continues the adventures of Huck Finn, newly acquired (at the end of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer) of
a fortune. Huck fakes his own murder to escape his cruel father and,
hiding on an island, is surprised to find his aunt's fugitive slave Jim
there. Supplied with provisions from a deserted floating house, Huck
and Jim aim to ride a raft down the Mississippi River to
Cairo, Illinois, from where a steamboat that can take them to the free
Northern states. But they overshoot Cairo and have many adventures as
they continue south. Ashore after their raft is hit by a steamboat,
they witness the tragic finale of a feud between two wealthy families.
Rescuing their raft, they allow two con men to talk their way aboard.
Huck finds the men's chicanery amusing at first, but it becomes
increasingly sinister as Huck and Jim, fearing Jim could be exposed,
don't split from them. Eventually the con men play their worst trick:
Behind Huck's back, they sell Jim to a farmer on the pretense that
there's a reward posted for returning him to his owner. As Huck plots
Jim's rescue, a coincidence brings none other than Tom Sawyer on the
scene, though Tom's elaborate plans complicate the rescue. At the
conclusion, it's revealed that Jim is already free — Huck's
aunt has died and freed Jim in her will. Pap Finn is dead too, so Huck
doesn't have him to fear anymore. He decides, however, that he prefers
the uncivilized West to returning home.
Huckleberry Finn cannot be dismissed as a children's book, though there's plenty of action and adventure, and the novel is read in high schools. Huck's and Jim's encounters are not the romantic adventures about which children fantasize. Life in Missouri and Arkansas in the 1840s was harsh for all, and African Americans were enslaved. Instead of offering a polemic, Twain takes the issue of race beyond the realm of politics, presenting a friendship between a black man and a white boy away from the influence of society. Although Huck's conscience tells him that Jim is "property" he's supposed to send back, he can't do it and resigns himself that "I'll go to hell." But morality lies in Huck's instincts, of course, and thus through an innocent boy Twain chides civilized America for its hypocrisy.
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