, which the two men are planning to perform again. When he sees Huck, the Duke gets extremely nasty and is afraid Huck will warn the townspeople. Next, he lies to Huck and tells him Jim was sold to a farm several days away and threatens Huck in order to keep him silent. Huck promises not to say a word, and hopes he will never have to deal with men such as the Duke and King ever again.
Huck decides to trust his luck, and walks directly up to the front door of the Phelps's farm. He is quickly surrounded by about fifteen hound dogs, which scatter when a large black woman chases them away. Aunt Sally emerges and hugs Huck, saying "It's you, at last! - ain't it?" Entirely surprised, Huck merely mutters "yes'm."
Aunt Sally drags Huck into the house and starts to ask him why he is so late. Not sure how to respond, Huck says the steamboat blew a cylinder. The woman asks if anyone was hurt, to which Huck replies, "No'm, killed a nigger." Before he has a chance to answer any more questions, Silas Phelps returns home after picking up his nephew at the wharf. Aunt Sally hides Huck, pretends he is not there, then drags him out and surprises Silas. Silas does not recognize Huck until Aunt Sally announces, "It's Tom Sawyer!" Huck nearly faints from joy when he hears his friend's name and realizes Aunt Sally is Tom's aunt.
Over the next two hours, Huck tells the family all about the Sawyer's and entertains them with stories. Soon, he hears a steamboat coming down the river, and realizes Tom is probably on the boat, since the family was expecting him. Eager to meet his friend and keep himself safe, Huck tells Aunt Sally and Silas that he must return to town to fetch his baggage, quickly explaining they need not accompany him.
Huck meets Tom Sawyer on the road and stops his carriage. Tom is frightened, thinking Huck is a ghost, but Huck reassures him and they settle down to catch up. Huck tells Tom what has happened at the Phelps's, and Tom thinks about how they should proceed. He tells Huck to return to the farm with his suitcase, while Tom returns to town and begins his trip to the Phelps's again.
Huck arrives back at the Phelps house, and soon thereafter, Tom arrives. The family is excited because they do not get very many visitors, so they make Tom welcome. Tom makes up a story about his hometown and then suddenly and impudently kisses Aunt Sally right on the mouth. Shocked at his behavior, she nearly hits him over the head with her spinning stick, until Tom reveals that he is Sid Sawyer, Tom's brother.
Next, Silas tells the family that their new slave Jim warned him about the Royal Nonesuch, and that he took it upon himself to inform the rest of the town. Silas figures the two cheats Jim spoke of will be ridden out of town that night. In a last minute attempt to warn the Duke and King, Huck and Tom climb out of their windows, but they are too late. They see the two men being paraded through the street covered in tar and feathers. Observing the scene, Huck remarks that human beings can be awfully cruel to one another.
Tom and Huck brainstorm ways to break Jim out of his prison. Huck plans to get the raft, steal the key to the padlock, unlock the door and then float down the river some more. Tom claims that plan is too simple and would work too well. Tom's plan is much more elaborate and stylish, and takes a great deal longer to implement.
The boys go to the hut where Jim is being kept and search around. Finally, Tom decides that the best way, or at least the way that will take the longest, is to dig a hole for Jim to climb out of. The next day, he and Huck follow the black man who is delivering Jim's food. Jim recognizes Huck and Tom and calls them by name, but both boys pretend not to hear. When he has a chance, Tom tells Jim that they are going to dig him out. Jim is so happy he grabs Tom's hand and shakes it.
To create as fantastical a story and game as possible, Tom tries to determine how to make Jim into a real prisoner before his daring escape. He decides that he and Huck will have to saw off the leg of Jim's bed in order to free the chain, send him a knotted ladder made of sheets, give him a shirt to keep a journal on, and get him some tin plates to write messages on and throw out the window. To top it off, Tom tells Huck that they will use case-knives to dig Jim out, rather than the much quicker and more appropriate picks and shovels.
This section of the novel dramatically forces Huck to finally decide what he believes about slavery, and, as such, solidify his own morality. The most powerful scene occurs when Huck writes a letter to Miss Watson explaining where Jim is, only to tear it up, accept his fate no matter what the consequence of following his conscience, and set out to free Jim. Huck is willing to sacrifice his soul for Jim's freedom, showing a tremendous amount of personal growth. This scene indicates how his relationship with Jim has changed over the course of the journey downriver, from companion, to respected friend, to the only family Huck will acknowledge. Huck decides to free Jim after remembering all the times Jim protected and cared for him, something which no one else has ever done for Huck.
Therefore, there is bitter irony in Huck's story about the steamship cylinder exploding. Huck concocts the tale as an excuse for arriving in town so much later than expected, and when asked if anyone was hurt, he replies "No'm, killed a nigger." Aunt Sally is relieved to hear that no white people where hurt or killed, and does not care that a black person died. In the beginning of the book, the reader could easily attribute racist attitudes to the culture and time, forgiving the speaker for his or her ignorance, but after being introduced to Jim, the reader is unable to maintain that distance. Thus, it is surprising to hear Huck make such a racist and hypocritical off handed comment, but perhaps he is simply speaking in a way he thinks Aunt Sally would relate.
In this section, Twain's writing style also returns to that of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. Tom's return signifies that logical thinking will disappear, and an excessive sense of adventure and fantasy will take over. Huck quickly takes a backseat when Tom's unlimited creativity is released upon the Phelps home.
Tom's willingness to steal a slave is surprising to Huck. It is somewhat of a surprise to the reader too, considering the long moral journey Huck experience to decide he would risk hell for his friend. Thus, Huck questions Tom's motives, and finally concludes it is simply Tom's juvenile love for adventure that is spurring him on. The reader must recognize this as a false assumption. Tom has never committed a true crime with serious moral repercussions, and is thus unlikely to do so now. As the reader discovers in later chapters, Tom knows that Jim is already free, although Jim is unaware. Therefore, Tom knows he and Huck aren't breaking the law, but keeps this information from Huck so he will continue to play the prisoner game.
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