The protagonist and narrator of the novel. Huck is the thirteen-year-old son of the town drunk. After escaping from his abusive father, Huck spends most of the novel traveling down the Mississippi River with Jim, an escaped slave. Though he is uneducated, Huck survives by relying on his wits. He is thoughtful, intelligent, and willing to come to his own conclusions about important matters, even when these conclusions contradict society’s norms. Nevertheless, Huck is still a boy, and is influenced by others, particularly by his friend, Tom.
Huck’s imaginative, dominating friend who comes from a relatively comfortable family. In contrast to Huck’s self-reliant and independent nature, Tom believes in sticking closely to the “rules” he has gleaned from society and the wild notions he reads about in adventure novels. Unfortunately these rules have more to do with style than with morality or anyone’s welfare. As a result, the schemes that he compels Huck and Jim to follow are unnecessarily complicated and often dangerous.
One of Miss Watson’s household slaves who, after running away, becomes Huck’s companion and protector on the river. Jim is superstitious and sentimental, but he is also intelligent, practical, and ultimately more mature than the other characters in the novel. Jim’s frequent acts of selflessness, his longing for his family, and his friendship with both Huck and Tom demonstrate to Huck that humanity has nothing to do with race. Because Jim is a black man and a runaway slave, he is at the mercy of almost all the other characters in the novel and is often forced into ridiculous and degrading situations.
Widow Douglas and Miss Watson
Two wealthy sisters who live together in a large house in St. Petersburg, Missouri. They adopt Huck and attempt to civilize him. Miss Watson is gaunt and severe. She is strict when it comes to teaching Huck about religion and manners. The Widow Douglas is somewhat gentler in her beliefs and has more patience with Huck. When Huck acts in a manner contrary to societal expectations, it is the Widow Douglas whom he fears disappointing.
Huck’s father and the town drunk. Pap is a wreck when he appears at the beginning of the novel, with disgusting, ghostlike white skin, and tattered clothes. The illiterate Pap is selfish and cruel. He disapproves of Huck’s education and exploits Huck for his own material gain. Pap imprisons Huck in a shack in the woods, where he frequently beats Huck, prompting him to escape down the river.
The duke and the dauphin
A pair of con men whom Huck and Jim rescue as they are being run out of a river town. The older man, who appears to be about seventy, claims to be the “dauphin,” the son of King Louis XVI and heir to the French throne. The younger man, who is about thirty, claims to be the usurped Duke of Bridgewater. Although Huck quickly realizes the men are frauds, he and Jim remain at their mercy, as Huck is only a child and Jim is a runaway slave. The duke and the dauphin carry out a number of increasingly disturbing swindles as they travel down the river on the raft.
The local judge who shares responsibility for Huck with the Widow Douglas and is in charge of safeguarding the money that Huck and Tom found at the end of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. When Huck discovers that Pap has returned to town, he wisely signs his fortune over to the Judge, who doesn’t really accept the money, but tries to comfort Huck.
A family that takes Huck in after a steamboat hits his raft, separating him from Jim. The kindhearted Grangerfords are locked in a long-standing feud with another local family, the Shepherdsons, though no one remembers exactly what started it. Ultimately, the families’ sensationalized feud gets many of them killed.
The Wilks family
A family that the duke and the dauphin con after learning of the death of a local man named Peter Wilks, who has left behind a rich estate. The two con men pose as Wilks’s two brothers from England, the recipients of much of the inheritance. The duke and the dauphin’s subsequent conning of the good-hearted and vulnerable Wilks sisters is the first step in the con men’s increasingly cruel series of scams, which culminate in the sale of Jim.
Silas and Sally Phelps
Tom Sawyer’s aunt and uncle, whom Huck coincidentally encounters in his search for Jim after the con men have sold him. Sally is the sister of Tom’s aunt, Polly. Essentially good people, the Phelpses nevertheless hold Jim in custody and try to return him to his owner. Silas and Sally are the unknowing victims of many of Tom and Huck’s “preparations” as they try to free Jim.