The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is a novel by Mark Twain about Huck, a mischievous boy, who runs away from his drunken father. Huck meets up with Jim, a runaway slave and they travel down the Mississippi on a raft. The two escape through various misadventures, including the family feud between the Grangerfofrds and Shepherdsons and the conning "duke and king." Finally, Jim is captured on the Phelps' farm, Huck plans an escape and, finally, it is revealed that Jim is now a freeman and Huck's father has died.
Huckleberry Finn introduces himself and makes reference to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer . He relates how the Widow Douglas became his legal guardian, taking him in and attempting to "civilize" him. Her sister, the spinster Miss Watson, lives in the house as well and she is more difficult to live with than the widow. Miss Watson attempts to teach him things, such as spelling, and is far more severe in her criticisms of his behavior.
One night Huck accidentally kills a spider and then worries about the bad luck that this will bring. Soon after, he hears a call outside, and climbs down from his window to find Tom Sawyer waiting for him.
The narrator, Huckleberry Finn, introduces himself, and refers to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer for more information about him and his town, St. Petersburg. He briefly recounts the ending of that book, in which he and Tom Sawyer find money that had been hidden in a cave by a band of robbers. It turns out to be 12,000 dollars in gold, which they divide between the two of them. Judge Thatcher takes the money and invests it for Huck, and the Widow Douglas becomes Huck's legal guardian. She begins to take care of him, but he hates the feeling of order and domesticity, so he runs away. Tom Sawyer convinces him to go back, and at the beginning of this novel, he is in new clothes and feeling the impact of the widow's desire to "civilize" him.
He details the widow's guidelines; he is forced to be polite at dinner, and after, the widow reads to him from the Bible. She keeps him from smoking, though Huck cannot understand why. The two women both use snuff, which seems to be the equivalent of smoking. The widow's sister, the spinster Miss Watson, lives in the house as well, and she is more difficult to live with than the widow. She attempts to educate him and begins by trying to teach him spelling, and is far more severe in her criticisms of his behavior. She gives him a lecture on heaven and hell, describing how people will sing all day in heaven. He suggests that perhaps the other place is better, and she becomes angry. He lets the subject go because he does not want to cause trouble. In general he tries to ignore their nitpickings. One night he is sitting by the window listening to the sounds of the night, when he accidentally kills a spider by flicking from his shoulder into a candle. He worries about the bad luck that this will bring. He does everything he can to prevent the bad luck from happening, such as crossing himself several times, and turning around in his tracks. Soon after, he hears a call outside, and climbs down from his window to find Tom Sawyer waiting for him.
On their way past the widow's house, Huck and Tom play a trick on Jim. While he is sleeping they take his hat off and put it in the branches above him. When he wakes up, he is certain that he has been ridden by witches all over town, and his hat in the tree is proof of it.
Huck and Tom meet up with some other boys. Tom shows them to a cave and then informs them that he is forming a band of robbers. They all must agree to his oath and sign their name in blood. He relates the activities of the gang, which will involve robbing stage coaches and ransoming people, which he believes is the act of holding someone prisoner until they die. Ben Rogers raises the issue that there might not be enough room in the cave for ransoming people, but Tom dismisses the idea and everyone signs the paper. They disperse after planning the date of their next meeting.
Huck and Tom are sneaking past the kitchen of the widow's house, when Huck trips on a branch, making a noise and alerting Jim, one of Miss Watson's slaves. Jim comes out to investigate, but Huck and Tom stay still, and Jim does not see them. Jim sits down to wait for the sound to happen again, and he soon falls asleep. Huck is anxious to get away while Jim is sleeping, but Tom wants to play a trick on Jim. Tom also needs candles, so he sneaks into the kitchen for three, and leaves a nickel on the table for payment. Then Tom takes Jim's hat off of his head and places it on a branch in the tree directly above him. After he wakes up, Jim claims that he was ridden by witches all over the county while he was asleep, and that they had left his hat in the tree to show him who did it. Jim becomes very popular among the other slaves because of this story, and the five-cent piece becomes a lucky charm that is famous all around town.
Tom and Huck continue on to a place outside the village, where they meet Jo Harper, Ben Rogers and two or three other boys. Tom shows them a cave in the side of a hill, and once they are safely inside, Tom invites them to join him in forming a band of robbers. He tells them that it will be called "Tom Sawyer's Gang," and that everyone who wishes to join has to say an oath that he created as well as sign their name in blood. He recites the oath for everyone, which swears all who join to secrecy or suffer the consequences of their death and the death of their family members. They all think the oath is marvelous, but it presents a problem for Huck, who has no family, except for his drunkard father who has not been seen for a while. Huck is almost not allowed to join, but the boys then accept his offer of Miss Watson as a stand-in family member. Everyone agrees to join the gang, pricking their fingers and marking the paper.
Ben Rogers then asks about the day to day activities of the gang, which Tom explains is robbery and murder. He plans to concentrate on robbing stage-coaches and killing the passengers aboard. There is a debate about what it means to ransom someone, which Tom has read about but does not completely understand. After discussing it, they figure out that it must mean holding someone prisoner until they die and they decide that it should be the general policy of the gang to ransom people. Ben Rogers is skeptical of the idea, since it means giving the people food and shelter until they die, and if the gang is successful, their cave will be filled with ransoming people quite quickly. Tom dismisses this notion immediately, explaining that the books talk about ransoming people, so they must follow what is considered standard practice. Ben then asks if they are meant to kill the women, which Tom also dismisses as foolishness, since the women must be kept in the cave so that they can fall in love with the robbers. Ben Rogers claims that the cave will be too full of other people to fit the robbers in, but lets the matter rest.
The boys wake up Tommy Barnes, who had fallen asleep. He begins to cry and says he does not want to be a robber, but wants to go home and the boys make fun of him. Tommy then threatens to tell on the gang and Tom Sawyer gives him five cents to be quiet. The boys have a scheduling problem, as some boys are only free on certain days, but they decide that the problem can be worked out. Tom Sawyer is voted first captain, with Jo Harper as second captain and everyone goes home.
Huck talks with Miss Watson about prayer, explaining that he does not get what he wants, so he does not think that it works. Later the widow explains that you receive "spiritual gifts" when you pray. Unimpressed, Huck gives it up. He also relates the differences between the widow's Providence and Miss Watson's.
Huck worries about his father coming back, unconvinced that he is dead, as some believe. He plays robber with Tom Sawyer's gang. They raid Sunday School picnics and steal cabbages from carts. Huck is disappointed and confronts Tom, who refers to the novels he has read. Huck tries to understand but cannot and eventually gives up trying.
Huck gets scolded by Miss Watson for dirtying his clothes the night before, but the widow says nothing, which makes Huck feel guilty. Miss Watson tells him to pray everyday, and he responds by telling her that he has tried it, but it does not work--he still does not get what he needs. She calls him a fool, but one day he goes out in the forest and thinks about prayer. He attempts to find a reason for why some people pray but do not receive things that they ask for or need, but he cannot figure it out and he asks the widow about it. She informs him that it is "spiritual gifts" that the person receives, which does not impress Huck. He dismisses prayer. He considers Providence, which also puzzles him. When he hears the widow talk about Providence it is enthralling and exciting, but the Providence that Miss Watson talks about scares him. He decides that in the future he hopes he meets the widow's Providence rather than Miss Watson's.
Huck thinks about his father, who has not been seen for over a year. A man had been found, drowned, but his face was unrecognizable. The officials involved assumed it was Huck's father, but Huck is certain that it is not his father, and continues to be anxious should his father come back. In the meantime, he plays robber with Tom Sawyer's gang. It turns out that what Tom Sawyer means by robbing and killing people actually involves raiding Sunday School picnics and stealing cabbages from carts on the road. Huck confronts Tom about this, and Tom responds by referring to Don Quixote , and suggests that Huck does not understand. Huck tries to play Tom's game and suggests that they get a group of genies to help them. Tom explains that they are difficult to come by, though Huck argues that if they come out of old tin lamps, they should be easy enough to find. Tom becomes exasperated and Huck later tries his luck with an old tin lamp in the forest. It does not work, so he decides to give up, and just count Tom's stories as the impractical lies that Tom is good at creating.
These first three chapters introduce the characters and set the scene for the rest of the novel. The situations establish the main qualities of each of the major characters, Huck, Tom and Jim. Those who have read The Adventures of Tom Sawyer are familiar with Tom and Huck, as Huck suggests at the beginning of the novel. The scenarios in which these characters find themselves at the beginning of this book supply information for those who have not read the first book. It also sets a mark against which Huck and Jim's development over the course of the narrative will be measured.
Twain first thought of this novel as a sequel to The Adventures of Tom Sawyer ; the book was extremely popular and he wanted to build on that success. As he continued to work with the novel it became more than just a companion book; it started to take on issues that were far more significant than just a boy's adventures. In these chapters, Twain ironically deals with the subject of "civilizing" people, as well as the inconsistencies of a religious household. The two sisters are working to teach Huck to behave properly, but their differing methods just exacerbate his frustration with being tied down. The widow's gentle remonstrations work to create a feeling of guilt in Huck, which works to make him settle down and do what he is told. Miss Watson, on the other hand, is strict and unforgiving, and her brash scolding make Huck long for rebellion. In addition, the juxtaposition of the two women demonstrates the seeming hypocrisies and inconsistencies within organized religion. They tell Huck he cannot smoke, but they use snuff themselves. One talks about a god who is gentle and forgiving, the other describes a god who is wrathful and vengeful. Their instruction only serves to confuse Huck and it has the opposite effect to what they intend. Huck gives his opinions in a straightforward way, taking what each of the women say at face value and in this way Twain's irony comes through Huck's innocent description of the two women.
Similarly, Twain's ability for subtle humor is demonstrated by Huck's explanations of Tom Sawyer's Gang. Tom's rules for the gang are a satire of popular adventure and romance stories from that time. Tom takes the novels he has read and allows his imagination to apply it to real life. He is blind to the illogical nature of the stories. Ben Rogers serves to act as a voice of reason as he tries to understand the practicalities of the gang, but Tom insists the maintaining the authenticity is far more important than the little details of making things work. This is a minor case of foreshadowing, as it is a very similar situation to the end of the novel, in which Tom concocts an irrational plan for helping Jim escape, while Huck offers genuine real-life suggestions that would allow them to quickly achieve their goal. Then, as in this situation with the gang, Tom is purely interested in having fun and enjoying himself, while Huck is only concerned about the actualities of the situation.