The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is often considered to be Twain’s masterpiece. It combined his raw humor with startlingly mature material to create a novel that directly attacked many of the traditions the South held dear. Huckleberry Finn is the main character, and it is through his eyes that the South is revealed and judged. His companion, a runaway slave named Jim, provides Huck with friendship and protection during their journey along the Mississippi. The novel begins with Huck himself writing the story. He briefly describes what has happened to him since The Adventures of Tom Sawyer.
After Huck and Tom discovered twelve thousand dollars in treasure, Judge Thatcher invested the money for them. Huck was adopted by the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson, both of whom took pains to raise him properly. Dissatisfied with his new life, Huck runs away. Tom Sawyer manages to bring Huck back by promising to start a band of robbers. All the young boys in town join Tom’s band, and they use a hidden cave as their hideout. However, many of them soon become bored with the make-believe battles and so the band falls apart.
Soon thereafter Huck sees footprints in the snow which he recognizes as his Pa’s. Huck realizes that Pa has returned to claim his money, and so he quickly runs to Judge Thatcher and “sells” his share of the money for a “consideration” of a dollar. Pa catches Huck and makes him hand over the dollar, and threatens to beat Huck if he ever goes to school again. Judge Thatcher and the Widow try to gain court custody of Huck, but a new judge in town refuses to separate Huck from Pa. Soon thereafter, Pa steals Huck away from the Widow’s house and takes him to a log cabin.
Huck says that he enjoys the life at first, but he soon decides to escape after Pa starts to frequently beat him. Soon thereafter Pa returns to the town and Huck seizes the chance to escape. He saws his way out of the log cabin, kills a pig and spreads the blood as if it were his own, and then takes a canoe and floats downstream to Jackson’s Island. Once there he sets up camp and hides out. A few days later Huck stumbles onto a still smoldering campfire on the island. He is frightened but decides to discover who the other person is.
The next day he discovers that the person is Miss Watson’s slave Jim, who has run away after overhearing the Widow plan to sell him to a slave trader. Jim is frightened at first, believing Huck to be dead, but soon is happy to have a companion. The river starts rising, and at one point an entire house floats past the island. Huck and Jim climb aboard to see what they can salvage. They find a dead man lying in the corner of the house, and Jim goes over to look. Jim realizes that the dead man is Pa, and he carefully refuses to tell Huck who it is.
Huck returns to the town dressed as a girl in order to gather some news. While talking with a woman, he learns that both Jim and Pa are suspects in his murder. The woman then tells Huck that she thinks Jim is hiding out on Jackson’s Island. When Huck hears that, he immediately returns to Jim and together they leave the island. Using a large raft, they float downstream during the nights and hide during the days. During a strong thunderstorm they see a steamboat which has crashed. Huck convinces Jim to land on the boat, and together they climb aboard.
However, they soon discover that there are three thieves on the wreck, two of whom are debating whether to kill the third man. When Huck overhears the conversation, he and Jim try to escape, only to find that their raft has come undone. They manage to find the skiff that the robbers had used and immediately take off. Soon they see the wrecked steamship floating downstream, far enough below the water-line to have drowned everyone on board. They subsequently catch up with their original raft and recapture it. Jim and Huck continue floating downstream, becoming close friends in the process.
Their goal is to reach Cairo, where they can take a steamship up the Ohio and into the free states. However, during a dense fog they become separated, with Huck in the canoe and Jim in the raft. When they find each other in the morning, it soon becomes obvious that they passed Cairo in the fog. A fews nights after passing Cairo, a steamboat runs over the raft and forces Huck and Jim to jump overboard. Huck swims to shore where his is immediately surrounded by dogs. He ends up being invited to live with a family called the Grangerfords. Huck is treated well and soon discovers that Jim is hiding in a nearby swamp.
Everything is peaceful until an old feud between the Grangerfords and the Shepherdsons is rekindled. Within a day all of the males in the family are killed, including Huck’s best friend Buck. Huck uses the chaos to run back to Jim, and together they start downstream again. Soon thereafter two humbugs named the Duke and the King are rescued by Huck. They immediately take over the raft and start to travel downstream, making money by cheating people in the various towns along the river. The two men come up with a scam called the Royal Nonesuch which earns them over four hundred dollars.
The scam involves getting all the men in the town to come to the show, and then having the King parade around naked for a few minutes. The men are too ashamed to admit to having wasted their money, so they tell everyone else how great the show was. Thus the next night is also a success. On the third night everyone returns plotting revenge, but the Duke and King manage to escape with all the money. Further downriver the two con men learn about a large inheritance. They pretend to be British uncles of three recently orphaned girls in order to receive the money.
The girls are so happy to see their “uncles” that they do not realize they are being cheated. Huck is treated so nicely by all three of the girls that he vows he will never let the humbugs steal their money. Huck sneaks into the King’s room and steals the large bag of gold that came with the inheritance. He hides the money in the coffin of Peter Wilk’s, the recently deceased “brother” of the con men. Meanwhile the humbugs spend their time liquidating the girls’ property. Huck encounters Mary Jane Wilks, the eldest of the girls, and sees her crying. He decides to tell her the entire story about the two cons.
She is infuriated by the story but agrees to leave the house for a few days so that Huck can escape. Right after Mary Jane leave, the real two uncles of the girls arrive in the town. However, because they lost their baggage they are unable to prove their identity. Thus the town lawyer takes all four men aside and tries to establish who is lying. The King and the Duke fake their roles so well that there is no way to determine who is telling the truth. Finally one of the real uncles says that his brother Peter had a tattoo on his chest and challenges the King to identify it.
In order to figure out who is telling the truth, the townspeople decide to exhume the body. When they dig up the grave, the townspeople discover the missing money that Huck hid there. In the ensuing chaos, Huck runs straight back to the raft and he and Jim push off into the river. However, the Duke and King soon catch up with them and rejoin the raft. Farther down the river the King and Duke sell Jim into slavery by claiming he is a runaway slave from New Orleans. Huck decides to rescue Jim, and daringly walks up to the house where Jim is being kept.
Luckily, the house is owned by none other than Tom Sawyer’s Aunt Sally. Huck immediately pretends to be Tom. When Tom arrives, he pretends to be his younger brother Sid Sawyer. Together he and Huck contrive how to help Jim escape from his “prison,” namely an outdoor shed. Tom manages to make Jim’s life difficult by putting snakes and spiders into the room with him. After a lot of planning, the boys convince the town that a group of thieves is planning to steal Jim. That night they get Jim and start to run away. The local farmers follow them, shooting as they run after them.
Huck, Jim, and Tom manage to escape, but unfortunately Tom gets shot in the leg. Huck returns to the town to get a doctor, whom he sends over to where Tom is hiding with Jim. The doctor returns with Tom on a stretcher and Jim in chains. Jim is treated badly until the doctor describes how Jim helped him take care of the boy. When Tom awakens, he demands that they let Jim go free. At this point Aunt Polly appears, having traveled all the way down the river. She realized there was something wrong when her sister wrote her that both Tom and Sid had arrived.
Aunt Polly tells them that Jim is indeed a free man, because the Widow passed away and freed him in her will. Huck and Tom give Jim forty dollars for being such a good prisoner and letting them free him. Jim then tells Huck to stop worrying about his Pa. He reveals to Huck that the dead man on the floating house was in fact Huck’s Pa. Aunt Sally offers to adopt Huck, but he refuses on the grounds that he had tried that sort of lifestyle once before. Huck then concludes the novel by stating that he would never have undertaken the book had he known it would take so long to write it.