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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
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Huck figures that they're now only three nights away from Cairo, Illinois, the point at which they'll be in a free state and Jim can stop running. The next night, though, they run into a heavy fog. Huck gets into the canoe to look for a place to tie the raft to, and he loses the raft.

What follows is another detailed description of the river; this one, though, is not touching, but frightening. Huck goes on for three full pages, telling us exactly what he did to try to get together with Jim in the fog, and it's easy to hear the experienced voice of Mark Twain, river pilot, in this passage.

When he finally does find the raft, Jim is sound asleep at the steering oar, and Huck decides to play a prank on him. He wakes Jim and pretends nothing has happened.

Jim figures he must have dreamed the whole thing, and he goes through an elaborate interpretation of what each detail symbolized. When he's finished, Huck shows him that it really did happen, and that he's just been the butt of a joke.

Jim's reaction to this is very emotional-and very daring for a slave who hasn't reached a free state yet. He says he was ready to die when he thought he'd lost Huck. He adds that anyone who would play such a prank on a friend is trash.

Try to imagine it. Try to reconstruct the relationship that existed between all white people and all black people in a Southern state in the middle of the 19th century. All his life, Jim has known that he could be hanged for talking to a white person- any white person-the way he has talked to Huck. As for Huck, all his life he's known that he has the right to have such a black person hanged.

But this knowledge doesn't stop Jim from saying what he feels, because he no longer thinks of Huck as a white person. He thinks of him as a friend.

Huck is a little less certain. "It was fifteen minutes," he tells us, "before I could work myself up to go and humble myself to a nigger."

But he does it. He apologizes to Jim who, at least for the moment, is his friend, and not a black man.

This apology sets the stage for the next chapter, when Huck makes an enormously important moral decision.

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