The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn opens by familiarizing the reader with the events of the book that preceded it, Tom Sawyer. In the town of St. Petersburg, which lies along the Mississippi River, Huckleberry Finn, a poor boy with a drunken bum for a father, and his friend Tom Sawyer, a middle-class boy with an imagination a little too active for his own good, found a robber's stash of gold at the end of the earlier book. As a result of his adventure, Huck gains quite a bit of money (held in a sort of trust for him at the bank) and is adopted by the Widow Douglas, a kind but stifling woman who lives with her sister, the self-righteous Miss Watson. Huck is none too thrilled with his new life of cleanliness, manners, church, and school, but he sticks it out at the bequest of Tom, who tells him that in order to take part in his new "robbers' gang" Huck must stay "respectable." All is well and good until Huck's brutish father, Pap, reappears and demands Huck's money. Judge Thatcher and the Widow try to get legal custody of Huck, but the well-intentioned new judge in town believes in the rights of Huck's natural father and even takes the old drunk into his own home in an attempt to reform him. This effort fails miserably, and Pap soon returns to his old ways. He hangs around town for several months, harassing his son, who in the meantime has learned to read and to tolerate the Widow's attempts to improve him. Finally, outraged when the Widow Douglas warns him to stay away from her house, Pap kidnaps the boy, holding him in a cabin across the river from St. Petersburg.
Whenever he goes out, Pap locks Huck in the cabin, and when he returns home drunk, he beats the boy. Tired of his confinement, and fearing the beatings will worsen, Huck escapes from Pap by faking his own death. Hiding on Jackson's Island out in the middle of the Mississippi River, he watches the townspeople search the river for his body. After a few days on the island, he encounters Jim, one of Miss Watson's slaves. Jim has run away from Miss Watson after hearing her talk about selling him to a plantation down the river, where he will be treated horribly and separated from his wife and children. Huck and Jim team up, despite Huck's uncertainty about the legality or morality of helping a runaway slave. While they camp out on the island, a great storm causes the Mississippi to flood. Huck and Jim spy a log raft and an uprooted house floating past the island. They capture the raft and loot the house, finding in it the body of a man who has been shot. Jim won't let Huck see the man's face. Although the island is blissful, they are forced to leave after Huck learns from a woman onshore that her husband has seen smoke coming from the island and believes that Jim is hiding out there. Huck also learns that a reward has been offered for Jim's capture.
Huck and Jim start downriver on the raft, intending to leave it at the mouth of the Ohio River and proceed up that river by steamboat to the free states, where slavery is prohibited. Several days' travel takes them past St. Louis, and they have a close encounter with a gang of robbers on a wrecked steamboat. They manage to escape with the robbers' loot.
During a night of thick fog, Huck and Jim miss the mouth of the Ohio, and encounter a group of men looking for escaped slaves. Huck has a brief moral crisis over concealing stolen "property" (Jim, after all, belongs to Miss Watson), but then lies to the men and tells them that his father is on the raft suffering from smallpox. Terrified of the disease, the men give Huck money and hurry away. Unable to backtrack to the Ohio, the two runaways continue downriver. The next night the raft is rammed by a steamboat and Huck and Jim are separated.
Huck ends up in the home of the kindly Grangerfords, a family of Southern aristocrats locked in a bitter and silly feud with the Shepherdsons. The elopement of a Grangerford daughter with a Shepherdson son leads to a gun battle in which everyone is killed. While Huck is caught up in this affair, Jim shows up with the repaired raft. Huck hurries to Jim's hiding place and they take off down the river.
A few days later they rescue a pair of men being pursued by armed bandits. The men, clearly con artists, claim to be a displaced English Duke (the Duke) and the long-lost heir to the French throne (the Dauphin). Powerless to tell two white adults to leave, Huck and Jim continue down the river with the pair of "aristocrats." The Duke and Dauphin pull several scams in the small towns along the river. Coming into one town, they hear the story of a man, Peter Wilks, who has recently died and left everything to his two brothers, who should be arriving from England any day. The Duke and Dauphin enter the town claiming to be Wilks's brothers. Wilks's three daughters welcome them and quickly set about liquidating the estate. A few townspeople become skeptical, and Huck, who now admires the Wilks sisters, decides to thwart the con. He steals the dead man's gold from the Duke and Dauphin but is forced to stash it in the dead man's coffin. He then reveals all to the eldest Wilks sister. Huck's plan for exposing the Duke and Dauphin is about to unfold when Wilks's real brothers arrive from England. The angry townspeople hold both sets of Wilks claimants, and the Duke and Dauphin just barely escape in the melee. Fortunately for the sisters, the gold is found. Unfortunately for Huck and Jim, the Duke and Dauphin make it back to the raft just as Huck and Jim are pushing off.
After a few more small scams, the Duke and Dauphin commit their worst crime yet: they sell Jim to a local farmer, telling him Jim is a runaway for whom a large reward is being offered. Huck finds out where Jim is being held and resolves to free him. At the house where Jim is a prisoner, a woman greets Huck excitedly and calls him "Tom." As Huck quickly discovers, the people holding Jim are Tom Sawyer's aunt and uncle, Silas and Sally Phelps. The Phelpses mistake him for Tom, who is due to arrive for a visit, and Huck goes along with their mistake. He intercepts Tom between the Phelps house and the steamboat dock, and Tom pretends to be his own younger brother, Sid. Tom hatches a wild plan to free Jim, adding all sorts of unnecessary obstacles even though Jim is only lightly secured. Huck is sure Tom's plan will get them all killed, but he complies. After an eternity of preparation, during which they have ransacked the Phelps's house and made Aunt Sally miserable, they put the plan into action. Jim is freed, but Tom is shot in the leg by a pursuer. Huck is forced to get a doctor, and Jim sacrifices his freedom to nurse Tom. All are returned to the Phelps's house, and Jim ends up in chains. When he wakes the next morning, Tom reveals that Jim has actually been a free man all along, as Miss Watson, who had made a provision in her will to free him, had died two months earlier. Tom had planned this all as a game and had intended to pay Jim for his troubles. Tom's Aunt Polly then shows up, identifying "Tom" and "Sid" as "Huck" and "Tom." Jim tells Huck, who fears for his future, particularly that his father might reappear, that the body they found on the floating house off Jackson's Island had been Pap's. Aunt Sally then steps in and offers to adopt Huck, but Huck, who has had enough "sivilizing," announces his plan to set out for the West.
Full Title - The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Author - Mark Twain (pseudonym for Samuel Clemens)
Type of Work - Novel
Genre - Picaresque (episodic, colorful, often has quest or journey structure); satire of popular adventure and romance novels; bildungsroman (novel of education or moral development)
Language - English (frequently makes use of Southern and black dialects)
Time and place written - Begun in 1876 as a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; Twain set it aside and returned to it several times, finally finishing it in 1883; written mostly in Hartford, Connecticut, and Elmira, New York
Date of First Publication - 1885
Narrator - Huckleberry Finn
***Climax - The major climax of the novel occurs when Huck and Tom try to free Jim and Tom is shot in the leg. Two moral climaxes: in Chapter XVI when Huck lies to some men who are out hunting fugitive slaves by saying that the man on the raft with him is his father, who has smallpox; in Chapter XXXI, when Huck is considering writing Miss Watson to tell her the Phelps family has Jim. In both instances Huck follows his conscience instead of the prevailing morality of the day.
Protagonist - Huck Finn, and to a lesser extent, Jim
Antagonist - Society in general, which may take the form of the Widow Douglas, Pap, the Duke and Dauphin, or a slave trader
***Setting (time) - Before the Civil War; roughly 1835-1845; Twain said the novel was set forty to fifty years before the time of its publication
***Setting (place) - The novel opens in the Mississippi River town of St. Petersburg, Missouri, then Huck and Jim travel down the river through Arkansas
Point of View - Huck's point of view, although Twain occasionally indulges in a digression in which he shows off his ironic wit
***Falling Action - Tom Sawyer's aunt Polly appears at the Phelpses, revealing that Jim has been set free by Miss Watson's will. Tom recovers from being shot, and Huck "lights out for the territory" in the West.
Tense - Immediate past; that is, real-time narration
Foreshadowing - The novel relies more on parallels and juxtapositions than on foreshadowing: Huck's plight and eventual escape and Jim's plight and eventual escape are continually compared. For example, both are kept prisoner in a cabin and eventually escape through a hole in the floor or wall.
Tone - Frequently ironic or mocking, particularly concerning adventure novels and romances; always contemplative to some extent, as Huck seeks to decipher the world around him; sometimes boyish and exuberant.
Symbols - The river, storms, floods, shipwrecks, the natural world (snakes, rats, etc.). Huck Finn does not that rely heavily on symbols.
Themes - Racism; the injustices and hypocrisy of society; social breakdown mirrored in family breakdown; education and intelligence; growing up and maturing; learning to think and reason morally for oneself; faith and received knowledge versus learning experience; deciphering the truth in the face of lies
Motifs - Light and dark, or black and white; drunkenness; ineffectual attempts at reform; spoofing of popular forms like romance novels; dialect and unique forms of speech; substitutes for parents; childhood and disillusionment; superstitions and folk beliefs