The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn: Characters
Tom Sawyer’s guardian. She arrives at the Phelps’s farm and reveals Tom and Huck’s true identities.
During his travels with the King and Duke in “Arkansaw,” Huck meets Boggs, a drunk in Bricksville. Boggs continually curses at townspeople, and despite several warnings, he provokes the wrath of Colonel Sherburn and is killed by him.
The Widow Douglas has adopted Huck and attempts to provide a stable home for him. She sends him to school and reads the Bible to him. Although at first Huck finds life with Widow Douglas restrictive, eventually he gets “sort of used to the widow’s ways, too, and they warn’t so raspy on me.” Later, when Huck refers to her, she represents all that is good and decent to him. Nevertheless, at the close of the novel Huck decides to “light out for the Territory” instead of returning to her home.
On their journey down the Mississippi, Huck and Jim pick up two con men who claim to be descendants of royalty. The Duke is a young, poorly dressed man of about thirty. Although they had never met before, the King and Duke soon join forces to concoct a number of scams to play on the innocent inhabitants of the various towns along the riverbanks. Even though he is aware of their true characters, Huck plays along—he has little choice, since the two men are stronger and can turn Jim in at any time. Eventually, however, Huck betrays them when they scheme to cheat the Wilks sisters out of their inheritance. The King and Duke later turn Jim in for a meager reward. The men later get their reward when they are tarred and feathered by an angry crowd. With these two characters, Twain ridicules the aristocratic pretensions of some Americans.
The narrator and hero of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is the title character, the fourteen-year-old son of the town drunk who was introduced in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. At the end of that book, Huck was adopted by the Widow Douglas and her sister Miss Watson, who brought him to live in town where he could attend church and school. But at the beginning of Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, we learn that their attempts to “sivilize” him have been only partially successful. Huck learns to read and write, but he continues to climb out of his window at night to meet up with Tom Sawyer’s gang. Huck’s life in town is abruptly ended when his father returns and kidnaps him, hoping to lay his hands on Huck’s fortune. But Huck escapes by faking his own death, and he heads to Jackson’s Island. There he meets up with Jim, Miss Watson’s slave, who has run away because of her threat to sell him “down the river.” The two of them embark on a journey down the Mississippi River and live a life of freedom on the raft, which has become their refuge from society. On their trip, Huck confronts the ethics he has learned from society that tell him Jim is only property and not a human being. By this moral code, his act of helping Jim to escape is a sin. Rather than betray Jim, though, Huck decides, “All right, then, I’ll go to hell.” Huck learns to decide for himself in various situations the right thing to do. In the last third of the book, Huck defers to Tom Sawyer, whose outlandish schemes to free Jim direct the action. Huck is no longer in charge, and his moral quest appears to have been abandoned. But once Jim is freed, Huck decides he will “light out for the Territory” to escape the civilizing influence of another mother figure, this time Tom’s Aunt Sally. For some critics, this decision redeems Huck from the charge that he has allowed Tom to distract him from discovering his inner code of ethics. To others, it means that Twain sees no hope for civilization to redeem itself: because it cannot rid itself of fundamental failures like slavery, someone like Huck must escape its influence altogether.
Huck’s father, Pap, is an irredeemable drunk who schemes to get Huck’s fortune away from him. When he returns to find Huck living at the Widow Douglas’s and going to school, he accuses Huck of trying to be better than his father. Pap kidnaps Huck and brings him to a cabin in the woods where he beats his son and confines him to their shack. Pap also submits Huck to his drunken tirades against a free black man, reflecting the attitudes poor southern whites had about blacks who had the right to vote and were highly educated. Shortly after Huck escapes, Pap is killed, although Huck does not learn this until the end of the book.
Huck is taken in by the Grangerfords after the raft is broken up by a larger boat on the river. The family is wealthy and Huck is impressed by their gaudily decorated home, although the reader is aware of their shallow faithfulness to ideals of gentility and decorum. Their feud with the Shepherdsons, based on a brutal, senseless code of honor, makes Huck “sick.” He leaves after one of the Grangerfords’s daughters runs off with one of the Shepherdson boys, and most of the men in the family are killed in the ensuing battle.
The youngest son of the Grangerford family. He is Huck’s age, but is killed in the feud with the Shepherdsons. Huck “haint ever heard anything” like how Buck swears after missing an opportunity to kill Harney Shepherdson. Nevertheless, he cries when he discovers Buck’s body, “for he was mighty good to me.”
One of the Grangerfords’s daughters, who died in adolescence and left behind a large number of sentimentally morbid poems and drawings that Huck admires. Her family tells Huck, “She warn’t particular; she could write about anything . . . just so it was sadful.”
Jim, a runaway slave who has escaped from his owner, Miss Watson, for fear of being sold to a plantation in New Orleans, is Huck Finn’s companion as they travel on a raft down the Mississippi river. He has been recognized by critics as a complex character, at once a superstitious and ignorant minstrel-show stereotype but also an intelligent human being who conveys more depth than the narrator, Huck Finn, is aware of. As their journey progresses, however, Huck does grow to see Jim as more than a stereotype, despite comments like, “he had an uncommon level head for a negro.” Jim confronts Huck’s prejudice when he scolds Huck for trying to play a trick on him without taking his feelings into consideration. Pointing to some leaves on the raft, he tells Huck, “dat truck dah is trash; en trash is what people is dat puts dirt on de head er dey fren’s en makes ’em ashamed.” On their journey, Huck becomes aware of Jim’s humanity and decides he will assist Jim in his quest to become free. In the last third of the book, Huck enlists the help of Tom Sawyer to help free Jim, only to learn at the end that Tom knew all along that Jim had been freed by Miss Watson. In this section, critics have argued, Jim is once again cast as a shallow caricature of a gullible slave, and the novel’s serious theme of race relations is reduced to a farce. But other critics have seen a consistency of character in Jim throughout the book, as a slave who wears the mask of ignorance and docility as a defense against white oppression, occasionally giving Huck (and the reader) glimpses behind the mask. Forrest G. Robinson has argued that Jim learns Huck “is quite unprepared to tolerate the full unfolding of the human being emergent from behind the mask,” and so the real Jim retreats in the last third of the book to ensure that Huck will continue to help him. But according to Chadwick Hansen, Jim is never a “fully-rounded character” in his own right; rather he serves the function of making Huck confront his conscience and overcome society’s influence.
On their journey down the Mississippi, Huck and Jim pick up two con men who claim to be descendants of royalty. The King is a bald, grey-bearded man of about seventy years. Although they had never met before, the King and Duke soon join forces to concoct a number of scams to play on the innocent inhabitants of the various towns along the riverbanks. Even though he is aware of their true characters, Huck plays along—he has little choice, since the two men are stronger and can turn Jim in at any time. Eventually, however, Huck betrays them when they scheme to cheat the Wilks sisters out of their inheritance. The King and Duke later turn Jim in for a meager reward. The men later get their reward when they are tarred and feathered by an angry crowd. With these two characters, Twain ridicules the aristocratic pretensions of some Americans.
Mrs. Judith Loftus
A sympathetic woman whom Huck meets while he is dressed up like a girl. She sees through his costume, but inadvertently warns Huck that her husband is on his way to Jackson’s Island to capture Jim.
Mrs. Sally Phelps
Tom Sawyer’s aunt. When Huck arrives on the Phelps farm, they are expecting Tom, so Huck pretends to be their nephew, while Tom pretends to be his brother, Sid. She good-naturedly scolds “Sid” for pretending to be a stranger and then kissing her unasked.
Reverend Silas Phelps
Tom Sawyer’s uncle. When Huck arrives on the Phelps farm, they are expecting Tom, so Huck pretends to be their nephew, while Tom pretends to be his brother, Sid. Phelps appears to be a kindly, good-natured, and trusting man, but he is holding Jim prisoner while waiting for his master to reclaim him.
Tom Sawyer picks up where he left off in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by continuing to lead the other boys in imaginative games based on his reading of romantic adventure literature. But in this novel, his antics are much less innocent and harmless. At the beginning of Huck Finn, he provides comic relief in Huck’s otherwise straight-laced life at the Widow Douglas’s. But his reappearance at the end has troubled many critics. When Tom finds out that Huck is going to free Jim, he wholeheartedly takes up the challenge, creating elaborate schemes to free the man when he could just tell the family that Jim has already been freed by Miss Watson. Neither Huck nor Jim approve of Tom’s “adventures,” although they feel compelled to submit to his authority in such matters. Many critics have noted the thoughtless, even cruel nature of Tom’s games, as they make Jim’s life miserable and terrorize Aunt Sally. But Tom is ultimately punished for his forays into fantasy; during Jim’s escape he is shot and seriously wounded.
A Southern aristocrat who kills a drunk, Boggs, in the town of Bricksville, in “Arkansaw.” He endures Boggs’s taunts and gives him a warning before shooting the man in front of his own daughter. The town threatens to lynch him, but his scornful speech about the cowardice of the average American man and the mobs he participates in breaks up the crowd.
He keeps Huck’s money safely out of Pap’s hands by “buying” Huck’s fortune for a dollar. Later he and the Widow Douglas petition a higher court to take Huck away from his father, but the court’s “new judge” says families shouldn’t be separated.
The Widow Douglas’s sister and Jim’s owner. She represents a view of Christianity that is severe and unforgiving. It is her attempts to “sivilize” Huck that he finds most annoying: “Miss Watson she kept pecking at me, and it got tiresome and lonesome.” When Jim overhears her admit the temptation to sell him down South despite her promise not to do so, he runs away. Her guilt at this turn of events leads her to set Jim free in her will.
The sisters—Mary Jane, Susan, and Joanna— are orphaned when their guardian uncle, Peter, dies. The King and Duke impersonate their long-lost uncles in an attempt to gain their inheritance. Their trusting and good-hearted nature in the face of the King and Duke’s fraud finally drives Huck to take a stand against the two scoundrels.