Huck and Tom get Jim’s keeper, a superstitious slave, to let them see Jim. When Jim cries out in recognition, Tom protects their secret by tricking Jim’s keeper into thinking the cry was the work of witches. Tom and Huck promise to dig Jim out and begin to make preparations.Read a translation of Chapter 34 →
Tom, disappointed that Silas Phelps has taken so few precautions to guard Jim, proclaims that he and Huck will have to invent all the obstacles to Jim’s rescue. Tom says they must saw Jim’s chain off instead of just lifting it off the bed’s framework, because that’s how it’s done in all the books. Tom rattles off a list of other things that are allegedly necessary in plotting an escape, including a rope ladder, a moat, and a shirt on which Jim can keep a journal, presumably written in his own blood. Sawing Jim’s leg off to free him from the chains would also be a nice touch. But since they are pressed for time, they will dig Jim out with case-knives, or large table knives. Despite all the theft that the plan entails, Tom chastises Huck for stealing a watermelon from the slaves’ garden and makes Huck give the slaves a dime as compensation.Read a translation of Chapter 35 →
As in the early chapters of the novel, Tom Sawyer again serves as a foil to Huck in these chapters. Brash, unconcerned with others, and dependent on the “authorities” of romantic adventure novels, Tom hatches a wild plan to free Jim. Huck recognizes the foolishness and potential danger of Tom’s plan and says it could get the three of them killed. It is not surprising that Tom’s willingness to help free Jim confuses Huck, for Tom has always concerned himself with conforming to social expectations and preserving his own reputation. Freeing Jim would seem to be objectionable on both counts. Huck, meanwhile, though willing to trade his life and reputation for Jim, thinks of himself as a poor, worthless member of white society. Huck sees Tom’s life as worth something more than that and believes that Tom has something to lose by helping to free Jim. In the end, though, we sense that Tom has no concept of the life-and-death importance of Jim’s liberation but instead just views the effort simply as one big opportunity for fun and adventure.
Twain makes a scathing comment on the insidious racism of the South in the exchange between Sally and Huck about the explosion on the steamboat. When Sally asks if anyone was hurt in the explosion, Huck replies “No’m. Killed a nigger,” to which Sally replies, “Well, it’s lucky; because sometimes people do get hurt.” It is unclear whether Huck is simply role-playing—mimicking the attitudes of an average white Southern boy in pretending to be Tom—or whether he still retains some vestiges of the racism with which he has been brought up. Sally, however, is inarguably racist in her response, saying that it’s fortunate no one was hurt when she has just learned that a black man lost his life. Twain condemns this kind of automatic, offhand racism throughout the novel, but his criticism is at its most apparent here. This conversation provides yet another example of the confusing moral environment that surrounds Huck: Sally is clearly a “good” and kind woman in many traditional senses, yet she doesn’t think twice about considering the loss of a black man’s life no loss at all.