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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
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Twain sets a dismal tone for this chapter with the opening paragraph, and the tone isn't made any more cheerful by the description of the Phelps home that follows. Huck enters the property without any clear plan of what he's going to do, "but just trusting to Providence to put the right words in my mouth when the time come."

In other words, God, who will send him to hell for helping Jim, will also give him the words to get the deed done. At the very least, you can say that Huck has some confused notions about how God operates.

When Huck meets the woman of the house, she thinks he's a relative that her husband has gone to meet at the steamboat. When she asks why the boat was so late, he says that a cylinder head exploded.

"Good gracious!" she says. "Anybody hurt?"

"No'm," he answers. "Killed a nigger."

It might seem like an insignificant exchange, but think about it a minute. His response to her question is exactly what a boy in his circumstances might say. It suggests a definition of black people that has nothing to do with humanity.

How does this fit with what we know of Huck? How could such a statement come from a boy who's decided to go to hell rather than betray his black friend?

The answer is important, because it will help you understand just what Huck is doing. Nothing he has said so far indicates that he's opposed to slavery, or that he wants to see an improvement in the status of black people in society. Nothing he has said even hints at any such revolutionary ideas.

Remember that Huck is just a young teenager, not a revolutionary. He isn't challenging society. He's simply choosing to live outside of it. The raft gave him a chance to do that temporarily. His decision to help Jim is a way of becoming a permanent outsider.

The woman tells him to address her as Aunt Sally, and she calls him Tom. He has trouble answering her questions, because he doesn't know where he's supposed to be from.

He finds out when her husband, Silas, comes back from the dock. Aunt Sally introduces Huck as Tom Sawyer. After that, there's no stopping Huck. He sails into stories about Tom's family and neighbors that please the dickens out of the Phelpses.

The one problem Huck sees is that if Tom Sawyer was expected, then Tom Sawyer will soon arrive. What will Aunt Sally and Uncle Silas think then? His next task is to get to the overdue steamboat when it arrives, and let Tom in on what's happening.

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