Summary: Chapter 23

The Royal Nonesuch plays to a capacity audience. The dauphin, who appears onstage wearing nothing aside from body paint and some “wild” accoutrements, has the audience howling with laughter. But the crowd nearly attacks the duke and the dauphin when they end the show after only a brief performance. The people in the crowd, embarrassed at having been ripped off, decide to protect their honor by making certain that everyone in the town gets ripped off. After the performance, they tell everyone else in town that the play was wonderful. The second night, therefore, also brings a capacity crowd.

As the duke has anticipated, the crowd on the third night consists of the two previous nights’ audiences coming to get their revenge. Huck and the duke make a getaway to the raft before the show starts. They have earned $465 over the three-night run. Jim is shocked that the royals are such “rapscallions.” Huck explains that history shows nobles to be rapscallions who constantly lie, steal, and decapitate, but his history knowledge is factually very questionable.

Huck does not see the point in telling Jim that the duke and the dauphin are fakes. Jim spends his night watches “moaning and mourning” for his wife and two children. Though “it don’t seem natural,” Huck concludes that Jim loves his family as much as white men love theirs. Jim is torn apart when he hears a thud in the distance that reminds him of the time he beat his daughter Lizabeth for not doing what he told her to do. When he was beating her, Jim didn’t realize that Lizabeth couldn’t hear his instructions because a bout with scarlet fever had left her deaf.

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Summary: Chapter 24

As the duke and the dauphin tie up the raft to work over another town, Jim complains about having to wait, frightened, in the boat, tied up as a runaway slave in order to avoid suspicion, while the others are gone. In response, the duke disguises Jim in a calico stage robe and blue face paint and posts a sign on him that reads, “Sick Arab—but harmless when not out of his head.” The dauphin, dressed up in his newly bought clothes, decides he wants to make a big entrance into the next town, so he and Huck board a steamboat docked several miles above the town.

The dauphin encounters a talkative young man who tells him about a recently deceased local man, Peter Wilks. Wilks had recently sent for his two brothers from Sheffield, England—Harvey, whom Peter had not seen since they were boys, and William, who is deaf and mute. Wilks left much of his property to these brothers when he died, but it seems uncertain whether they will ever arrive. The dauphin wheedles the young traveler, who is en route to South America, to provide him with details concerning the Wilks family.

Arriving in Wilks’s hometown, the duke and the dauphin ask for Wilks and feign anguish when told of his death. The dauphin even makes strange hand gestures to the duke, feigning sign language. The scene is enough to make Huck “ashamed of the human race.”

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Summary: Chapter 25

A crowd gathers before the Wilks home to watch Wilks’s three nieces tearfully greet the duke and the dauphin, whom they believe to be their English uncles. The entire town then joins in the “blubbering.” Huck has “never seen anything so disgusting.” The letter Wilks has left behind bequeaths the house and $3,000 to his nieces. His brothers stand to inherit another $3,000, along with more than double that amount in real estate. After finding Wilks’s money in the basement, where the letter had said it would be, the duke and the dauphin privately count the money. They add $415 of their own money when they discover that the stash comes up short of the letter’s promised $6,000. Then, they hand all the money over to the Wilks sisters in a great show before a crowd of townspeople. Doctor Robinson, an old friend of the deceased, interrupts to declare the duke and the dauphin frauds, noting that their accents are ridiculously phony. He asks Mary Jane, the eldest Wilks sister, to listen to him as a friend and dismiss the impostors. In reply, Mary Jane hands the dauphin the $6,000 to invest as he sees fit.

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Analysis: Chapters 23–25

Although the duke and the dauphin become increasingly malicious and cruel in their scams, Twain continues to portray the victims of the con men’s schemes as unflatteringly as the con men themselves. The duke and the dauphin’s production of The Royal Nonesuch, for example, is a complete farce, a brief, insubstantial show for which the audience is grossly overcharged. But what makes the con men’s show a real success, however, is not any ingenuity on their part—they are as inept as ever—but rather the audience’s own selfishness and vindictiveness. Rather than warn the other townspeople that the show was terrible, the first night’s ticketholders would rather see everyone else get ripped off in the same way they did. Thus, the con men’s scheme becomes even more successful because the townspeople display vindictiveness rather than selflessness.

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In much the same way, the cruel scheme to steal the Wilks family’s inheritance succeeds only because of the stupidity and gullibility of the Wilks sisters, particularly Mary Jane. Admittedly, the grieving Wilks sisters likely are not in the best frame of mind to think rationally after their loss. Nonetheless, despite the fact that the duke and the dauphin are hilariously inept in their role-playing and fake in their accents, the only person who even begins to suspect them is Doctor Robinson—and Mary Jane dismisses his advice without a thought. But even the Doctor comes across as annoyingly self-righteous. Together, these episodes contribute to the overall sense of moral confusion in the world of Huckleberry Finn. Although the con men’s audacity and maliciousness are sometimes shocking, Twain’s portrayal of the victims is often equally unsympathetic.

Read important quotes from this section of chapters.

Jim, meanwhile, displays an honest sensitivity that contrasts him ever more strongly with the debased white characters who surround him. Jim bares himself emotionally to Huck, expressing a poignant longing for his family and admitting his errors as a father when he tells of the time he beat his daughter when she did not deserve it. Jim’s willingness to put himself in a vulnerable position and admit his failings to Huck adds a new dimension of humanity to his character. Jim’s nobility becomes even more apparent when we recall that he has been willing to forgive others throughout the novel, even though he is unable to forgive himself for one honest mistake. As we see in these chapters, Jim’s honesty and emotional openness have a profound effect on Huck. Having been brought up among racist white assumptions, Huck is surprised to see that ties of familial love can be as strong among blacks as among whites. Although Huck’s development is still incomplete—he still qualifies his observations a bit, noting that it doesn’t seem “natural” for Jim to be so attached to his family—his mind is open and he clearly views Jim more as a human and less as a slave.

Read more about empathy as a theme.