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Huck tells us about several people who live in his town, and he meets many more on his river voyage. You'll find comments on these characters as Huck introduces them. For an idea in advance of who the main characters are, the following sketches will be helpful. -
• HUCKLEBERRY FINN
Huck is the son of the town drunkard, a man who goes away for long stretches and beats his son when he's home. Huck cares for himself most of the time, though he's living with a charitable woman when the novel begins. He prefers living in the woods to being in a home, and he doesn't think much of school, religious training, or being "sivilized" in general.
When he's in trouble, Huck can be a first-class liar, but generally he's honest, sensitive about other people's feelings, and kind. He sometimes has feelings of guilt over troubles he hasn't caused, and he has a very active and intrusive conscience.
Huck has an ambivalent attitude toward himself. On the one hand, he keeps telling us that he knows he's "low-down" and "ornery," that he's lacking in all the things that make other people respectable. On the other hand, he almost always goes his own way, makes up his own mind, and lives by his own standards.
His negative feelings about himself stem from his belief that certain qualities make people good-such things as education, religious training, and a willingness to follow rules. He's been taught to equate these things with virtue, and the part of his mind that believes in the equation tells him he doesn't measure up.
What he doesn't realize, even at the end of the book, is that goodness is an inner quality, and that it may have no connection to the kind of upbringing someone has had, or even to outward behavior. if Huck understood this point, he'd be more interested in changing society than in running away from it. But because he accepts what he's been taught, he sees himself as an outsider and he would rather run away.
Jim is a slave owned by Miss Watson, the sister of the woman who's caring for Huck. He has a wife and small children, and the threat of being separated from them frightens him enough to make him run away from his owner before she can sell him. Jim is illiterate, superstitious, and afraid of unnamed forces, characteristics that are the subject of some of the comedy in the book. But he's also tender, sensitive, loyal, and capable of very deep feeling. In some scenes he seems more childish than Huck; in others he's an adult for Huck to rely on.
To some readers, Jim is the most interesting character in the book. He's important to the plot because he gives Huck a reason to travel on the river, and his outlaw status makes it necessary for Huck to keep silent at times when he wants to stop some kind of injustice. But Jim is more than a plot device. He's also the person who brings Huck to a series of important moral decisions.
Because Jim is much more than a stereotypical slave, Huck develops a deep feeling of loyalty toward him. And in spite of Jim's simplicity, naivete, and childish superstitions, Twain is able to use him as a vehicle for a powerful indictment of the institution of slavery.
• TOM SAWYER
Tom is a friend of Huck, a boy Huck admires for his wide reading, unbridled imagination, and flair. An expert at self-promotion, Tom appoints himself leader of a gang dedicated to robbing and killing.
Unlike Huck, Tom is a dreamer, a weaver of fantastic tales and grand schemes. Since most of his knowledge of the world comes from his reading of romantic novels, he can be amusing and exasperating at the same time. He's amusing when he shows his imperfect understanding of what he has read, and when he gives literal meaning to things that existed only in the imagination of the people who wrote those books. He's exasperating when books lead him to ignore the real world he lives in, especially when he forgets the people around him and allows his fantasies to affect their lives.
Huck is as ambivalent about Tom as he is about himself. On the one hand, Huck idolizes him. He sees Tom's wide reading and vivid imagination as qualities that set Tom far above himself, and he often mentions how Tom would have enjoyed some particularly difficult feat that he himself has just pulled off.
On the other hand, Huck has little patience with fantasies, including Tom's. Huck is interested in the concrete, the here- and-now, and he doesn't have the faith necessary to engage in fantasies. He often becomes annoyed with Tom's daydreams, but he always goes along because he believes that Tom is one of his betters.