Once on land, Huck finds a ferry watchman and tells him his family is stranded on the Walter Scott steamboat wreck. Huck invents an elaborate story about how his family got on the wreck and convinces the watchman to take his ferry to help. Huck feels proud of his good deed and thinks the Widow Douglas would have approved of him helping the robbers because she often takes an interest in “rapscallions and dead beats.” Jim and Huck sink the robbers’ boat and then go to sleep. Meanwhile, the wreck of the Walter Scott drifts downstream and, although the ferryman has gone to investigate, the robbers clearly have not survived.Read a translation of Chapter 13 →
Mrs. Loftus is one of the more sincere people Huck encounters throughout the course of the novel, but her attitude toward Jim makes her goodness somewhat problematic. Mrs. Loftus is clearly a clever woman, as we see in the tests she spontaneously designs to unmask Huck. Despite her charity toward Huck, however, Mrs. Loftus and her husband are only too happy to profit from capturing Jim, and her husband plans to bring a gun to hunt Jim like an animal. Mrs. Loftus makes a clear distinction between Huck, who tells her he has run away from a mean farmer, and Jim, who has done essentially the same thing by running away from an owner who is considering selling him.
Whereas Mrs. Loftus and the rest of white society differentiate between an abused runaway slave and an abused runaway boy, Huck does not. Huck and Jim’s raft becomes a sort of haven of brotherhood and equality, as both find refuge and peace from a society that has treated them poorly. The two even engage in a bit of moral philosophizing about stealing. Though their resolution to give up stealing a few items to render their other stealing less sinful seems childish, it nevertheless represents an attempt to reconcile practical and moral concerns.
The pattern of Huck’s childishness getting both himself and Jim into trouble continues in these chapters, as Huck follows his boyish, Tom Sawyer–like impulses and nearly has a run-in with the robbers on the wrecked steamboat. There is no good reason why Huck and Jim should tie up to the wrecked ship, particularly at night and in a storm, but Huck is unable to resist. The two are lucky to escape, and the incident proves to be another reminder that even on the river they are not safe from the problems that plagued them at home—violence, cruelty, and powerlessness at the hands of any white adult. Huck’s attempts to reconcile the situation show that he is learning, despite his initial immaturity. When Huck acts like Tom Sawyer, trouble follows, but when he acts like himself—when he seeks to interpret and react to experience in a practical manner—things generally turn out fine.
The fact that Jim sees the foolishness of many of Huck’s endeavors but never restrains Huck reminds us of Jim’s extremely tenuous position as an escaped slave. In a number of instances in the novel, Jim protests when Huck formulates a foolish plan, but eventually gives in to the boy. Twain never explicitly explains Jim’s reasoning, but the implication is always there that Jim’s caution stems from his constant fear of being caught and returned to his former owner. After all, Huck, though a child, is a free, white child who could turn in Jim at any time and collect a large reward for doing so. Although this idea seems never to cross Huck’s mind, it lurks beneath the surface of Jim and Huck’s interactions and reminds us of the constant fear Jim lives with as an escaped slave.