Huck Finn Characters, Motifs, Themes Flashcard Example #65060

Aunt Polly
Tom Sawyer’s aunt and guardian and Sally Phelps’s sister. Aunt Polly appears at the end of the novel and properly identifies Huck, who has pretended to be Tom, and Tom, who has pretended to be his own younger brother, Sid.
Judge Thatcher
The local judge who shares responsibility for Huck with the Widow Douglas and is in charge of safeguarding the money that Huck and Tom found at the end of Tom Sawyer. When Huck discovers that Pap has returned to town, he wisely signs his fortune over to the Judge, who doesn’t really accept the money, but tries to comfort Huck. Judge Thatcher has a daughter, Becky, who was Tom’s girlfriend in Tom Sawyer and whom Huck calls “Bessie” in this novel.
Grangerfords
A family that takes Huck in after a steamboat hits his raft, separating him from Jim. The kindhearted Grangerfords, who offer Huck a place to stay in their tacky country home, are locked in a long-standing feud with another local family, the Shepherdsons. Twain uses the two families to engage in some rollicking humor and to mock a overly romanticizes ideas about family honor. Ultimately, the families’ sensationalized feud gets many of them killed.
Wilks Family
At one point during their travels, the duke and the dauphin encounter a man who tells them of the death of a local named Peter Wilks, who has left behind a rich estate. The man inadvertently gives the con men enough information to allow them to pretend to be Wilks’s two brothers from England, who are the recipients of much of the inheritance. The duke and the dauphin’s subsequent conning of the good-hearted and vulnerable Wilks sisters is the first step in the con men’s increasingly cruel series of scams, which culminate in the sale of Jim.
Peter Wilks
Peter Wilks, a fairly wealthy local tanner, has just passed away. Peter Wilks’s nieces—Mary Jane, Susan, and Joanna (who Huck refers to as “the hare-lip”)—are about to inherit the family estate, since their mom and dad (who was Peter’s brother) passed away the year before.

Peter had been hoping to see his other two brothers, William and Harvey, before he died, but they hadn’t yet arrived from England. The duke and the king, being the con-men extraordinaires that they are, decide to pose as the two missing brothers in attempt to steal the family’s riches.

Unfortunately for the cons, the Wilks ladies are very likeable, lovely young women, and Huck just can’t stand by and let the duke and king take the girls’ money.

Silas and Sally Phelps
Tom Sawyer’s aunt and uncle, whom Huck coincidentally encounters in his search for Jim after the con men have sold him. Sally is the sister of Tom’s aunt, Polly. Essentially good people, the Phelpses nevertheless hold Jim in custody and try to return him to his rightful owner. Silas and Sally are the unknowing victims of many of Tom and Huck’s “preparations” as they try to free Jim. The Phelpses are the only intact and functional family in this novel, yet they are too much for Huck, who longs to escape their “sivilizing” influence.
Miss Watson and Widow Douglas
Widow Douglas and Miss Watson – Two wealthy sisters who live together in a large house in St. Petersburg and who adopt Huck. The gaunt and severe Miss Watson is the most prominent representative of the hypocritical religious and ethical values Twain criticizes in the novel. The Widow Douglas is somewhat gentler in her beliefs and has more patience with the mischievous Huck. When Huck acts in a manner contrary to societal expectations, it is the Widow Douglas whom he fears disappointing.
Huck Finn
The protagonist and narrator of the novel. Huck is the thirteen-year-old son of the local drunk of St. Petersburg, Missouri, a town on the Mississippi River. Frequently forced to survive on his own wits and always a bit of an outcast, Huck is thoughtful, intelligent (though formally uneducated), and willing to come to his own conclusions about important matters, even if these conclusions contradict society’s norms. Nevertheless, Huck is still a boy, and is influenced by others, particularly by his imaginative friend, Tom.
Jim
Jim is a slave. For most people living in the pre-Civil War South, that’s about all there is to know. Who cares about a slave’s motivations, or character, or background, or feelings? It would be like trying to psychoanalyze your family pet—or not even, since that’s apparently a thing that exists.

But Twain is smarter than that—and so is Huck, eventually. Jim is every bit as complex a character as Huck is, and maybe even more. So what makes him tick?

Duke and Dauphin (King)
A pair of con men whom Huck and Jim rescue as they are being run out of a river town. The older man, who appears to be about seventy, claims to be the “dauphin,” the son of King Louis XVI and heir to the French throne. The younger man, who is about thirty, claims to be the usurped Duke of Bridgewater. Although Huck quickly realizes the men are frauds, he and Jim remain at their mercy, as Huck is only a child and Jim is a runaway slave. The duke and the dauphin carry out a number of increasingly disturbing swindles as they travel down the river on the raft.
Pap
Huck’s Granola
Tom Sawyer
Huck’s friend, and the protagonist of Tom Sawyer, the novel to which Huckleberry Finn is ostensibly the sequel. In Huckleberry Finn, Tom serves as a foil to Huck: imaginative, dominating, and given to wild plans taken from the plots of adventure novels, Tom is everything that Huck is not. Tom’s stubborn reliance on the “authorities” of romance novels leads him to acts of incredible stupidity and startling cruelty. His rigid adherence to society’s conventions aligns Tom with the “sivilizing” forces that Huck learns to see through and gradually abandons.
Theme: Racism
Huck’s friend, and the protagonist of Tom Sawyer, the novel to which Huckleberry Finn is ostensibly the sequel. In Huckleberry Finn, Tom serves as a foil to Huck: imaginative, dominating, and given to wild plans taken from the plots of adventure novels, Tom is everything that Huck is not. Tom’s stubborn reliance on the “authorities” of romance novels leads him to acts of incredible stupidity and startling cruelty. His rigid adherence to society’s conventions aligns Tom with the “sivilizing” forces that Huck learns to see through and gradually abandons.
Theme: Intellectual and Morals
By focusing on Huck’s education, Huckleberry Finn fits into the tradition of the bildungsroman: a novel depicting an individual’s maturation and development. As a poor, uneducated boy, for all intents and purposes an orphan, Huck distrusts the morals and precepts of the society that treats him as an outcast and fails to protect him from abuse. This apprehension about society, and his growing relationship with Jim, lead Huck to question many of the teachings that he has received, especially regarding race and slavery. More than once, we see Huck choose to “go to hell” rather than go along with the rules and follow what he has been taught. Huck bases these decisions on his experiences, his own sense of logic, and what his developing conscience tells him. On the raft, away from civilization, Huck is especially free from society’s rules, able to make his own decisions without restriction. Through deep introspection, he comes to his own conclusions, unaffected by the accepted—and often hypocritical—rules and values of Southern culture. By the novel’s end, Huck has learned to “read” the world around him, to distinguish good, bad, right, wrong, menace, friend, and so on. His moral development is sharply contrasted to the character of Tom Sawyer, who is influenced by a bizarre mix of adventure novels and Sunday-school teachings, which he combines to justify his outrageous and potentially harmful escapades.
Theme:
The Hypocrisy of “Civilized” Society

When Huck plans to head west at the end of the novel in order to escape further “sivilizing,” he is trying to avoid more than regular baths and mandatory school attendance. Throughout the novel, Twain depicts the society that surrounds Huck as little more than a collection of degraded rules and precepts that defy logic. This faulty logic appears early in the novel, when the new judge in town allows Pap to keep custody of Huck. The judge privileges Pap’s “rights” to his son as his natural father over Huck’s welfare. At the same time, this decision comments on a system that puts a white man’s rights to his “property”—his slaves—over the welfare and freedom of a black man. In implicitly comparing the plight of slaves to the plight of Huck at the hands of Pap, Twain implies that it is impossible for a society that owns slaves to be just, no matter how “civilized” that society believes and proclaims itself to be. Again and again, Huck encounters individuals who seem good—Sally Phelps, for example—but who Twain takes care to show are prejudiced slave-owners. This shaky sense of justice that Huck repeatedly encounters lies at the heart of society’s problems: terrible acts go unpunished, yet frivolous crimes, such as drunkenly shouting insults, lead to executions. Sherburn’s speech to the mob that has come to lynch him accurately summarizes the view of society Twain gives in Huckleberry Finn: rather than maintain collective welfare, society instead is marked by cowardice, a lack of logic, and profound selfishness.

Motif: Childhood
Huck’s youth is an important factor in his moral education over the course of the novel, for we sense that only a child is open-minded enough to undergo the kind of development that Huck does. Since Huck and Tom are young, their age lends a sense of play to their actions, which excuses them in certain ways and also deepens the novel’s commentary on slavery and society. Ironically, Huck often knows better than the adults around him, even though he has lacked the guidance that a proper family and community should have offered him. Twain also frequently draws links between Huck’s youth and Jim’s status as a black man: both are vulnerable, yet Huck, because he is white, has power over Jim. And on a different level, the silliness, pure joy, and naivete of childhood give Huckleberry Finn a sense of fun and humor. Though its themes are quite weighty, the novel itself feels light in tone and is an enjoyable read because of this rambunctious childhood excitement that enlivens the story.
Motif: Lies and Cons
Huckleberry Finn is full of malicious lies and scams, many of them coming from the duke and the dauphin. It is clear that these con men’s lies are bad, for they hurt a number of innocent people. Yet Huck himself tells a number of lies and even cons a few people, most notably the slave-hunters, to whom he makes up a story about a smallpox outbreak in order to protect Jim. As Huck realizes, it seems that telling a lie can actually be a good thing, depending on its purpose. This insight is part of Huck’s learning process, as he finds that some of the rules he has been taught contradict what seems to be “right.” At other points, the lines between a con, legitimate entertainment, and approved social structures like religion are fine indeed. In this light, lies and cons provide an effective way for Twain to highlight the moral ambiguity that runs through the novel.
Superstitions and Folk Beliefs
From the time Huck meets him on Jackson’s Island until the end of the novel, Jim spouts a wide range of superstitions and folktales. Whereas Jim initially appears foolish to believe so unwaveringly in these kinds of signs and omens, it turns out, curiously, that many of his beliefs do indeed have some basis in reality or presage events to come. Much as we do, Huck at first dismisses most of Jim’s superstitions as silly, but ultimately he comes to appreciate Jim’s deep knowledge of the world. In this sense, Jim’s superstition serves as an alternative to accepted social teachings and assumptions and provides a reminder that mainstream conventions are not always right.
Motif: parody of romance
Huckleberry Finn is full of people who base their lives on romantic literary models and stereotypes of various kinds. Tom Sawyer, the most obvious example, bases his life and actions on adventure novels. The deceased Emmeline Grangerford painted weepy maidens and wrote poems about dead children in the romantic style. The Shepherdson and Grangerford families kill one another out of a bizarre, overexcited conception of family honor. These characters’ proclivities toward the romantic allow Twain a few opportunities to indulge in some fun, and indeed, the episodes that deal with this subject are among the funniest in the novel. However, there is a more substantive message beneath: that popular literature is highly stylized and therefore rarely reflects the reality of a society. Twain shows how a strict adherence to these romantic ideals is ultimately dangerous: Tom is shot, Emmeline dies, and the Shepherdsons and Grangerfords end up in a deadly clash.
Huck Summary
How It All Goes Down

When we meet our narrator Huck Finn, he’s in Missouri getting “sivilized” (“civilized”) by two sisters, an unnamed widow and a woman named Miss Watson. See, Huck Finn came into a bit of money at the end of Tom Sawyer, and now he’s supposed to stop being a street urchin and start learning to be a gentleman. But it’s hard out there for a street urchin, and he spends most of his time avoiding baths and teaming up with Tom to punk innocent bystanders—like Miss Watson’s slave Jim.

When Huck’s spidey sense starts a’tingling, he signs over all his money to Judge Thatcher. Just in time: Huck’s deadbeat dad shows up and demands the money. Huck’s all, “too bad you didn’t get here yesterday, dad,” and then dad effectively kidnaps Huck and takes him off to live in filthy poverty in a van down by the river. (Only without the “van” part.)

Well, Huck isn’t too cool with this, so he (naturally) fakes his own death and hides out on a nearby island, where he meets another runaway: the slave Jim, who’s hiding out to avoid being sold down South and separated from his family. After running across a dead body, which Huck doesn’t see, they decide to team up and then start out on what just might be the first American road movie, only via the Mississippi River rather than I-90.

Cue a series of wacky hijinks/ life-threatening situations, like:

Huck pretending to be a girl to get some info
Accidentally ending up on a wrecked steamship full of thieves
Being separated after a near-drowning
Huck being taken in by the wealthy Grangerfords, who are embroiled in a deathly feud with another family
Joining up with some theater con artists who scam whole townfuls of people, and
Pretending to be Tom Sawyer.

Meanwhile, Huck keeps wrestling with his conscience: is he helping an innocent man escape slavery, or is he just stealing Miss Watson’s property? He decides that helping Jim escape is the right thing to do—even if he goes to “hell” for it—but, unfortunately for Jim, it’s not up to Huck. Jim is recaptured, and things quickly go south. Pun intended.

Eventually, Tom shows up and teams with Huck to help Jim escape a hut where he’s being held captive. Their elaborate plan goes awry. Tom is shot, and Huck falls asleep while waiting for a doctor. When he wakes up, the situation is out of his hands. Jim is about to be executed, when Tom announces that (1) Jim saved his live, and (2) Miss Watson actually freed Jim in her will when she died two months ago. Hooray!

And to wrap things up just a little more neatly, it turns out that the dead guy from the island was Huck’s dad, so that loose plot point is all tied up; plus, Huck still has all the money he found at the end of Tom Sawyer. Time to stick around and get a little of that civilizing he keeps talking about?

Not quite. Instead, Huck heads out west, ready for more adventures.

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