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.Read a translation of Chapter 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. 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.
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.