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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
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CHAPTER 12

With this chapter, the main part of the book begins. Chapters 12 and 13 deal with Huck and Jim's first adventure while traveling along the Mississippi.

Huck begins by telling us that Jim built a wigwam on the raft so they could keep their things dry, and he even built a fire when it rained. (Keep in mind that the raft is 12 x 16 feet, about as big as a large bedroom in many modern houses.)

He gives us another of his quietly moving descriptions of living on the river, including a comment on seeing the city of St. Louis for the first time. He describes going ashore late each night to buy food and to "borrow" things they couldn't afford.

This section includes some interesting distinctions between stealing and borrowing. There's no doubt that Twain intended the distinctions to be funny; but they also remind us that Huck has a private set of moral standards. The standards may be unconventional, and sometimes laughable, but he does try to live up to them, and that's an important thing to remember.

Then comes the incident with the disabled steamboat, the Walter Scott. In using this name for a ship that was on the verge of sinking, Twain was probably making a small joke. Sir Walter Scott, author of Ivanhoe and other romantic novels, was a popular novelist in the 19th century. Twain often wrote scathing criticisms of such novels, believing that they were written by hacks who knew little about the real world and nothing about the people who live in it.


NOTE:

Twain has Huck describe his search of the steamboat in some detail, and he uses a number of nautical terms you might find confusing. Here's a brief glossary that should make your reading a bit more enjoyable:

TEXAS A shelter for officers on the upper deck, also called the texas deck

PILOT-HOUSE An enclosed structure from which the ship is navigated

DERRICK A device for lifting cargo on or off the ship

LABBOARD (larboard)

The left side of the ship

STABBOARD (starboard) The right side

GUYS Ropes or cables

SKYLIGHT The pilot-house roof, which can be opened and closed

Against Jim's wishes, they climb aboard the steamboat to see what they can find. When they hear voices, Jim races back to the raft, but Huck is too curious to leave without finding out what's going on.

The justification he uses is interesting: "Tom Sawyer wouldn't back out now." After all the things that have happened to Huck, and even now, in the midst of something really dangerous, he still sees himself as a follower of a boy who "holds up" Sunday School picnics and steals turnips.

When he finds out that the voices belong to three thieves, and that murder is part of their plan, Huck decides to get out. Jim gives him the bad news that the raft has broken loose, and the chapter ends with a cliffhanger.

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