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The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn | Discussion Questions 21 - 30

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How does the introduction of the "duke" and the "king" in Chapter 19 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn impact Huck and Jim?

After escaping from the feuding families, Huck is happy to be back on the raft floating down the river. He and Jim are free from society and have a good time doing as they please. When the duke and the king join them, society has infiltrated the serenity of the raft. The duke and the king are con men and take what they want without regard to the feelings of anyone else. They take advantage of Huck and Jim who once again are made to be subordinates. The slave and the mistreated boy are accustomed to serving others and living in adverse conditions, and here they experience them again.

In Chapter 22 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn what does Colonel Sherburn say about courage and cowardice, and how does it relate to Huck?

Sherburn ridicules the mob and shows no respect for them. When the people come together as a mob, they act on fear and impulse. People join the mob because they feel they must rather than because they feel they are doing the right thing. Most would prefer not to be involved, but they will act if others do. They are rarely proud of their actions. On the contrary when someone acts on his own and answers to his own conscience, he is a real "man." He will consider and measure the consequences. Huck is in the midst of a dilemma that mirrors this. If he were to act alone and answer to his conscience, he would assist Jim. If, on the other hand, he were to follow what his society wanted he would return Jim to captivity.

In Chapter 23 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, how does the con men's understanding of people both help and hurt them take advantage of others with "The Royal Nonesuch"?

When creating the handbill for the show the duke wisely adds a note that women and children will not be allowed to attend the show. This creates an expectation of a type of inappropriate behavior. The first show draws poorly and nearly causes a riot. However, at the end of the show the duke and the king ask those in attendance to tell their friends. They recognize that those in the crowd will want to see their friends get cheated too. Those in the crowd are at as low a level as the con men on the stage and are happy to sucker their friends. However, when the duke and the king do the same thing on the second night, their luck runs out. They have to run for their lives before the third show. Their greed has blinded them.

Why does Jim's story about his family in Chapter 23 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn impact Huck and possibly the reader?

For Huck the thought that slaves care deeply about family is a surprise. He says, "I do believe he cared just as much for his people as white folks does for their'n." Families were often broken up in the South so slaves would feel loyalty to their owner and not their family. Jim's feelings of guilt over how he treats his daughter is surprising. In addition Huck and the reader cannot help but notice the care and concern Jim feels for his daughter. This is in stark contrast to how Pap feels about Huck. Pap beats Huck regularly for no reason and does not feel guilty about it at all. In comparison Jim feels guilty when he makes a mistake. This example of parental love is foreign to Huck.

Why does Huck finally decide to upset the plans of the duke and the king in Chapter 28 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn?

The duke and the king defraud a number of people. Huck could be considered an accomplice in these actions. At a minimum he allows these things to happen and shows little remorse or regret. Prior to preying on the Wilks sisters they defraud people who are generally cruel and mean and act poorly toward one another. They deserve to be cheated. In contrast the Wilks sisters are good and kind-hearted. Mary Jane in particular shows this goodness in her genuine sense of sadness over the loss of her father, in her concern for the slave family, and in the way she stands up for Huck when her sister says he is lying. Huck is attracted to her character traits and also finds her physically attractive. These traits inspire Huck to stand up and follow his conscience to thwart the duke and the king.

In Chapter 29 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, what is Twain saying by having the doctor and lawyer quickly recognize Huck is lying while others were unable to?

Huck has had to make up stories from the minute he left Jackson's Island. Since he dropped pretending to be a girl he has gotten away with his lies and been able to manipulate people to get what he wanted. The only person who even suspects him is Joanna Wilks (the youngest sister), and Huck, with the help of the older sister, is able to get out of it. The lawyer and the doctor know Huck is lying from the second he opens his mouth. Unlike the other people to whom Huck lied, these gentlemen are educated and worldly. They do not simply accept Huck at his word and are not gullible. The fact that other people are taken in by Huck so easily indicates they lack intelligence, and Twain seems to be mocking this gullibility as a general problem in the South.

In Chapters 26 and 30 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, how does the duke show himself to be wiser than the king?

In Chapter 26 the duke is ready to leave after he and the king get a substantial amount of money out of the Wilks. As Huck describes, "The duke he grumbled; said the bag of gold was enough, and he didn't want to go no deeper—didn't want to rob a lot of orphans of everything they had." The king, however, wants to keep going and steal as much as he can. In Chapter 30 the king is ready to strangle Huck when he catches up with him and Jim on the raft. The king feels Huck was ready to leave him behind to let the crowd have its way with him. In contrast the duke steps in and defends Huck. While Huck's story is not all true, the duke's logic is correct and wise. While both men are cons and are happy to rob people of their money, the duke shows some sense and knows when it is time to quit. He recognizes other people's interests. The king has no such vision—he is greedy and only considers his own interests.

How does Jim's capture in Chapter 31 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn affect Huck?

When Jim is captured Huck has an internal debate. He is ready to write a letter to Miss Watson about Jim, but he realizes that will mean Jim will return to slavery. Huck considers all that Jim has done for him and the kindness he has shown. However, Huck feels Miss Watson was also good to him. He owes her. Plus, he does not want to be judged negatively by his racist society which believes in slavery. After much thought and debate Huck decides to tear up the letter and risk everything to free Jim. He is no longer interested in society's definition of right and wrong. He will behave according to his own moral code. Jim's capture forces Huck to this conclusion, and it is the climax of the book.

Does Huck's vow to help Jim in Chapter 31 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn matter even though he declared in Chapter 1 he doesn't believe in hell?

The less mature version of Huck did not take Miss Watson seriously when she spoke of hell. Nevertheless Huck declares he is ready to go there as it will mean a change and Tom Sawyer might be there. This immature Huck is only interested in having fun. He does not consider what hell might actually be like even though Miss Watson tries to explain it to him. However, by Chapter 31 Huck has traveled a great distance literally and figuratively. His journey has matured him and he has a deeper understanding of the world and people. In particular, he has come to appreciate Jim's humanity. Because of Jim, Huck is ready to go to hell even though he recognizes the consequences.

Why is Aunt Sally's reaction to a black person dying in Chapter 32 of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn so disturbing?

Aunt Sally is particularly happy to see Huck when he arrives (though she believes he is Tom Sawyer). When she asks why he was late, Huck mentions an issue on the boat and says a black person was killed. Aunt Sally's reaction is, "Well, it's lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt." To Aunt Sally a slave is not a person whose life has meaning. As the story continues readers see more of Aunt Sally. She seems to be a good person who treats people with kindness. However, like Miss Watson, Judith Loftus, and other seemingly decent people in the book, Aunt Sally is racist and thinks nothing of a black person's life. It is hard to reconcile decent people being racist, and the author uses that exchange between Aunt Sally and Huck to demonstrate the hypocrisy that existed in the South.

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