The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Summary and Analysis of Chapter 36 to Chapter 40

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Summary

Chapter 36

The next night, Tom and Huck sneak out and start digging with their case knives. They tire soon and their hands quickly develop blisters, but it seems they haven't accomplished anything. Tom finally sighs and agrees to use a pick and shovel, but only as long as they pretend to be using case knives. Huck agrees and tells Tom his head is getting "leveler" all the time.

The next day, they steal some tin plates and a brass candlestick for Jim to write with. They also finish digging the hole and make it possible for Jim to crawl out. Jim wants to escape immediately, but Tom then tells Jim all about the little things he needs to do first, including writing in blood, throwing the tin plates out of the hut, etc. Jim thinks all of these ideas are a little crazy, but agrees to do it.

Tom then convinces the man who brings Jim his food that Jim is bewitched and offers to heal him by baking a pie, in which he plans to conceal the sheet ladder.

Chapter 37

Aunt Sally notices that she has lost a sheet, a shirt, six candles, a spoon and a brass candlestick. Very confused by the strange disappearances, she becomes absolutely livid. Aunt Sally yells at poor Silas, who eventually discovers the missing spoon in his pocket, where Tom had placed it. He looks ashamed and promises her he has no idea how the spoon got into his pocket. Aunt Sally then yells at everyone to get away from her and let her get some peace and quiet.

Tom decides that the only way to steal back the spoon is to confuse his poor Aunt Sally even further. Tom has Huck hide one of spoons while Aunt Sally counts them, and then Huck puts it back when Aunt Sally counts again. By the time she has finished counting, Aunt Sally has no idea exactly how many spoons she has, and Tom is able to take one without any more trouble. Tom then does the same thing with the sheet, by stealing one out of her closet and putting it on the clothesline, only to remove it the next day.

The boys bake Jim a witches pie, in which they hide the rope. It takes them several hours to get it right because the pie is so large, but they finally succeed. The man who normally takes Jim his food takes the pie in to him, and Jim happily removes the rope.

Chapter 38

Tom designs a coat-of-arms for Jim to inscribe on the walls so as to permanently leave his mark on the prison cell. Next, Tom works out three mournful inscriptions and tells Jim he must carve them into a rock. Huck and Tom go to fetch an old grindstone for Jim to use as his rock, but it is too heavy for them to carry, so they are forced to allow Jim to leave his "prison" and come help them. Jim rolls the rock into the hut and sets to work on the inscriptions.

Tom decides that Jim needs some cell companions, such as snakes and spiders. He tells Jim that he and Huck will find some for him, but Jim is vehemently opposed to the idea. Tom then tries to convince Jim to get a flower so he can water it with his tears. Jim replies that the flower would not last very long. Tom finally gets frustrated, and gives up for the night.

Chapter 39

Huck and Tom spend the next day catching creatures to live with Jim in his cell. They first gather about fifteen rats, but Aunt Sally's son frees them by accident and both Tom and Huck receive beatings for bringing rats into her house. Determined, the boys catch another fifteen rats, along with some spiders, caterpillars, frogs, and bugs. At the end of the day they gather some garter snakes and put them in a bag, but after dinner they discover all the snakes escaped in the house as well. Huck remarks that there was no shortage of snakes in the house for quite a while after that.

Uncle Silas decides to start advertising Jim as a runaway slave in some of the local newspapers because he has failed to receive a reply to his earlier letters. Since the plantation to which he wrote never existed, it makes sense that he never received a reply. Tom figures out how to stop Silas, by planting anonymous letters that warn him off this plan of action. Tom and Huck first plant a letter reading, "Beware. Trouble is brewing. Keep a sharp lookout." The next night the boys tack up a letter containing a skull and crossbones, which they follow with a picture of a coffin.

Tom plans a final coup by drafting a longer letter. Pretending to be a member of a gang of robbers who are planning to steal Jim from the family, he warns them that the gang will be coming late at night from the north to get Jim. The family is terribly frightened and does not know what to do.

Chapter 40

The letter has a strong effect, and over fifteen armed farmers are sitting in the house waiting for the robbers to come during the night of the escape. Huck is frightened for their safety when he slips out the window and tells Tom they must leave immediately or they will be shot. Tom gets very excited when he hears about how many people came to catch them.

As Tom, Huck and Jim start to move away from the hut, Tom gets caught on the fence and his britches rip quite loudly. All three start to run, and the farmers shoot after them. When they get to a dark area, Huck, Jim, and Tom hide behind a bush and let the whole pack of farmers and dogs run past them.

Once safe, they proceed to where the raft is hidden and Tom tells Jim he is a free man again, and that he will always be a free man from now on. Jim thanks him and tells him it was a great escape plan. Tom then shows them where he got a bullet in the leg, but Jim is worried for Tom's health. Jim rips up one of the Duke's old shirts and ties up the leg with it.

Jim tells Tom that he is not going to move until they get a doctor there and make sure he is safe. Tom gets mad at both of them and yells, but Huck ignores him and gets the canoe ready to go to town. Tom makes him promise to blindfold the doctor before bringing him back to their hiding place.

Analysis

Most of the action in these chapters mirror Tom's humorous adventures in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. There is a serious anti-slavery undercurrent, as Jim and Huck are concerned only with breaking Jim out of slavery, and don't understand that for Tom, this is all just a game.

In truth, these chapters provide a conclusion to Huck and Jim's journey downriver. Huck is reunited with Tom, and it is becoming clear that there will be happy ending for all. We have now departed from Huck's story and reentered the story of Tom and Huck, which is where the novel began. Once again, Tom is making the decisions, while Huck merely plays along, and Jim simply accepts. Interestingly, Tom is still the same boy he was when the reader last saw him in the earliest chapters of the novel. However, Huck has developed into a more mature, morally sound individual. Huck always thought Tom's make believe adventures were not worth the time or effort Tom put into them. But, here, he believes they are truly setting Jim free, and releasing him from the bonds of slavery. For Huck, this is one of the most serious and risky actions he has ever undertaken, but for Tom, it is all just a game.