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Huck Finn Essay On Each Chapter Essay, Research Paper
In the opening paragraph, Huck introduces himself to us as the
narrator of the story. He talks to us in a relaxed, matter-of-fact
tone that makes him sound friendly, honest, and maybe a little less
respectful than he should be. He does, after all, come close to
calling Mark Twain a liar.
Try to imagine Twain writing that paragraph, in which he has a
fictional character accuse him of “stretching the truth” in an earlier
book. Twain seems to be sharing a joke with you, the reader, but
Huck isn’t in on the joke. Huck doesn’t say it to be funny. He says it
innocently, not realizing that it could be taken as an insult.
Keep this trick of Twain’s in mind as you read the book, because
you’ll find him doing it dozens of times. He’ll be expecting you to
understand things better than Huck, who’s just a simple, almost
illiterate kid. Twain will often be winking at you over Huck’s head,
the way two grownups might be quietly amused at the naive things
said by a young child.
Huck tells us that he’s been living with the Widow Douglas, a
woman he seems to like even though she has set out to “sivilize”
him. His friend, Tom Sawyer, has persuaded him to go along with her,
and Huck finds himself living in a house, wearing clean clothes, and
eating meals on schedule- activities that seem very unnatural to him.
Although he’s able to put up with the widow, her sister, Miss
Watson, is another story. He describes her as a “slim old maid, with
goggles on,” and he complains about her trying to teach him spelling
and manners. When she tells him about heaven and hell, he figures hell
must be a better place, since Miss Watson assures him that she is
going to heaven.
After an unpleasant session with Miss Watson, Huck goes up to his
room and stares out the window. The night sounds of the woods make him sad, until one sound begins to stand out- he recognizes it as a signal
from Tom Sawyer. Huck sneaks out of the house, feeling better now that
he and his friend are off on an adventure.
As Huck and Tom begin sneaking past the house in the dark, they make
enough noise to attract the attention of Jim, Miss Watson’s black
slave. He comes out of the kitchen to see what caused the noise,
sits down in the dark to wait for it to happen again, and falls
Tom slips into the kitchen to steal some candles for their
adventure, and when he comes back, Huck is anxious to get going. But
Tom insists on playing a prank on Jim before they leave. Huck knows
this is a dumb idea, because if Jim wakes up, they’ll be in deep
trouble for sneaking out of the house after dark.
But dumb or not, Tom gets to do what he wants. As the self-appointed
leader of the gang, Tom manages to get his own way just about all
the time. So he lifts Jim’s hat from his head and hangs it on a nearby
limb. Huck tells us that Jim later turned this incident into an
elaborate tale of being visited by witches while he slept.
Huck and Tom get together with the rest of the gang, and they all
travel downriver to a cave Tom has picked out as a meeting place. Huck
reports what happens at the meeting, making no comment on it.
At the meeting, Tom outlines his plan for forming a gang of
bloodthirsty robbers. He talks of the blood oath they’ll take
together. He says that anyone who reveals the gang’s secrets will be
killed, along with his whole family. He describes what will be done
with the body of such a traitor.
Where does Tom get such ideas? He gets them from the adventure books
he reads. Unfortunately, he doesn’t always understand what he’s
reading, as you’ll be able to tell later from his explanation of
what it means to “ransom” someone.
Read this whole scene very carefully, and you’ll get a good
picture of what Tom is- a kid who’s smarter than most of the others,
but not nearly as smart as he thinks he is. Tom does read more than
the others, he does have a quick mind and a lively imagination. But
he’s the leader of this group more because of his forceful personality
than any real difference between him and the others. If you wanted
to be very critical of Tom, you could call him two things- a phony and
But Huck doesn’t say anything along these lines. He doesn’t see
how ridiculous Tom’s statements are. He works from the assumption that Tom is much smarter than he is and he takes Tom’s statements at face value. As was true in the first chapter, Twain doesn’t expect you to
be that naive. He expects you to see the truth about Tom, even if
the young narrator misses it.
The morning after the secret meeting, Huck has to put up with a
scolding from Miss Watson and- worse- looks of hurt disappointment
from the Widow Douglas. Miss Watson tells him he might get better if
he prays, but he has his doubts about that.
Huck then tells us about a time when he went off into the woods
and “had a long think” about praying. (He’s in the habit of going
off by himself and thinking when something bothers him.) If prayer
is so powerful, he wonders, why don’t people like the Deacon, Widow
Douglas, and Miss Watson have everything they want?
The widow explains to him that praying will win him “spiritual
gifts,” and that the best kind of prayer is the kind that’s meant to
help other people. Huck goes off and thinks about that for a while,
then decides that he isn’t interested in something that will help
other people but not him.
Huck also talks about the difference between the Providence (God)
that the widow tells him about, and the one he hears about from Miss
Watson. Huck thinks they are two different Gods, and this is another
case of Twain talking to you over the head of his narrator. Twain is
suggesting that God can be imagined in different ways by people with
Huck says he’d prefer belonging to the widow’s God, but he can’t see
why God would want someone so ignorant, low-down, and ornery. By
this time you should begin to see that Twain doesn’t share Huck’s
low opinion of himself- and he doesn’t expect you to share it either.
Huck believes that just about everyone he comes in contact with is
better than he is. For example, as much as he dislikes Miss Watson, he
doesn’t immediately dismiss everything she tells him. He may reject it
after he’s thought it over a bit, but his first reaction is, “She’s
smarter than I am. Maybe she’s right.”
He even goes along with everything Tom Sawyer suggests, no matter
how silly the suggestion is. Tom reads books and goes to school. Tom
is “sivilized,” so he must be better than Huck.
At this point, Huck talks a bit about his father, who disappeared
more than a year ago. Pap was a drunkard who used to beat Huck
whenever he was sober. Huck certainly doesn’t miss him. He tells us
that a body was found floating in the river, and that some people
believe it was Pap. Huck doesn’t think so, and he’s afraid his
father will show up again.
Huck isn’t very excited about playing robber with Tom’s gang. They
do a lot of running around, he tells us, and they scare people
sometimes, but they aren’t stealing anything. And they certainly
haven’t killed anybody yet.
In Tom’s imagination, though, they are doing all the things he
said they would. They have swords and guns, they steal jewels and gold
ingots, they’re getting ready to ambush “a whole parcel of Spanish
merchants and rich Arabs.”
Huck knows they’re really brandishing broomsticks and stealing
turnips but Tom’s description of the Spaniards and “A-rabs,” with
their elephants and camels, does catch his interest. So he shows up
the next day to take part in the spectacle.
What Huck sees is a Sunday School picnic for little kids. What Tom
sees are the Spaniards and Arabs he described. The gang has been
enchanted by magicians, Tom explains, and they only think they’re
looking at a kid’s picnic.
Read this conversation between Huck and Tom carefully, because it
shows a contrast between the two boys- a contrast that will become
important later in the book. In this conversation, Huck makes
several suggestions about how they can carry out their plan to rob and
kill. Tom counters all of Huck’s suggestions with fantasy elements
from the books he’s read- magicians, magic lamps, giant genies.
Huck is thinking about the concrete world around him; Tom is
following a set of “rules” he’s put together from his books. The two
boys are not talking about the same thing.
Tom becomes exasperated with Huck’s realistic, down-to-earth
approach to robbing and killing, and finally calls him a “perfect
saphead” for not knowing anything. Huck, of course, doesn’t claim that
he isn’t a saphead, because he secretly believes he is. Instead of
arguing, he goes off to test what Tom has said. He tries conjuring
up a giant by rubbing a tin lamp.
When nothing happens, he puts Tom into the same class as the widow
and Miss Watson. Tom might believe that the stuff he reads about is
true, but to Huck, it has “all the marks of a Sunday school.”
In the first three chapters Twain established the personality of his
main character. In this chapter he begins to develop the plot- a
series of “adventures” involving Huck.
Each of these adventures is almost a story in itself, even though
most of them go on for several chapters. So from here on it would
probably be better to read the book in sections instead of one chapter
at a time. I’ll still summarize the novel chapter by chapter, but I’ll
let you know when a new section begins and how many chapters it
You should read Chapters 4-7 as a unit, since they all deal with
Pap, Huck’s alcoholic father. Huck begins Chapter 4 by telling us he
has actually adjusted to civilized life. The first paragraph
suggests that he doesn’t know as much arithmetic as he thinks he does,
but he doesn’t “take no stock in mathematics, anyway.”
He isn’t deliriously happy with school, and living in a house, and
all the rest of it, but he doesn’t hate it the way he used to. Then
one morning he knocks over the salt shaker at the breakfast table.
As we saw near the end of Chapter 1, Huck is very superstitious
and gets himself quite worked up over signs of bad luck. He’s
certain the spilled salt means something terrible. Sure enough, when
he goes outside, he sees bootprints in the snow, and he recognizes
them as belonging to his father.
What he instantly does might seem puzzling at first, but we get an
explanation soon enough. He runs to Judge Thatcher, who is the trustee
of the money Huck got for helping to catch a gang of robbers. (That.
adventure is mentioned in the second paragraph of the novel.)
He begs the judge to take the $6000 and the interest, so he “won’t
have to tell no lies.” The judge doesn’t really understand Huck’s
motives, but he buys the account from the boy for one dollar. Huck
knows that his father is going to be after the money, and his father
has beaten him in the past for less reason than $6000. He wants to
be able to say he has no money- and he wants it to be the truth.
This shows us something interesting about Huck’s character. Pap is
not one of the people he respects. He’s already told us he hopes never
to see him again. He expects the man to beat him and to try to steal
his money. Yet, he’s unwilling to tell a lie, even in such a desperate
situation. Remember, this is the boy who has told us how low-down
and ornery he must be in the eyes of God.
After Huck gets rid of his money, he goes to visit Jim, Miss
Watson’s slave. Jim has a hair-ball that is supposed to have come from
the stomach of an ox, and they both believe it has magical powers.
Huck asks Jim to use the hair-ball to predict what Pap is planning
to do. Jim goes through a long, singsong speech, in which he
predicts so many things that he actually predicts nothing. He gets
so carried away that he predicts things that will happen to Huck
many years in the future.
Huck then goes up to his room and finds Pap waiting there for him.
NOTE: This is Jim’s second appearance in the story, and very soon he
will become a major character. This is as good a time as any to deal
with the kind of person he is and with Twain’s use of the word nigger.
In recent years, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has often been
the subject of debate and has even been banned in some schools and
public libraries. The argument and the censorship revolve around the
character of Jim.
Jim is illiterate, superstitious, childlike, easily led, and
apparently not very bright. Some people think the book could lead
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