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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
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The two newcomers are, of course, the real thing, and in a sane and rational world their arrival would immediately reverse the course of events and set everything right. A work of fiction, however, isn't ruled by rationality, but by the interests of the author who created it.

Maybe it's possible to excuse the townspeople for being taken in up until now. Maybe it can be written off to a trusting nature compounded by an eagerness to see the girls taken care of. If you want to be charitable, you could say that the townspeople have acted pretty much the way any decent people would probably act in a similar situation.

But now the real brothers have arrived, now the townspeople are speaking to a parson who really speaks like a parson, and whose British accent is genuine. They might have overlooked the king's crudity before, giving him the benefit of the doubt because they believed him to be a man of religion. But can they continue to delude themselves now, in the face of the contrast between the genuine article and a patent fraud?

Well, yes, they can. And this is where Twain's trenchant comments on his fellow creatures become difficult to take with a smile. In this chapter, the people show themselves to be so thickheaded, so stupid, so blind to the most obvious evidence, that no reader could feel much sympathy for them. Not only do they fail to see the obvious; they also turn the "investigation" of the two newcomers into a circus sideshow, cheering the conflicting claims of the two pairs of men, and egging them on to further outrageous statements.

The town lawyer, who has just come back from a business trip, joins the doctor and a few others in backing the two new arrivals. At one point these two men question Huck about England, and he finds he can't fool them as easily as he did Joanna in an earlier scene.

The lawyer lets him off gently, telling him he isn't much of a liar. "I didn't care nothing for the compliment," Huck says, "but I was glad to be let off, anyway."

The most amazing thing to Huck in this incident is how brazenly the king sticks to his imposture, no matter what evidence is produced against him. When he's tricked into writing his name, and the lawyer shows that his handwriting isn't anything like the writing in the letters Peter Wilks received from his brother, the king doesn't falter. He has an explanation.

When the real brother claims to know what was tattooed on the dead man's chest, the king challenges him with his own claim of what the tattoo is. This claim and counterclaim lead to the complete unraveling of the escape plan Huck worked out with Mary Jane.

The conflicting claims whet the people's appetite for sensation, and they jump on the suggestion that the body be dug up in order to settle the argument. Twain has now taken the townspeople beyond mere stupidity into ghoulishness, and he'll soon add blinding greed to the list of accusations he's leveling at the human race.

Huck is dragged to the cemetery, along with the cheering mob, the two imposters, and the real brothers. Since he has no chance to escape, he seems doomed to be punished for the fraud with the king and the duke.

When the coffin is raised and opened, however, the sight of the gold entrances everyone there, including the man who has been holding Huck by the wrist. His account of escaping from the mob is a good piece of writing, filled with tension and suspense. Read it slowly to see how good it is.

Huck gets to the raft, much to the delight of Jim, who has been waiting several days without word from any of his traveling companions. Huck begs him to save the jubilation for the morning, to cut the raft loose, and get them out of there.

As they begin to move, Huck realizes that he's once again free of the civilized society he fears so much. He's thrilled to be back on the river, and he jumps and kicks his heels a few times to express his joy.

But the joy is short-lived. He soon hears "a sound that I knowed mighty well." A flash of lightning shows him that he was right- the king and the duke escaped right behind him, and they're on their way to the raft.

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