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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
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CHAPTERS 19 AND 20

In these two chapters you'll meet the duke and the king, who will be with Huck longer than any other characters in the book, including Jim. In fact, until Chapter 30, Jim will practically disappear from the story.

As you read, you may find this puzzling. You may wonder where Jim is and what has happened to his escape to freedom. If so, you'll be in good company. Several critics have said that this is the weakest part of the novel, even though it contains some of the most interesting episodes.

There isn't any explanation for why Twain seems to have forgotten about Jim during this part of the story. The only argument some critics offer in Twain's defense is that the book is about Huck, not Jim. They say that leaving Jim for a long stretch isn't really a flaw in the novel, because Jim isn't the main character.

After you've finished the book, you can make up your mind about how important Jim's long disappearance is. Think about the question as you continue to read.


Chapter 19 begins with one of the longest descriptions in the book of the beauty of being on the river. It goes on for almost a third of the chapter. Near the end of this section, Huck sums up what he's been saying with, "It's lovely to live on a raft."

He meets the two new characters while paddling a canoe near the shore to look for berries. One looks to be about 70, the other about 30, and both are dressed in ragged clothes. They're in a great hurry to get away from somebody, and Huck agrees to let them come back to the raft with him.

NOTES:

Since these two don't know each other, each man introduces himself by describing his line of work. If you need help with some of the skills they name, use the following list:

TEMPERANCE REVIVAL: A religious meeting at which drinking alcohol is condemned

JOUR PRINTER: A printer who travels around looking for a day's work (jour is the French word for day)

PATENT MEDICINE: Usually a concoction of any ingredients available, accompanied by wild claims for what it will cure

MESMERISM: Hypnotism

PHRENOLOGY: The study of personality as it is revealed by bumps on the skull

LAYING ON OF HANDS: Curing people by touching them and praying aloud

After the introductions there's a comical scene in which each man claims to be descended from a noble family. So the shabby con men miraculously become a duke and a dauphin (the son of the deceased king of France).

Huck, of course, is too sharp really to believe any of this, but he has no objection to pretending, "long as it would keep peace in the family." At the end of Chapter 19, he explains why he takes this position.

Chapter 20 shows the two con men in action as they visit a small town and steal a few dollars. You'll also see them planning a scene from Romeo and Juliet, in which the old man (the king) will play Juliet. "These country jakes" won't even notice anything wrong, the duke assures him.

This chapter is important for one other development. The king has come up with a plan that will allow them to ride the river during the day. It involves some unpleasant news for Jim, who takes it calmly enough. He does tell Huck at the end of the chapter, though, that he hopes they aren't going to run into any more kings during their trip.

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