The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Study Guide

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain

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.

Chapter 17

Brief Summary

Huck finds himself at a log cabin with dogs barking at him. Once the family determines that he is not a Shepherdson they invite him in. He tells them a story about being all alone and they invite him to stay with them as long as he needs. They have a son named Buck about his age and he and Huck get along very well.

Huck describes the house, which is richly appointed. He finds the work of Emmeline Grangerford, who is deceased. Her work focuses on death and sorrow and many of her poems are very similar. Huck is extremely comfortable in the house and enjoys the quantity and quality of the food.

Detailed Summary

Huck finds himself standing outside a log cabin in the woods, surrounded by barking dogs. Someone calls out the window to him, asking his name and business. He tells them his name is George Jackson and that he is just passing through. They slowly investigate and then cautiously invite him in. Once they find that he is not a Shepherdson and after they search him for weapons, they relax and offer him dry clothes and warm food. The whole family is awake; there is an older woman, a man, two younger men and two younger women. A boy about Huck's age, named Buck, takes him to his room. Buck is enthusiastic and friendly, telling Huck that he needs to live with them forever. Huck eats his fill while the others smoke and talk. They ask Huck a lot of questions and he tells them about how all of his family is either missing or dead. He explains that he was going up the river when he fell overboard and ended up with them. They offer a home to him and they all go to bed.

The house is beautiful and finely decorated, with brass knobs on the doors and pictures on the walls. He describes the house in much detail, its large brick fireplace, a clock with parrots on either side and ceramic fruit sitting on the table. The pictures include one of a young woman, which is accompanied by poetry. Huck finds out that the drawings and poetry were created by Emmeline Grangerford who had died. The portraits and the verse are all about death and sound much the same. One of her poems about a boy who drowned was printed in the newspaper and the clipping is kept in a scrapbook along with other examples of her work. Huck is impressed by the quality of her work and wonders at the quality she would have produced had she lived. Buck explains that she could write poetry easily and wrote about anything as long as it involved death or sadness in some way. Huck feels that it is not right that no one should write a poem for Emmeline, so he tries to without success.

Huck reiterates the beauty of the house and the exceptional quality of its appointments. He is very comfortable in the house and a fan of the cooking, which is very good as well as plentiful.

Chapter 18

Brief Summary

Huck describes Col. Grangerford, the head of the household, who is the epitome of Southern gentility. His family respect and honor him. They are a wealthy family and very hospitable. Huck is impressed by them but soon finds out that they are a part of a bloody feud that has been going on for 30 years. He finds out that no one knows how or why it started but it still goes on. The families join each other for church but they take their guns with them.

A slave takes Huck to Jim, who is hiding nearby. He learns that Jim was close behind him after the raft was hit but Jim heard the family question Huck, so he stayed in hiding. The slaves have been taking care of him; he has found the raft and been fixing it up.

The next day, Sophia Grangerford and Harney Shepherdson run off together, which prompts a new bout of violence. The colonel and his sons are killed. Huck finds Buck and watches him get killed by a group of men on horseback. He is sickened by the sight. He rejoins Jim and they leave the land behind and make their way on the Mississippi again.

Detailed Summary

Huck describes Col. Grangerford, the head of the household, who is a Southern gentleman, through and through. He is finely dressed and is polite and generous. His moods dictate the general feeling of the house and everyone is well-mannered, especially when the Colonel is around. Everyday he and his wife come down to the parlor and the children stand up until their parents are seated. Then sons drink a toast to their father and mother. Bob is the oldest son, followed by Tom and then Buck. The older sons mirror the Colonel, beautifully dressed and genteel. Charlotte is the oldest daughter, who is beautiful and can be feisty. Sophia is younger and calmer. Each member of the family has their own slave, including Huck. There were three more sons, who were killed.

The family entertains quite often and their wealth is evident. Huck discovers that there is another aristocratic family by the name of Shepherdson who live nearby. One day, he and Buck are hunting in the woods when they hear a horse coming. They hide in the woods and Harney Shepherdson soon rides up. Buck fires a shot, which knocks Harney's hat off of his head. In response he gets out his gun, but Huck and Buck run back to the house. Buck tells his father what happened, who scolds him for shooting from behind a bush. Buck argues that Shepherdsons do the same.

Later Huck asks Buck about it and wonders why Buck wanted to kill Harney Shepherdson. Buck explains that the two families are part of a feud, which has been going on for thirty years. Huck inquires as to the reason, but Buck tells him that no one can remember the original reason for the argument. Buck mentions the people who have died as a result of the fighting. Huck makes a comment that the Shepherdsons must be cowards but Buck emphatically denies this. He illustrates the ways in which the Shepherdsons are not cowards and expresses his admiration for them.

On Sunday Huck goes to church with the family and the Shepherdsons sit in the same service. Everyone has their guns with them. They enjoy the sermon, which is about brotherly love. After dinner while everyone is napping, Huck meets Sophia, who asks him to go back to the church and pick up the book she had left behind. He agrees to do so and when he picks it up he sees a note on the inside with a time written on it. Sophia is very glad to see it but mentions to Huck that the paper is just a bookmark. Huck wanders outside and is followed by the slave who looks after him. He tells Huck that there is something he should see. When he gets to the spot, Huck finds Jim waiting for him. Jim explains that he heard Huck get questioned by the people in the house, so he laid low. The slaves have been feeding him and looking after him. He found their raft, which he has been fixing up again. It was damaged by the boat but not completely destroyed and it is almost ready to go.

The next day, Huck wakes up to find the house deserted. His slave informs him that Sophia ran off with Harney Shepherdson and as a result everyone is fighting. Huck chases after them and climbs a tree near where the action is happening. He sees some men on horseback riding around shouting. He finds Buck and shouts a warning. Buck tells him that his father and brothers are dead and that he is going to get his revenge. The men on horseback come from behind and shoot Buck and his cousin. They are killed and then the men ride off. Huck is sickened by what happens. He covers up Buck's face and returns to the swamp to find Jim. The raft is not where they left it and Huck panics. Jim soon finds him and explains that he thought Huck had died in the fighting and he was just waiting to be sure. He and Huck head out on the raft and Huck is not comfortable until they are out in the middle of the Mississippi again. They agree that they are both glad to be out of there and back on their raft again.

Chapters 17-18 Analysis

These chapters relate the feud between the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons and demonstrate one aspect of Twain's criticism of the South. Both families are wealthy and well-heeled. The Grangerford house is beautifully decorated and Huck is overwhelmed by their hospitality and gentility. Col. Grangerford is the epitome of a Southern gentleman; he is well-dressed and well-spoken, a man who does not waste words. He is generous but not frivolous. He requires absolute obedience from his family, but they are happy to give it to him because of their respect for him. His wife is kind and thoughtful, interested in the well-being of her children, as well as Huck. Huck feels completely at home there and is fortunate to be with them. As he learns about the feud, he immediately uncovers the dark underside of the family. They are perfect on the outside, but their friendliness hides the disagreement that they have harbored for 30 years. They are involved in a bloody battle for no reason other than some superficial expression of honor.

Huck is surprised to find that Buck and his family respect the Shepherdsons completely. Their fight is not about land, money or even about gaining superiority over one another. As Huck questions Buck, he discovers that no one remembers the original cause of the feud, or who started it. Huck makes no comment on this fact and it speaks for itself. The fact that the Colonel would encourage his sons to risk their lives for an empty purpose is a scathing comment on the ludicrousness of Southern gentility. They go to church and pay lip service to ideas of brotherly love and feel that they are doing good for their fellow man, while they shoot each other in the street. Twain was angry at the South's perpetuation of myths of honor and prestige. He disliked romantic novels, which support aristocratic fancies and superficial, supercilious notions of love and grandeur. He mocks them in his portrait of Emmeline Grangerford, the daughter who everyone believes to have been bright and artistic, who in fact just had a morbid and unhealthy fascination with sadness and death. Allowing fantasies of romance and grandeur to dictate morality and judgment leads to illogical, destructive behavior. For example, it is false notions of superiority and righteousness that lead people to ignore the brutality of the institution of slavery and see it an unavoidable conclusion. It is the idea that honor must be protected that leads men to fight without thinking. Living in a dreamlike world kept the South tied to images of the past and held them back from progress. Twain demonstrates his hostility toward these aspects of the South in the portrayal of a family unchecked by reason or understanding.

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