The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

by: Mark Twain


Why blame it all, we’ve got to do it. Don’t I tell you it’s in the books? Do you want to go to doing different from what’s in the books, and get things all muddled up?

In Chapter 2, Tom explains to his Gang that when capturing prisoners it’s best to “keep them till they’re ransomed.” Tom, however, doesn’t know what ransoming actually entails. And when others ask how they should go about ransoming prisoners if they don’t know how to do it, Tom just insists that they have to do it because that’s how characters in books do it. Tom’s stubbornness and his persistence in ignorance demonstrate his lack of maturity.

Well, one thing was dead sure; and that was, that Tom Sawyer was in earnest and was actuly going to help steal that nigger out of slavery. That was the thing that was too many for me. . . . I couldn’t understand it, no way at all.

When Tom shows up again near the end of the book and pledges to help Huck free Jim, Huck expresses these words of disbelief. Huck sees Tom as a well-bred, educated, and civilized boy. He therefore has trouble understanding why Tom would endanger his reputation and respectability to help an escaped slave. Nevertheless, Huck feels impressed by Tom’s willingness to risk it all, which suggests a moral maturity that Tom did not possess at the beginning of the book.

I wish there was a moat to this cabin. If we get time, the night of the escape, we’ll dig one.

Even though Tom initially seems to have matured, Huck quickly finds that Tom retains his childish commitment to adventure stories. Tom says these words in Chapter 35, as he and Huck are working on Jim’s escape plot. The very idea that Tom would waste the time and effort to dig a moat just to make the escape more exciting clearly indicates that Tom has misperceived the gravity of the situation. He is only in it for the adventure.

It ain’t no crime in a prisoner to steal the thing he needs to get away with, Tom said; it’s his right; and so, as long as we was representing a prisoner, we had a perfect right to steal anything on this place we had the least use for, to get ourselves out of prison with.

In Chapter 35, Tom explains that prisoners and those who are helping them have a “right” to steal whatever they need to escape. Tom attempts to adopt the language of the law to demonstrate his authority on the subject. But his skewed logic regarding how an illegal act becomes legal only points to his lack of understanding. Tom’s moral relativism also reminds the reader of the similarly childish example that appeared in Chapter 12, when Huck explains his father’s position on “borrowing”: “Pap always said it warn’t no harm to borrow things, if you was meaning to pay them back, sometime.”