The protagonist and narrator of the novel. Huck is the thirteen-year-old son of the local drunk of St. Petersburg, Missouri, a town on the Mississippi River. Frequently forced to survive on his own wits and always a bit of an outcast, Huck is thoughtful, intelligent (though formally uneducated), and willing to come to his own conclusions about important matters, even if these conclusions contradict society’s norms. Nevertheless, Huck is still a boy, and is influenced by others, particularly by his imaginative friend, Tom.
Huck’s friend, and the protagonist of Tom Sawyer, the novel to which Huckleberry Finn is ostensibly the sequel. In Huckleberry Finn, Tom serves as a foil to Huck: imaginative, dominating, and given to wild plans taken from the plots of adventure novels, Tom is everything that Huck is not. Tom’s stubborn reliance on the “authorities” of romance novels leads him to acts of incredible stupidity and startling cruelty. His rigid adherence to society’s conventions aligns Tom with the “sivilizing” forces that Huck learns to see through and gradually abandons.
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Two wealthy sisters who live together in a large house in St. Petersburg and who adopt Huck. The gaunt and severe Miss Watson is the most prominent representative of the hypocritical religious and ethical values Twain criticizes in the novel. The Widow Douglas is somewhat gentler in her beliefs and has more patience with the mischievous Huck. When Huck acts in a manner contrary to societal expectations, it is the Widow Douglas whom he fears disappointing.
One of Miss Watson’s household slaves. Jim is superstitious and occasionally sentimental, but he is also intelligent, practical, and ultimately more of an adult than anyone else 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.
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Huck’s father, the town drunk and ne’er-do-well. Pap is a wreck when he appears at the beginning of the novel, with disgusting, ghostlike white skin and tattered clothes. The illiterate Pap disapproves of Huck’s education and beats him frequently. Pap represents both the general debasement of white society and the failure of family structures in the novel.
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 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. Judge Thatcher has a daughter, Becky, who was Tom’s girlfriend in Tom Sawyer and whom Huck calls “Bessie” in this novel.
A family that takes Huck in after a steamboat hits his raft, separating him from Jim. The kindhearted Grangerfords, who offer Huck a place to stay in their tacky country home, are locked in a long-standing feud with another local family, the Shepherdsons. Twain uses the two families to engage in some rollicking humor and to mock a overly romanticizes ideas about family honor. Ultimately, the families’ sensationalized feud gets many of them killed.
At one point during their travels, the duke and the dauphin encounter a man who tells them of the death of a local named Peter Wilks, who has left behind a rich estate. The man inadvertently gives the con men enough information to allow them to pretend to be Wilks’s two brothers from England, who are 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.
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 rightful owner. Silas and Sally are the unknowing victims of many of Tom and Huck’s “preparations” as they try to free Jim. The Phelpses are the only intact and functional family in this novel, yet they are too much for Huck, who longs to escape their “sivilizing” influence.
Tom Sawyer’s aunt and guardian and Sally Phelps’s sister. Aunt Polly appears at the end of the novel and properly identifies Huck, who has pretended to be Tom, and Tom, who has pretended to be his own younger brother, Sid.