The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Summary

Mark Twain

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Summary

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Among the most controversial books ever published, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn first appeared in the United States in January 1885. Of all Mark Twain’s books, Huckleberry Finn had the largest success upon its initial release from a sales standpoint. It is frequently looked upon as a work of art and as a cultural artifact, not as simply a novel. It was also rejected as being base and racist, being banned from some libraries in 1885, and continuing to appear on lists of commonly banned books to this day. It was one of the earliest works of American literature to be written in the vernacular and was an early example of a text relaying heavily on regionalism. Huckleberry Finn, first introduced to readers as a character in Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, is the first person narrator. The book contains vivid descriptions of life along the Mississippi River, as society existed several decades before the book’s publication.

The adventures begin in St. Petersburg, Missouri (a fictional alter ego for Hannibal, Missouri) in the early to middle part of the nineteenth century. Huck lives under the supervision of the Widow Douglas and her strict sister, Miss Watson, who have as their aim to civilize Huck and have him become religious. Huck feels restrained by the life the women are forcing upon him and happily “escapes” one evening when he and his friend Tom elude Jim, Miss Watson’s slave. They join up with a group Tom refers to as robbers. As their adventures begin, Huck’s unscrupulous father, whom he calls “Pap,” appears. Pap is an alcoholic who would squander the money Huck has (from adventures with Tom in the earlier book) but Huck keeps it from him. Pap kidnaps Huck and leaves with him.

They arrive at a secluded cabin in a wooded area on the shoreline of Illinois. Huck is kept captive by his father but eventually manages to escape and fake his own death. He goes downriver to Jackson’s Island where he finds the slave Jim who has escaped after hearing that Miss Watson planned to sell him to owners who would put him in a much more difficult situation than did Miss Watson. Jim’s plan is to go to the town of Cairo in the free state of Illinois with the hope of eventually being able to buy freedom for the rest of his family, which remains enslaved. Initially, Huck wonders about the wisdom of illegally helping a runaway slave, but as the two speak, they begin to bond. This alone serves to counter charges of racism stemming from Twain’s use of ethnic euphemisms. In the aftermath of flooding on the river, the pair finds a raft and a house afloat. In the house is a dead body with a gunshot wound, which Jim keeps Huck from seeing.

Huck disguises himself as a woman and goes to town in search of news. He hears of his own “murder” and learns that both Pap and Jim are considered suspects. Jim became a suspect because he ran away, and a reward has been posted for his capture. The townswoman from whom Huck learns these facts realizes that Huck is a boy, but allows him to leave when she figures out that he is the supposedly murdered boy. Huck tells Jim what has transpired and the two load their raft and set off.

As they continue on their trek, their raft is hit by a steamship, and Huck finds himself in Kentucky separated from Jim. He is given shelter by the Grangerford family, who are embroiled in a decades long feud with the Shepherdson family. The situation reaches a climax when, in Shakespearian tradition, a young woman of the Grangerford family elopes with one of the Shepherdsons. A deadly conflict ensues, killing many men, including Buck who had befriended Huck. Huck is soon reunited with Jim who has fixed their raft. Next up for the duo as they approach the Arkansas, Missouri, Tennessee border is an encounter with two grifters, who join them on the raft. This leads to a series of swindles and scams driving Jim and Huck to despair and the desire to rid themselves of the con men. When Huck finally finds the opportunity to leave, he learns that the swindlers have sold Jim to a family, which plans to claim a reward by returning him to his owner. This leads Huck to vow he will, some way, free Jim for good. Jim is being kept at a plantation owned by Silas and Sally Phelps, who mistakenly believe Huck is the nephew whose arrival they await. Huck plays the role of the nephew, whom it turns out, is Huck’s old friend, Tom Sawyer, who upon arrival goes along with Huck’s deception. Tom devises a complicated plan to free Jim. Ultimately, identities are revealed, Jim becomes a free man, it is learned that Pap was the dead man in the floating house, and Huck can return to St. Petersburg, but resolves to head west.