The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

Mark Twain

Chapters 14–16

Summary Chapters 14–16

The arguments Huck and Jim have over Huck’s stories provide remarkable mini-allegories about slavery and race. When Huck tells the tale of King Solomon, who threatened to chop a baby in half, Jim argues that Solomon had so many children that he became unable to value human life properly. Huck’s comments lead us to compare Jim’s assessment of Solomon with whites’ treatments of blacks at the time—as infinitely replaceable bodies, indistinguishable from one another. Later, Huck tells Jim that people in France don’t speak English. Huck tries to convince the skeptical Jim by pointing out that cats and cows don’t “talk” the same, and that, by analogy, neither should French people and American people. Jim points out that both are men and that the analogy is inappropriate. Although Jim is misinformed in a sense, he is correct in his assessment of Huck’s analogy. Jim’s argument provides yet another subtle reminder that, in American society at the time, not all men are treated as men. Although Jim’s discussion with Huck shows that both have clever minds, we see that Jim is less imprisoned by conventional wisdom than Huck, who has grown up at least partly in mainstream white society.

We see the moral and societal importance of Huck and Jim’s journey in Huck’s profound moral crisis about whether he should return Jim to Miss Watson. In the viewpoint of Southern white society, Huck has effectively stolen $800—the price the slave trader has offered for Jim—from Miss Watson. However, Jim’s comment that Huck is the only white man ever to keep his word to him shows that Huck has been treating Jim not as a slave but as a man. This newfound knowledge, along with Huck’s guilt, keep Huck from turning Jim in. Huck realizes that he would have felt worse for doing the “right” thing and turning Jim in than he does for not turning Jim in. When Huck reaches this realization, he makes a decision to reject conventional morality in favor of what his conscience dictates. This decision represents a big step in Huck’s development, as he realizes that his conscience may be a better guide than the dictates of the white society in which he has been raised.