The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

by: Mark Twain

The duke and the dauphin

Let the cold world do its worst; one thing I know—there’s a grave somewhere for me. The world may go on just as its always done, and take everything from me—loved ones, property, everything—but it can’t take that. Some day I’ll lie down in it and forget it all, and my poor broken heart will be at rest.

These words belong to the duke, who is introducing himself to Huck and Jim in Chapter 19. The duke speaks at length about his sad circumstances and his hopelessness about the future. His companion, the self-styled “dauphin,” makes a similarly pitiful gesture in his own introduction: “Yes, gentlemen, you see before you, in blue jeans and misery, the wanderin’, exiled, trampled-on and sufferin’ rightful King of France.” These two men portray themselves as down-and-out victims in order to curry favor through pity, and to conceal their fraudulent intentions.

Mary Jane ’ll be in mourning from this out; and first you know the nigger that does up the rooms will get an order to box these duds up and put ’em away; and do you reckon a nigger can run across money and not borrow some of it?

In the midst of the attempt to scam the Wilks nieces out of their inheritance, the duke makes this comment in Chapter 26 about the black house servant. The duke implies that all black people are thieves, and so the servant is sure to steal some of the inheritance money if it’s left out in the open. Of course, the duke’s comment is hypocritical, since he—and not the servant—is the real thief.

First they done a lecture on temperance; but they didn’t make enough for them both to get drunk on. Then in another village they started a dancing school; but they didn’t know no more how to dance than a kangaroo does; so the first prance they made, the general public jumped in and pranced them out of town. Another time they tried a go a yellocution; but they didn’t yellocute long till the audience got up and give them a solid cussing and made them skip out.

In Chapter 31, after the failed attempt to defraud the Wilks nieces, Huck describes the subsequent series of attempted cons by the duke and the dauphin. The tone of the passage is humorous, since it shows that the conmen are as inept as they are persistent. But Huck’s words also express a sense of exhaustion and frustration. At this point in the book, he desperately wishes to get away from these increasingly dangerous men.