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.
Huck and Jim are trying to make their way to Cairo, Illinois. They get trapped in heavy fog and are separated; Huck is in the canoe and Jim is on the raft. Huck tries to find him again, and they call back and forth to one another. It is confusing because sometimes the raft is in front and sometimes behind. Huck realizes that they must be going down opposite sides of an island. He listens for more calls but does not hear any. He eventually gives up and goes to sleep.
When he wakes up the fog has cleared and he finds the raft in the distance. Climbing on board, he finds Jim asleep and the raft has been damaged. He pretends to have been sleeping the whole time, convincing Jim that he dreamt the whole experience. Jim interprets his dream and the Huck points out the raft's damage. Jim discovers that Huck played a trick on him and scolds him severely for doing so after Jim was so happy to see him. Huck feels ashamed and apologizes to Jim, swearing never to play a trick again.
Huck details their plan to take the Mississippi River to Cairo, Illinois, where they would sell the raft and then take a steamboat up the Ohio River to the free states. A night before they think they will reach Cairo a heavy fog rolls in. Huck paddles ahead in the canoe with a line to the raft, in order to secure it, since they think it is dangerous to continue in the fog. He ties it to a small tree but the raft comes down so quickly that it rips the tree from its roots and keeps going. Huck is separated from the raft and is scared, since he is completely alone in the fog. He paddles after the raft, but once he goes past the sand bank where he had tried to tie up the raft, he is out in the open and can see nothing but fog.
Huck decides that the best thing to do is to float, so as not to run into a bank accidentally by paddling. He calls out into the fog and hears an answering cry in the distance. He tries to follow it, but the returning calls are intermittent and sometimes he is to the right of it and sometimes to the left. He gets confused and the call comes from behind him. He stops paddling and soon the calls are coming from in front of him again. He finally figures out that the bank that he had approached was an island and he had gone down one side while Jim had gone down the other. He tries to sit still and though he feels like he is completely motionless, his canoe is working its way down the river.
He eventually hears another call, but it is far away and there is land in-between. He does not hear any calls in the distance and he thinks that perhaps Jim got caught someplace. He gives up and falls asleep. He sleeps for longer than he expected and when he wakes up the fog has cleared and he is in a part of the river that is deep and wide. He sees something in the distance and paddles up to it, it is nothing but logs. He sees something else up ahead and it is the raft.
Jim is on the raft, asleep and one of the oars had broken away. Huck sneaks onto the raft and lies down under Jim. He pretends to wake up, waking Jim up with him. Jim is surprised and overjoyed to see him, telling him that he thought that Huck had died. Huck seems surprised to hear such a greeting and proceeds to act as if nothing had happened except Jim falling asleep. Jim is convinced at first, and tells Huck about the dream he has. Huck then points out the damage done to the raft and Jim knows that Huck is playing a trick on him. He scolds Huck for taking advantage of Jim's worry over him. He tells him how it is the worst thing he could do to respond to someone's joy of meeting again with a trick to make him look silly. He goes into the wigwam without saying anything else and Huck is ashamed. He eventually goes in and apologizes, even though it goes against everything he is taught about his superiority to slaves. He admits that he never regretted apologizing to Jim and he would never had played the trick if he knew what an effect it would have on Jim.
Huck and Jim talk about Cairo and their plans to get a steamboat to the free states. Jim grows more excited about the prospect of freedom, which leads Huck to think about the repercussions of helping Jim escape. He begins to think about Jim as Miss Watson's property and his escape as theft. He decides that he will tell the first person that he sees about Jim.
They spot a light in the distance which might be Cairo and Huck heads out in the canoe to see. As he is leaving, Jim tells him that he is the only friend he has and that he is the first white man to keep a promise to him. This makes Huck think twice about his plan to turn Jim in. Soon he is met by two men in a boat who are looking for a group of runaway slaves. They ask about his raft and the color of the man on it and faced with the decision Huck lies and says that it is a white man. The men want to investigate and Huck encourages them, making up a story about a sick father. They soon are convinced that his father has small pox and they hurry away. They give Huck $40 to salve their conscience and advise him to land at the next town.
Huck returns to Jim who thanks him for saving him. At first Huck feels that he was weak for not turning Jim in, but then thinks about how badly he would have felt if he had informed the men. Huck concludes that the results of doing bad are the same as the results of doing good, so he plans to do whatever is easiest in the future.
They continue down the river and as they pass more towns that are not Cairo, they realize that they must have passed it the night of the fog. Jim is despondent and they decide to row up the river in the canoe. When they head out the next evening, the canoe is gone. Their only choice is to continue down the river until they can buy a canoe. Soon after their raft is run over by a steamboat and they dive off the raft in opposite directions. Huck makes his way to the closest bank and finds himself near a log cabin. Dogs jump out, barking and he stands freezes.
Huck and Jim sleep for most of the day after the night of the fog. When they are moving again, they see a giant raft with four oars on each end and five wigwams. They are very impressed.
The night goes on and gets hot. They talk about Cairo and how they would know it when they saw it. Jim said that they would see the two rivers coming together. They start to worry about missing it, so they decide that Huck would paddle to shore to the first light they saw and ask how far it is to Cairo. Jim is excited, since as soon as they make it to Cairo he is a free man, but if they miss it the Mississippi River has slave states on both sides. He keeps spotting lights that he is sure is Cairo but none of them are.
Faced with Jim's excitement over being so close to freedom, Huck begins to think about his role in Jim's escape. His conscience starts to bother him and he considers how he has played an active part in getting Jim to this stage. He starts to think about Jim as Miss Watson's property and how what he is doing is equivalent to stealing. He feels bad about what he is doing and begins to regret not telling anyone. He becomes nervous, like Jim, and neither can keep still. Jim talks about his plans to gain his freedom and then earn enough money to buy his wife and children. He says that if the owners will not sell his children he will get an Abolitionist to steal them for him. This shocks Huck and his guilt redoubles. He thinks about Jim's children as the property of someone he does not know and how he is involved in stealing from a stranger.
Huck convinces himself that he needs to tell someone and that it would still stop Jim from being free. Jim sees a light in the distance and Huck gets into the canoe, telling Jim that he will investigate. As he is departing, Jim says a little speech, thanking Huck for his help and declaring that Huck is the only friend in the world that he has. Huck's eagerness to tell on him fades in the light of his statements and Huck finds himself in his dilemma again. Jim points out that Huck is the only white man to keep a promise to him and Huck is at a loss.
As he is pondering it, two gentlemen row up and inform him that they are looking for a group of runaway slaves. They ask about Huck's raft, and if anyone is on it. Huck tells them that there is one man, and they ask if he is white or black. Faced with the decision, and wavering, Huck gives up fighting and answers that the man is white. They mention that they would like to investigate, and Huck encourages them. He develops the story that his father is sick, along with his mother and sister. The men are frustrated at the delay but agree to go along. Huck lets it slip that they are sick with small pox and the men immediately refuse to go to the raft. They advise Huck to go 20 miles further down the river to the next town. They assuage their guilt by giving Huck $40 and then go on their way.
On his way back to the raft, Huck considers his inability to turn in Jim. He berates himself for not having the strength to do it but then imagines what he would feel like if he had turned him in. He admits that he would have felt just as bad, and starts to be convinced that if the feeling is the same for doing right as it is for doing wrong that he might as well do whatever is easiest at the time. When he reaches the raft, Jim is hiding in the water at the end of it. He comes back on board and thanks Huck profusely for tricking the men. They split the money and decide that they have enough for steamboat passage. In the morning they are near the town and Huck goes out in the canoe to investigate.
The man he asks calls him a fool for thinking the town to be Cairo, but does not tell him where Cairo is. Jim is disappointed and they continue down the river. Jim and Huck then have the suspicion that they had passed Cairo the night of the fog. Jim is distressed and blames the snakeskin. When daylight comes they see that they are still on the Mississippi and their dreams of Cairo are gone. They discuss their options and decide to take the canoe upstream. When they wake up the canoe is gone and they have no choice but to continue on the raft until they found a place to buy a new canoe. Huck is sure that it is all because of the snakeskin. They are making their way when the night becomes gray and thick. A steamboat approaches and they light their lantern to signal their presence. She gets closer and closer and ends up running over the raft. Just before she hits, Huck dives off one direction and Jim dives the other. Huck resurfaces and calls for Jim, who does not respond. He grabs a piece of driftwood and makes his way to the bank. He runs across a log cabin and dogs start barking before he can leave, so he stays where he is.
Each of these chapters contain a significant development in Huck and Jim's relationship. In chapter 15, they are separated and each have to consider what would happen if they were never to see each other again. Huck does not dwell on this and when he reaches the raft again, happy to see Jim, he plays a trick on him. Jim's reaction stuns Huck and for the first time he is forced to examine the emotional repercussions of one of his actions. Jim is saddened by the appearance that Huck was unconcerned about finding him again. By scolding Huck, he expresses his feeling for him and demonstrates the compassion that Huck needs to acquire.
As Huck thinks about it, after Jim has gone into the wigwam, he is faced with the contrast between what society teaches him about slaves and what Jim has just established. Huck mentions that it takes him a while to be comfortable with the idea that he needs to apologize to a slave, someone who society teaches is far below him. All that he has been taught tells him that it does not matter what Jim feels or says because as a slave, he is unimportant and unworthy of notice. Jim, on the other hand, expresses a depth of sadness that cannot be ignored and Huck must come to terms with Jim's humanity. His words show Huck how important their friendship is to Jim and as he makes his apology, Huck echoes that feeling. Huck admits that he has never regretted making the apology that was so difficult to say. He is happy with the knowledge that he has done what is right by Jim and society's opinion makes no difference. In a way, Huck establishes the path that Twain feels other people should follow; one must recognize that slaves are humans, with feelings and concerns. After that it is easier to ignore what society has established as "normal" and then after the first misgivings it is possible to treat people with the respect they deserve.
Huck's newfound understanding is put to the test in the following chapter, as Jim approaches freedom. In chapter 16, the more vocal Jim gets about his future plans, the more society's customs interrupt Huck's judgment. Imagining the effects of Jim's escape, Huck falls back into the mindset society enforces, which says that Jim is not a human, Jim is property and helping Jim escape is akin to stealing. He is trapped by this train of thoughts and reverts to his original way of thinking. He begins to feel guilty for transgressing society's laws, which is made worse by Jim's enthusiasm. He makes up his mind to turn Jim in. He gets as far as speaking to the men but when push comes to shove he acts on his own personal feelings of right and wrong, not on society's conventions. At first he feels weak for making this decision but upon further reflection he realizes that if he had turned Jim in he would have felt as bad, or worse, than not saying anything. In this moment he discovers that life is not as simple as Miss Watson would make it out to be. He progresses a bit further towards maturity as he understands that what society instructs and what he feels in his heart can be at odds with one another. He decides that it is best to be true to what he feels is the right thing to do, not what everyone else tells him to do.