The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

by: Mark Twain


That is just the way with some people. They get down on a thing when they don’t know nothing about it.

Huck speaks these words early in Chapter 1, when he feels frustrated that Widow Douglas won’t let him smoke. Huck believes that the Widow looks down on smoking because of her religious background, and not because she has any direct experience with it. Condemning something without full knowledge of it strikes Huck as a form of hypocrisy, and in this quote he makes a generalized statement against such hypocrisy.

Then away out in the woods I heard that kind of a sound that a ghost makes when it wants to tell about something that’s on its mind and can’t make itself understood, and so can’t rest easy in its grave and has to go about that way every night grieving.

In Chapter 1, Huck stays up after everyone has gone to bed and listens to the sounds of the night. As he sits alone, he hears sounds that jumpstart his imagination, and he makes up this story about a lonesome and misunderstood ghost. On the one hand, the quote illustrates Huck’s propensity for storytelling. On the other hand, the ghost in the story mirrors Huck’s own loneliness and sense of being misunderstood.

[Widow Douglas] said the thing a body could get by praying for it was “spiritual gifts.” This was too many for me, but she told me what she meant—I must help other people, and do everything I could for other people, and look out for them all the time, and never think about myself.

Huck finds it difficult to understand the point of prayer, and here he relates how Widow Douglas explained it to him. The Widow emphasizes that main point of prayer is to help other people. Huck understands this lesson, and later in the novel it becomes one important source of his moral crisis. He believes that he is helping Jim by helping him escape slavery, but he also knows that helping Jim means harming Miss Watson. Likewise, helping Miss Watson by returning Jim would mean harming his friend and companion.

I didn’t see no di’monds, and I told Tom Sawyer so. He said there was loads of them there, anyway; and he said there was A-rabs there, too, and elephants and things. I said, why couldn’t we see them, them? He said if I warn’t so ignorant, but had read a book called “Don Quixote,” I would know without asking.

During a meeting with Tom Sawyer’s Gang in Chapter 3, Huck expresses his growing frustration with make-believe. Whereas Tom’s extensive reading has made him able to “see” with his imagination alone, Huck fails to see the point of dwelling on what isn’t there. In this regard, Tom’s make-believe smacks too much of religion, and Huck goes on to declare that Tom’s stories “had all the marks of a Sunday school.”

You know what I mean—I don’t know the words to put it in.

This quote from Chapter 7 represents one of the few occasions when Huck directly addresses the reader. Huck arrived at Jackson’s Island around nightfall and immediately fell asleep. When he wakes up it’s late and he feels disoriented. He tries to describe the quality of his late-night disorientation, but words fail him. Considering that this is the only time in the book when Huck is at a loss for words, his confession shows just how exhausted he really is. The confession also endears him to the reader.

I said I wouldn’t, and I’ll stick to it. Honest injun I will. People would call me a low down Ablitionist, and despise me for keeping mum—but that don’t make no difference. I ain’t agoing to tell, and I ain’t agoing back there anyways. So now, le’s know all about it.

The promise Huck makes in Chapter 8 not to give Jim up reveals popular sentiment of the day about people who helped slaves escape. Huck knows that he would be shunned and despised if people – meaning other white people – found out he didn’t turn Jim into the authorities for escaping. The quote also reveals Huck’s personal morality – he believes in keeping his word no matter what, even if keeping his word creates personal discomfort for him.

The first light we see, we’ll land a hundred yards below it or above it, in a place where it’s a good hiding-pace for you and the skiff, and then I’ll go and fix up some kind of yarn, and get somebody to go for that gang and get them out of their scrape, so they can be hung when their time comes.

In Chapter 13, Huck makes this plan to seek help for the thieves aboard the wrecked steamboat. Huck’s plan entails a strange combination of empathy and justice. He wants to save the men from harm, but only to make sure that justice will be served in a more official capacity—that is, through execution. Huck’s plan also demonstrates that his training in Tom Sawyer’s method of make-believe can prove useful in real-life situations.

I got to feeling so mean and so miserable I most wished I was dead.

After Jim tells Huck off for the prank he played in the fog in Chapter 15, a debilitating sense of guilt sets in as Huck begins to realize the larger stakes of his adventure with Jim. This quote, which comes from Chapter 16, finds Huck meditating on morality. He realizes that helping Jim escape does harm to Miss Watson. But he also understands that helping Miss Watson would hurt Jim. Huck can’t decide what to do and hence feels “so miserable I most wished I was dead.”

We had the sky, up there, all speckled with stars, and we used to lay on our backs and look up at them, and discuss about whether they was made, or only just happened—Jim he allowed they was made, or only just happened; I judged it would have took too long to make so many. Jim said the moon could a laid them; well, that looked kind of reasonable, so I didn’t say nothing against it, because I’ve seen a frog lay most as many, so of course it could be done.

There are very few moments in the book when Huck feels at ease, and this example from Chapter 19 is one of them. Huck and Jim have enjoyed a couple of incident-free days on the raft, and in that time they’ve grown more comfortable with one another. Here, the two characters enjoy a friendly and warm-hearted discussion of the nature of the universe. This moment represents a rare example of Huck and Jim being able to revel in a shared sense of freedom.