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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
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CHAPTERS 38 AND 39

In these two chapters, Tom leads Huck to ridiculous lengths in his attempt to turn Jim's escape into an adventure worthy of his books. He fills Jim's cabin with snakes, spiders, and rats. He makes him draw a coat of arms and scratch out a farewell message on a stone. He gives him a plant that has to be watered with tears, and has him keep a journal on a stolen shirt.

Most of this material is narrated humorously, and it can be read for laughs. At the same time, it's all very cruel to Jim, who has the status of a stage prop in Tom's mind. It's true that Tom knows the escape is only a charade; but Jim doesn't know that, and he's being led through all these complications in the belief that they're somehow necessary to his becoming free.

Throughout all this, Huck often gets exasperated with Tom, but he never puts his foot down and demands an end to the game- playing. In spite of all Tom's foolishness, Huck still sees Tom as the superior character, as smarter, more imaginative, better educated, and more moral than he is himself.


Of course, Twain is making fun of Tom and, by extension, of people who think like him. At the beginning of Chapter 38 he shows Tom in a very unflattering light, maybe suggesting that he's exasperated himself with what his character has been doing.

It's in the coat of arms scene that Tom looks worst. His description of a coat of arms is half correct and half ridiculous, but his bluster in presenting it successfully hides that fact from Huck. There's a direct parallel between this scene and the one in which the duke faked his way through Hamlet's soliloquy. The strong implication is that Tom is somehow similar to that lowlife, who helped the king betray Huck and Jim for a few dollars.

It takes the boys three weeks to get all the needless arrangements made, and Tom caps everything off with the most ludicrous touch of all. He sends an anonymous note to his aunt and uncle, telling them when the escape is to take place. Such notes are required in the books he reads, and he won't have this escape falling short of requirements.

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