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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
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CHAPTER 8

Huck wakes after daybreak "feeling rested and ruther comfortable and satisfied." He seems to have forgotten last night's harrowing experience, and he lies in the grass enjoying the sun, the trees, and a couple of friendly-looking squirrels. He feels completely at home.

He's torn from this pleasant state by the sound of cannon fire. He gets up to see a ferry boat moving toward the island. He knows it's filled with people searching the water for his dead body.

From a hiding place at the shore, Huck watches as the ferry comes so close to the island that he can almost reach out and touch the people on it. He sees his father, Tom Sawyer, the widow, the judge-almost everybody he knows is on that ferry searching for him. He looks into those familiar faces, and he doesn't make a sound.

NOTE:

If you ever considered running away from home when you were young, you might want to think about this scene for a minute. A lot of kids fantasize about doing it, and the fantasy often involves grief-stricken relatives and friends. Fortunately, most people never do run away from home, because they decide they need those relatives and friends more than they need freedom.


Huck is hiding on the island, having successfully fooled everyone he knows into thinking he's dead. Now he comes face to face with all those people. Imagine yourself in that situation. Most of us would probably abandon the idea of running, and yell out, "Here I am! I'm not really dead!"

That would seem to be the natural response if you were suddenly confronted by everyone who's close to you. But it isn't Huck's response. He just crouches there silently, letting everyone in his life float by.

You can look at this incident in a number of ways. Maybe it shows that Huck is so much in control of his emotions that he doesn't do the "natural" thing. Maybe it shows that none of these people really means anything to him, in spite of what he's told us. Or it might show that he doesn't understand how sorrowful some of those people are. Since he doesn't think much of himself, he'd find it hard to believe that someone else thinks much of him.

All these interpretations are possible, as well as some others that may occur to you. Even if you aren't ready to interpret the incident in one particular way, keep it in mind as you read on. You'll learn other things about Huck, and you may be able to interpret this better later on.

Once the ferry is gone, Huck is overcome by loneliness. He listens to the river and watches the stars for a while, then decides to go to sleep. "There ain't no better way to put in time when you are lonesome," he says. He sounds as though he's had this problem before.

After three days on the island, Huck makes a terrifying discovery. The remains of a campfire tell him that he isn't alone. As frightened as he is, he decides that he has to find out who the other person is. After a long search, he finds himself back at the campfire. This time there's a man sleeping near it.

He waits quietly until the man wakes up and throws the blanket off his face. When Huck sees that it's Miss Watson's slave, Jim, he skips from his hiding place to say hello.

It takes him a while to convince Jim that he isn't seeing a ghost. He explains how he created the illusion that he was dead, and Jim says it was a hoax worthy of Tom Sawyer himself. Then Huck asks Jim why he's on the island.

Jim first makes him promise not to tell anyone. When Huck promises, Jim confesses that he has run away from Miss Watson.

Notice Huck's shocked reaction to this news. Remember that he grew up with people who believed that stealing a slave was as serious as committing murder. A modern equivalent of a runaway slave might be someone who murders a police officer.

Huck's shock is an expression of this belief. He's never heard anyone question the institution of slavery, and he has every reason to believe that Jim has done something terrible.

All of this makes the next part of the conversation interesting. Jim reminds Huck that he promised not to tell. Without hesitating, Huck says he'll keep his word. He realizes that "people would call me a low-down Abolitionist and despise me for keeping mum." And he really believes those people would be right. But he'll keep his word. "I ain't a-going back there, anyways," he explains.

Not turning Jim in is a monumental decision for Huck to make, even though he makes it on the spot. This is not just a boy running away from home. It's someone who has decided to turn his back on everything "home" stands for, even one of its most cherished beliefs.

The rest of the chapter includes three things you may find interesting. First, Jim explains why he's running away and how he got to the island. Then he does what might qualify as a comedy monologue on things that foreshadow bad luck.

The last part of the chapter might remind you of comedy teams in which one person provides all the straight lines and the other does all the jokes. Jim tells a long story about a time when he had some money. The routine ends with a punch line that might give you a clue to how Twain felt about slavery when he wrote this book.

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