The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn | Study Guide

Mark Twain

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Plot Summary

Course Hero's video study guide provides an in-depth plot summary of Mark Twain's novel The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn | Plot Summary

See Plot Diagram


Set along the Mississippi River around 1840, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn focuses primarily on Huck and Jim's experiences while alone on the raft and while moving about in Southern society. The book opens with Huck recalling The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, the previous Mark Twain novel that he appeared in, and explaining what's happened since this time. Currently Huck is being "sivilized" by the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson.

Huck is unhappy with the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson, but Tom Sawyer convinces him to stay so he can be part of his gang. Huck's father, Pap, returns when he learns his son has come into money. He's a violent, uneducated drunk. When he can't get Huck legally, he kidnaps Huck who has been adjusting to the civilized ways of the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson, including their attempts to educate him. Pap keeps Huck locked up when he is not around and beats him when he is drunk. Due to the awful treatment, Huck decides to escape. When his father is out Huck fakes his own death and makes off with a canoe he finds floating down the river.

Huck makes his way to Jackson's Island, which is not far from St. Petersburg where he had lived with the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson. While on the island Huck watches the search for his dead body. After exploring the island for a few days, Huck comes across Jim, Miss Watson's slave. Jim had fled when he heard Miss Watson talking about selling him to a slave trader. The two of them talk about their individual escapes and are happy for each other's company.

A storm causes the Mississippi to flood. Huck and Jim come across a raft and house floating down the river. They take the raft and loot the house, which has a dead man in it. As readers discover only at the end of the novel, Jim recognizes the man as Pap, Huck's father, but does not let the boy see him or tell his friend who it is. Huck decides to sneak over into St. Petersburg, while dressed as a girl, to hear news. While in St. Petersburg he meets a woman who is new to town. She tells Huck about his own death and Jim's escape. There is a reward out for the capture of Jim, and she believes he is on Jackson's Island as she has seen smoke coming from there. She plans on telling her husband about it as soon as he comes home. Huck makes his way back to the island as quickly as he can, and he and Jim take off on the raft.

Huck and Jim plan to go to Cairo, which is at the mouth of the Ohio River, and then take a steamboat to the North where Jim will be free. As they make their way down river, they come across a crashed steamboat. They go on the boat and discover three robbers. After a close call Huck and Jim escape the robbers and get their money and a canoe. Later there is a thick fog and Huck and Jim float past Cairo without seeing it, instead heading further into slave territory. Huck feels conflicted about helping Jim escape and contemplates turning him in. However, when he comes across men looking for escaped slaves, Huck lies and is able to divert the men. Meanwhile Huck and Jim are unable to make it back to the mouth of the Ohio River.

As Huck and Jim travel further south they get into a number of challenging adventures. Huck gets caught in the middle of two families, the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons, who are involved in a silly yet deadly feud. Later Huck and Jim rescue two men, one who claims to be a famous duke and the other a famous king. The men are con men: the "duke" is a kind of itinerant printer and a hilariously bad theater actor and director; the "king" is a faith healer and revival preacher. As the con men are about to get caught, which is partially due to Huck's honesty, they escape and make their way back to the raft with Huck and Jim.

Over the course of the journey, the duke and the king use their expertise to pull a variety of scams. During these adventures Huck, Jim, and the two con men witness a near lynching, which ends with the shooting of a drunkard named Boggs. Meanwhile Jim has been hidden away and disguised to avoid attracting attention from those who wish to capture runaway slaves. The king and the duke's final and ultimately disastrous scam involves the attempt to take inheritance money from a bereaved daughter, Mary Jane Wilks. The two men pretend to be her uncles, Harvey and William Wilks, and manage to acquire $6,000. However, Huck feels guilty about the theft and steals back the money, hiding it in the coffin of the dead man, Peter Wilks. After the two con men are exposed, they escape with Huck back to the raft where Jim has been hiding and continue their journey.

Having run out of ideas, the duke and the king turn Jim in for $40. Despite Huck's periodic bouts of discomfort regarding helping Jim escape, he ultimately decides he'll risk going "to hell" and will do whatever he can to help Jim. Huck finds Jim is being held at the Phelps house. When he arrives there the couple mistake him for Tom Sawyer, their nephew, who is coming for a visit. When Tom does arrive, he claims to be Sid Sawyer and devises a wild plan to free Jim. Huck is convinced a simpler plan would be more effective, but he follows Tom anyway.

After many practices Huck and Tom put into action their elaborate plan, which will require them to dig a hole under the building where Jim is held. It works and Jim is freed, but in the process Tom is shot in the leg. Huck gets him a doctor while Jim assists Tom rather than escaping. As a consequence Jim is recaptured and returned to the Phelps's home.

The next day Tom, who is feverish because of his condition, confesses all to his Aunt Sally. Meanwhile it is revealed that Jim has been freed by Miss Watson, who died two months before. The escape had been a game for Tom and, as it turns out, completely unnecessary. Aunt Polly arrives and backs this up and lets the Phelps know that the boy they thought was Tom is actually Huck. Jim tells Huck that Pap was the one they saw dead in the floating house near Jackson's Island. Aunt Sally is ready to adopt Huck, but he decides to go out west as he in uninterested in being civilized.

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Plot Diagram

Climax123456789Rising ActionFalling ActionResolutionIntroduction


1 Widow Douglas and Miss Watson try to civilize Huck.

Rising Action

2 Pap kidnaps Huck and abuses him.

3 Huck fakes death, goes to Jackson's Island and finds Jim.

4 Jim and Huck raft down the Mississippi River.

5 The duke and the king invade the raft.

6 The duke and the king sell Jim.


7 Huck and Tom decide to help Jim escape.

Falling Action

8 Tom is wounded; Jim is recaptured after trying to help Tom.


9 Jim is set free; Huck decides to leave for the territories.

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