What had poor Miss Watson done to you, that you could see her nigger go off right under your eyes and never say one single word? What did that poor old woman do to you, that you could treat her so mean?
In this passage from Chapter 16, Huck recognizes for the first time that by helping Jim escape, he is also complicit in stealing from Miss Watson. This recognition places Huck in a difficult moral position, since he values them both. Jim has always treated Huck with kindness, as has Miss Watson, who has also donated her time to help give him an education. The rhetorical questions that Huck asks himself in this quote illustrate the nature of his double-bind: he cannot escape without hurting someone he cares about.
I was mighty down-hearted; so I made up my mind I wouldn’t ever go anear that house again, because I reckoned I was to blame, somehow.
This passage appears in Chapter 18, just after Huck witnesses a violent ambush in a longstanding blood feud. The episode disturbs Huck, and he even refuses to relate the events in full detail: “I ain’t agoing to tell all that happened.” Nevertheless, the episode has an obvious emotional impact on Huck, and he feels guilty for helping the family’s daughter elope. Here, Huck wrestles with the fact that even good-intentioned acts can have tragic consequences.
That’s just the way: a person does a low-down thing, and then he don’t want to take no consequences of it. Thinks as long as he can hide it, it ain’t no disgrace. That was my fix exactly.
This quote, which appears in Chapter 31, shows Huck in the midst of making his biggest moral decision in the novel—that is, his decision about whether or not to continue to help Jim escape from captivity. In this passage, Huck imagines the double sense of shame he’d feel if he turned Jim in: he would at once betray his friend and admit to committing what was, at the time, an illegal offense. Huck figures that turning Jim in would be a morally weak act, because it would mean that he was trying to compensate for doing one “low-down thing” (i.e., helping Jim escape) by doing another (i.e., betraying Jim).
I knowed very well why [the words] wouldn’t come. It was because my heart warn’t right; it was because I warn’t square; it was because I was playing double. I was letting on to give up sin, but away inside of me I was holding on to the biggest one of all.
This passage also comes from Chapter 31, and it is also related to the passage quoted directly above. Here, Huck reframes his moral dilemma in the religious terms that he first learned from the Widow Douglas. As he tries to pray for guidance, Huck recognizes that the words won’t come because his heart is not really in it. By saying that he’s “playing double,” Huck means that he’s trying to use prayer to solve his moral problem and wash away his sins, but this itself is a sinful act, since he doesn’t actually believe in the Christian paradigm of sin. Hence, he retains the “biggest [sin] of all.”
I wasn’t feeling so brash as I was before, but kind of ornery, and humble, and to blame, somehow—though I hadn’t done nothing. But that’s always the way; it don’t make no difference whether you do right or wrong, a person’s conscience ain’t got no sense, and just goes for him anyway.
At the end of Chapter 33, after reuniting with Tom Sawyer, Huck witnesses a crowd of angry people around two figures who have been tarred and feathered. Huck recognizes these figures as the king and the duke. Although he harbors a strong dislike of these men because of their manipulative behavior, he still feels revolted by the display of violence and cruelty. These contradictory feelings generate a sense of ambivalence that Huck doesn’t quite understand. Huck experiences his mix of feelings as a misplaced form of guilt.
More quotes by theme from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn