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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
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Huck knows that a steamboat always has a small boat-a skiff- that's used for taking one or two people ashore in shallow water, and he and Jim start looking for it. They almost lose their chance at the skiff, since two of the thieves plan on using it themselves; they mean to abandon the third to sink along with the steamboat.

But greed interrupts their escape, and the two thieves go back inside to get some money they've left behind. Huck and Jim get into the skiff, cut it loose, and silently slip away.

As soon as they're free, Huck begins to worry-not about himself and Jim, but about the three men they have left stranded. He thinks of "how dreadful it was, even for murderers, to be in such a fix," and he tells Jim he wants to go ashore and try to get some help for them.

They find the raft, load it with the thieves' loot from the skiff, and climb aboard. Then Huck arranges for a meeting place with Jim and rows the skiff to the shore.

The scene that follows is interesting in two respects. First, you'll see Huck once again proving himself a champion liar-or yarn spinner, as Twain probably would have preferred to think of him. In order to save the three criminals from almost certain drowning, he tells a ferryboat captain an elaborate tale about his family being stranded on the disabled steamboat.

The second thing to note about the scene is Huck's quick mind and his understanding of what makes people tick. Early in the conversation the captain makes a chance reference to someone named Jim Hornback. Huck is shrewd enough to figure out how the captain feels about Hornback, and he works the man's name into his plea for help.

When he leaves the captain, Huck feels better for having done what he could to help the men. "I wished the widow knowed about it," he says. "I judged she would be proud of me for helping these rapscallions, because rapscallions and dead-beats is the kind the widow and good people takes the most interest in."

What Huck is referring to here-without realizing it, of course- is the traditional Christian belief that sinners deserve more help than the rest of us. Several of the parables of Jesus in the New Testament make this point.

Huck doesn't understand why good people would be most interested in helping "rapscallions and deadbeats," but his instinctive urge to help such lowlife puts him much closer to at least one Christian ideal than almost everybody he comes across in this novel.

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