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Samuel Beckett

Chapter 15

Huck and Jim aim for Cairo, where the Ohio River meets the Mississippi and plan to sell the raft and buy tickets for a steamer that will take them northward to the free states. However, a massive fog rolls in and, while Huck tries to tie off the raft so as not to float past their destination in the fog, the raft gets loose and Huck gets separated from Jim. In the canoe, Huck follows blindly after Jim but it is not till the fog clears up, that Huck is able to locate the raft again.

Jim has fallen asleep by the time Huck has caught up. One of the oars has been smashed off, and branches and leaves are scattered about, showing that Jim did not fare too easily through fog. But when Huck wakes Jim, Huck pretends that they were never separated and that Jim dreamed the whole thing. Jim at first cannot believe it, but Huck insists so Jim goes on to interpret the dream. Finally, Huck tells Jim to interpret the leaves and branches as well—and Jim realizes that Huck has tricked him. Jim then makes Huck feel bad by saying that the interpretation is this: that Jim cared so much for Huck that he didn’t care what happened to him just so long as Huck was safe and sound, and that when Huck came back all he cared about was making a fool of Jim. Then Jim went and lay down and Huck felt ashamed, so he apologized to Jim, confessing to the reader that he “humbled” himself to a “nigger.”

In this chapter, Huck realizes that it is mean to play tricks on someone who cares for you. While he displays a kind of childlike mischievousness by tricking Jim, he also shows that he is capable of humility and remorse, and he makes it up to Jim by apologizing. In this way, Jim’s role as a father figure is given more credibility, and Huck’s adolescence is given a boost toward maturity.

Chapter 16

The two continue to drift onwards and talk of Cairo. Jim’s talk of becoming a “free” man begins to aggravate Huck’s conscience. He does not like Jim’s talk, nor does he like that he is helping him escape from his rightful owner, Miss Watson. Huck knows that he promised Jim he would not tell, but now he thinks that the right thing to do is tell. When the two decide that Huck will paddle out to ask someone how near they are to Cairo, Huck thinks to himself that he will give him away since his conscience is eating him up so badly.

However, when Huck paddles out for information, he hears Jim behind him calling him the “bes’ fren’ Jim’s ever had.” Huck then meets a group of men hunting for runaway slaves. They want to search Huck’s raft, but Huck feels so bad at the thought of giving up Jim, that he convinces them that his family is on board with the smallpox, so the men give Huck $40 out of sympathy and clear off. Huck reasons that whether a thing is right or wrong is too difficult to tell, and that what he will do from now on is whatever comes “handiest.”

The next person Huck asks calls him a fool, and it is that morning that Huck and Jim see the clear waters of the Ohio mixing with the muddy Mississippi that they realize they missed their stop that night in the fog. They reason that there is nothing left to do but float on further south until they can buy a canoe to replace the one that slipped off during the night and paddle back up to Cairo.

But that same night a steamer runs right into their raft and Huck and Jim dive overboard. Huck crawls ashore and is immediately stopped by the barking of dogs.

Chapter 17

The dogs belong to the Grangerfords, a family that is feuding with the Shepherdsons. The family sees well enough that Huck is not a Shepherdson. He tells them his name is George Jackson and that he fell overboard the steamer. They get him fresh clothes, feed him, listen to his story (in which he describes himself as an orphan) and are kind enough to invite him to live with them as long as he likes. Huck makes friends with a Grangerford boy his own age named Buck and spends time looking the house over and admiring its décor.

The Grangerfords have a dead daughter named Emmeline, who left behind various works of art, which Huck admires as well. Her pictures are all melancholy and about sadness and death—and so is her poetry. One of the poems that Huck reads is entitled “Ode to Stephen Dowling Bots, Dec’d.” It is a humorous poem about the tragic death of Bots and Huck asserts that if little Emmeline could write poetry that well at 14 years of age there is no telling what she might have become had she lived longer. Inspired to write his own ode to Emmeline, Huck tries to set down some verses. But he is not as gifted with words as she was, he decides and abandons the exercise.

In this chapter, Huck seems to see what it would have been like to have a real family, and he is fascinated by the realities of the home life—observing everything as though he it were completely alien to him. However, he does like it all very much and feels a kind of contentedness among the Grangerfords.

Chapter 18

This is one of the longest chapters in the novel and deals with the plight of the Grangerfords and Shepherdsons.

Huck describes Col. Grangerford as a stately gentleman, who is very impressive in his demeanor and commanding of respect. Each morning his and his wife’s health are toasted and even Huck and Buck take part in the toast. Everyone is agreeable and friendly and loving with one another.

Yet there is one peculiarity—and that is the irrational hatred that the Grangerford males have for the Shepherdsons. Huck witnesses this hatred first hand during an outing with Buck. Upon hearing the approach of a horse, Buck takes Huck with him into the woods where he then fires upon one Harney Shepherdson and knocks off his hat. Harney chases them through the woods, firing in return, but finally returns to the road. Huck asks Buck what it’s all about and Buck tries to explain the feud but cannot recall who started it or why—all he knows is that it has been going on for thirty years. Buck describes various incidents and even though he hates the Shepherdsons he respects them as foes and states that there is not a coward among them.

Ironically, the Grangerfords go to church where their preacher admonishes them to love their fellow man. Huck finds the words of the preacher to be in opposition to the guns in the hands of the Grangerfords, which they bring with them even to church.

After church is over, Miss Sophia Grangerford asks Huck to go back to the church to retrieve her Testament. Huck does so but suspects that there is more to it than what she has let on and finds a note in the Bible that reads, “Half past two.” Miss Sophia is overjoyed to see the Bible and the note and Huck does not let on that he has read it.

Afterwards, one of the Grangerford’s slaves asks Huck to follow him to see some water moccasins—a thing he has asked before. Huck decides there is a hidden meaning in this as well, so follows him. The slave leads Huck to a hollow in the woods where Jim is hiding out. The slaves have been tending to Jim, who has paid them each ten cents to keep quiet about the raft (which they recovered and Jim fixed) and his presence among them.

The next day it is discovered that Miss Sophia has run off to marry Harney Shepherdson. The house is empty and the feud is raging. While hiding in a tree, Huck sees Buck, who tells him his family has been killed and that Sophia got away with Harney. Huck cannot understand the hatred that Buck still has for Harney and the rest. Buck tells Huck that his father and two older brothers have been killed, and Huck watches in dismay as Buck and the young cousin he has with him are killed by Shepherdsons. Huck climbs down and covers the young faces of the bodies and sets off to find Jim so as to get away from the place, which has now become terrible to him.

In this chapter Twain departs from the “common” low class lot, with whom Huck ordinarily associates. Yet the condition of the Grangerfords, while on the exterior is pleasant and appealing, is all too soon shown to be revolting. Through Huck, Twain confirms a sad perplexity at the exasperating and irrational levels to which human nature can descend—even in the stately and upper levels of society, to which the Grangerfords obviously belonged.

Chapter 19

Tom and Huck continue on down the river, enjoying the serenity and freedom that it provides. One morning Huck finds a canoe and while stopping to pick berries, is met by two men on the run. One of them is considerably older than the other, and Huck allows them both an opportunity to escape from their pursuers. The younger explains that he had been in town selling a teeth cleaning solution that not only removed tartar but also enamel—and that he stayed in town one night too many. The other declares that he was running a temperance revival, but that the townsfolk became aggressive when they learned he had a “jug on the sly.”

The two join Huck and Jim on the raft and before long begin to put on airs. The younger claims he is the Duke of Bridgewater and the older (to gain more leverage) claims he is actually the long lost king of France (and calls the younger “Bilgewater”). Huck knows they are frauds and hucksters but decides it is best to humor them.

In this chapter, the life that Huck and Jim have been able to avoid on shore now intrudes upon them in the persons of the duke and the king. Huck understands that they belong to the criminal class that his Pap would have frequented, and that the only way to deal with them is to let them have their own way. He reasons that there is no use explaining this to Jim, and lets Jim go on believing that the duke and the king are just who they claim to be.

Chapter 20

Curious about the boy and the slave, the two frauds ask Huck for his story, and, as usual, Huck tells them a tale and explains that the reason they travel only at night is just so that no one gets suspicious about Jim being a runaway slave. That night, the duke and the king argue over the beds of Huck and Jim, but the duke finally submits to the king and lets him have the better bed, much to the relief of Huck and Jim. A terrible storm appears that night as well, but Huck is glad to see it since it is not common that such a sight is witnessed. While dozing, a wave washes Huck overboard, which makes Jim laugh.

Finally, morning arrives and the storm has passed. The duke explores his carpetbag of tricks and advertisements, and the two men decide to see what they can get out of the next town down around the bend. Upon entering, they find the shops empty but unlocked and that the whole town is at a revival. The duke heads for the printing press shop while Huck and the king head for the revival.

At the revival, the king tells the crowd that he is a pirate from the Indian Ocean, but that after hearing the preacher’s sermon he has been converted and will now go back to convert all the pirates back in the East. His story is so compelling that the crowd offers him a collection and the king hauls in more than $80. Meanwhile, the duke has printed off various jobs in the printing office even printed a sign offering a reward of $200 for a runaway slave that perfectly described Jim. This, he explains, would allow them to travel openly in the day, without any questions for they could simply show people the sign and state that they are heading South to collect the reward.

Chapter 21

The king and the duke discuss their roles for the performance they plan to put on for the town. The king will play Juliet and the duke will play Romeo. Then they practice the sword-fight scene from Richard III. And for an encore, the duke tells the king to recite Hamlet’s soliloquy, which neither knows, and which the duke butchers when he tries to teach it to the king.

They arrive in town and learn that a traveling circus has arrived as well. Considering themselves fortunate, they quickly have some bills printed up and posted announcing their “Shakespearean [sic] Revival!” and advertising themselves as London’s finest acting duo.

Then they kill time by wandering about the town, and Huck records his observations. It is an opportunity for Twain to comment on the social life of the “one-horse” town—which he does so in biting fashion. Huck sees the ridiculous chewing tobacco rite of the loafers and witnesses a drunken man named Boggs’ antics in the street. Boggs is mocked by all, as he does nothing more than get drunk and threaten to kill people. This time, however, he appears to pick on the wrong man—Colonel Sherburn. Sherburn is a proud stately looking man who tells Boggs that he will put up with his nonsense for exactly 15 minutes more—and after that, if Boggs is still hollering his harassment, Sherburn will find him.

The people in the street realize that Sherburn is deadly serious so they try to get Boggs to go home, but he will not budge. They send for his young daughter, but just as she arrives (and even as Boggs is being led away), Sherburn comes down into the street with his pistol and calls out to him and shoots him dead. Sherburn then dropped his pistol in the street and went back indoors, and the townsfolk carried the body of Boggs into the drug store where everyone pushed to get inside to see him. Eventually, a man begins reenacting the scene out in the street exactly the way it happened, much to everyone’s approval. And, finally, a lynch mob forms and calls for Sherburn’s blood.

In this chapter and in the next (which is merely its continuation), Twain ridicules the manners and lifestyle of the small Southern town and reveals “Southern hospitality” to be little more than stifled violence. When violence does erupt in the streets, the people tend to extremes. In short, it is quite naïve of the king and the duke to expect that they should find an audience for the cheap renditions of Shakespeare in this poor Arkansas town—as they themselves will realize in the next chapter.

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