Summary: Chapter 17
A man calls off the dogs, saving Huck, who introduces himself as “George Jackson.” The man invites “George” into his house, where the hosts express an odd suspicion that Huck is a member of a family called the Shepherdsons. Eventually, Huck’s hosts decide that he is not a Shepherdson. The lady of the house tells Buck, a boy about Huck’s age, to get Huck some dry clothes. Buck says he would have killed a Shepherdson had there been any Shepherdsons present. Buck tells Huck a riddle, but Huck does not understand the concept of riddles. Buck says Huck must stay with him and they will have great fun. Huck, meanwhile, invents an elaborate story to explain how he was orphaned.
Buck’s family, the Grangerfords, offer to let Huck stay with them for as long as he likes. Huck innocently admires the house and its humorously tacky finery, including the work of a deceased daughter, Emmeline, who created unintentionally funny sentimental artwork and poems about people who died. Settling in with the Grangerfords and enjoying their kindness, Huck thinks that “nothing couldn’t be better” than life at the comfortable house.
Summary: Chapter 18
Other places do seem so cramped up and smothery, but a raft don’t. You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.
Huck admires Colonel Grangerford, the master of the house, and his supposed gentility. A warmhearted man, the colonel owns a very large estate with over a hundred slaves. Everyone in the household treats the colonel with great courtesy. The Grangerford children include Bob, the oldest; then Tom; then Charlotte, age twenty-five; Sophia, age twenty; and finally Buck. All of them are beautiful.
One day, Buck tries to shoot a young man named Harney Shepherdson but misses. Huck asks why Buck wanted to kill Harney, and Buck explains that the Grangerfords are in a feud with a neighboring clan of families, the Shepherdsons. No one can remember how or why the feud started, but in the last year, two people have been killed, including a fourteen-year-old Grangerford. The two families attend church together and hold their rifles between their knees as the minister preaches about brotherly love.
After church one day, Sophia Grangerford has Huck retrieve a copy of the Bible from the pews. She is delighted to find inside a note with the words “Half-past two” written on it. Later, Huck’s slave valet leads Huck deep into the swamp and tells Huck he wants to show him some water-moccasins. Huck finds Jim there, much to his surprise. Jim says that he followed Huck to the shore the night they were wrecked but did not dare call out for fear of being caught. Some slaves found the raft, but Jim reclaimed it by threatening the slaves and telling them that it belonged to his white master.
The next day, Huck learns that Sophia Grangerford has run off with Harney Shepherdson. In the woods, Huck finds Buck and a nineteen-year-old Grangerford in a gunfight with the Shepherdsons. Both of the Grangerfords are killed. Deeply disturbed, Huck heads for Jim and the raft, and the two shove off downstream.
Summary: Chapter 19
Huck and Jim continue down the river. On one of his solo expeditions in the canoe, Huck comes upon two men on shore fleeing some trouble and begging to be let onto the raft. Huck takes them a mile downstream to safety. One man is about seventy, bald, with whiskers, and the other about thirty. Both men’s clothes are badly tattered. The men do not know each other but are in similar predicaments. The younger man used to sell a paste that was meant to remove tartar from teeth but that took off much of the enamel with it. He fled to avoid the locals’ ire. The older man used to run a temperance revival meeting but had to flee after word got out that he drank.
Having heard each other’s stories, the two men, both professional con artists, decide to team up. The younger man declares himself an impoverished English duke and gets Huck and Jim to wait on him and treat him like royalty. The old man then reveals his true identity as the dauphin, the long lost son of King Louis XVI of France. Huck and Jim then wait on the men and call them “Duke” and “Your Majesty,” respectively. Huck quickly realizes that the two men are liars, but to prevent “quarrels,” he does not let on that he knows.
Analysis: Chapters 17–19
Huck’s stay at the Grangerfords represents another instance of Twain poking fun at American tastes and at the conceits of romantic literature. For Huck, who has never really had a home aside from the Widow Douglas’s rather spartan house, the Grangerford house looks like a palace. Huck’s admiration is genuine but naïve, for the Grangerfords and their place are somewhat absurd. In the figure of deceased Emmeline Grangerford, Twain pokes fun at Victorian literature’s propensity for mourning and melancholy. Indeed, Emmeline’s hilariously awful artwork and poems mock popular works of the time. The combination of overzealous bad taste and inherently sad subject matter in Emmeline’s art is both bizarre and comical: as we learn, Emmeline was so enthusiastic in her artistic pursuits that she usually beat the undertaker to a new corpse. Huck, meanwhile, feels uneasy about the macabre aspect of Emmeline’s work. His attempts to accept her art and life remind us that sometimes laughter is insensitive: Emmeline and her subjects were all real people who died, after all.
The great Grangerford-Shepherdson feud is yet another conceit taken from romantic literature, specifically that literature’s concern with family honor. The Grangerfords and Shepherdsons are rather like Tom Sawyer grown up and armed with weapons: motivated by a sense of style and this ridiculous notion of family honor, they actually kill each other. However comical the feud is in general, though, Buck’s death is a terrible moment, and Twain’s tone turns entirely serious at this point. Before fleeing, Huck pulls Buck’s body from the river and cries as he covers his friend’s face. Twain uses this incident to comment on all systems of belief that deny another group of people their humanity. While this section of
Jim’s reemergence on the raft and the encounter with the duke and the dauphin illustrate the shifting power dynamics between blacks and whites as Huck and Jim move further down the river. Jim’s use of Huck’s whiteness to threaten his fellow black men shows how corrupting racism and the slave system can be. We should remember that although Jim acts maliciously, he does so to protect his own freedom, which makes it difficult to judge his actions harshly. Shortly afterward, the encounter with the duke and the dauphin reminds Huck and Jim of their relative powerlessness. Although the duke and the dauphin are criminals, they are free, adult, white men who have the power to turn in both Huck and Jim. Despite Huck’s feeling that one is “mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft,” the outside world and its evils remain a firmly established presence on the river. As Huck and Jim travel further, the Mississippi becomes a source of foreboding rather than freedom, a conduit toward the American “heart of darkness”—the plantations of the Deep South.