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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
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CHAPTERS 36 AND 37

For the most part, these two chapters tell in humorous detail how Tom and Huck go about putting their plan into effect. Most of the comedy comes from the fact that a large portion of what they're doing is completely unnecessary; but there's also some funny material about all the household things they steal to imitate what Tom has read in his books.

There also are passages in the chapters that reveal more about the boys' character. For example, in the early part of Chapter 36 there's a conversation in which Twain has some fun with people who live by the letter of the law, even when their own experience makes that law seem ludicrous. (Twain had strong feelings about religious fanatics, and he certainly would have included them in this group.)

After Tom and Huck dig for a long time with their small knives, Tom admits that they'll never complete the job this way. No matter what his books tell him, he knows they'll have to use more practical tools, such as shovels and picks. He admits that "it ain't right, and it ain't moral," but he sees it has to be done.


"Now you're talking!" Huck says, praising Tom for getting more level-headed all the time. The morality of it doesn't mean a thing to Huck. When he sets out to steal something, he says, all that matters to him is that he get what he's after.

Tom says that's okay for Huck because he doesn't know any better. But for a purist like himself, a certain mental reservation is necessary. He has to pretend to be doing the right thing, even if he is giving in to reality.

Read this conversation carefully, and be sure you see exactly what's going on. Don't overlook the irony in Huck's comment, "He was always just that particular. Full of principle." And notice the final punch line about coming up the stairs instead of climbing the lightning rod.

This short scene shows Mark Twain the satirist at his best. His comment on hypocrisy is sharp and piercing, but his manner is as skillful as that of a surgeon performing a difficult operation. Huck's remarks about Tom are so subtle that they could easily be missed.

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