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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
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CHAPTER 4

In the first three chapters Twain established the personality of his main character. In this chapter he begins to develop the plot- a series of "adventures" involving Huck.

Each of these adventures is almost a story in itself, even though most of them go on for several chapters. So from here on it would probably be better to read the book in sections instead of one chapter at a time. I'll still summarize the novel chapter by chapter, but I'll let you know when a new section begins and how many chapters it involves.

You should read Chapters 4-7 as a unit, since they all deal with Pap, Huck's alcoholic father. Huck begins Chapter 4 by telling us he has actually adjusted to civilized life. The first paragraph suggests that he doesn't know as much arithmetic as he thinks he does, but he doesn't "take no stock in mathematics, anyway."

He isn't deliriously happy with school, and living in a house, and all the rest of it, but he doesn't hate it the way he used to. Then one morning he knocks over the salt shaker at the breakfast table.

As we saw near the end of Chapter 1, Huck is very superstitious and gets himself quite worked up over signs of bad luck. He's certain the spilled salt means something terrible. Sure enough, when he goes outside, he sees bootprints in the snow, and he recognizes them as belonging to his father.

What he instantly does might seem puzzling at first, but we get an explanation soon enough. He runs to Judge Thatcher, who is the trustee of the money Huck got for helping to catch a gang of robbers. (That. adventure is mentioned in the second paragraph of the novel.)

He begs the judge to take the $6000 and the interest, so he "won't have to tell no lies." The judge doesn't really understand Huck's motives, but he buys the account from the boy for one dollar. Huck knows that his father is going to be after the money, and his father has beaten him in the past for less reason than $6000. He wants to be able to say he has no money-and he wants it to be the truth.


This shows us something interesting about Huck's character. Pap is not one of the people he respects. He's already told us he hopes never to see him again. He expects the man to beat him and to try to steal his money. Yet, he's unwilling to tell a lie, even in such a desperate situation. Remember, this is the boy who has told us how low-down and ornery he must be in the eyes of God.

After Huck gets rid of his money, he goes to visit Jim, Miss Watson's slave. Jim has a hair-ball that is supposed to have come from the stomach of an ox, and they both believe it has magical powers.

Huck asks Jim to use the hair-ball to predict what Pap is planning to do. Jim goes through a long, singsong speech, in which he predicts so many things that he actually predicts nothing. He gets so carried away that he predicts things that will happen to Huck many years in the future.

Huck then goes up to his room and finds Pap waiting there for him.

NOTE:

This is Jim's second appearance in the story, and very soon he will become a major character. This is as good a time as any to deal with the kind of person he is and with Twain's use of the word nigger.

In recent years, the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn has often been the subject of debate and has even been banned in some schools and public libraries. The argument and the censorship revolve around the character of Jim.

Jim is illiterate, superstitious, childlike, easily led, and apparently not very bright. Some people think the book could lead readers-especially young readers-to conclude that this is what all black people are like.

The same people may be offended by Huck's use of the word nigger to refer to Jim. To us in the 20th century, nigger is an ugly word that many people would like to see erased from the language.

On the other side of the argument are people who point out that the novel is set in a southern state in the middle of the last century. In that setting, these people say, the word nigger had no special meaning, good or bad. It was simply a regional pronunciation of negro. These same people would say that, in the same setting, a character like Jim was much more typical than he would be today.

Whichever side of this argument you take, try to keep two things in mind. First, a novel can be good or bad regardless of how much it reflects your own view of the world. And second, as we've already seen, there's often a big difference between what Huck says and what Mark Twain believes.

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