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Free Barron's Booknotes-The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain
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CHAPTERS 40 AND 41

From the point of view of an adventure novelist (or a movie director), the escape itself is "splendid," as the title of Chapter 40 suggests. From the point of view of the escapee, however, it could have been simpler, and certainly quieter.

Tom's anonymous note results in a gathering of neighboring farmers, all of them armed and anxious to face the thieves who they think are coming to steal Silas Phelps' property. Huck is frightened at the prospect of armed men trying to interfere with the escape. Tom is thrilled and wishes there were a lot more.

When they finally do pull the escape off, two factors work very much in their favor. First, it's so dark that the farmers are firing shots randomly. And second, the dogs entrusted with tracking the thieves are family dogs, and they just run right past the boys, looking for someone more exciting.

They evade the pursuers, reach the canoe Huck has hidden, and get to the island where he left the raft. It's only then that they realize that Tom has taken a bullet in the calf, a fact that pleases him mightily.

As he bandages his wound, Tom gives orders for carrying out the rest of the escape plan. Huck and Jim ignore him and consult privately, about what to do.


Then Jim announces that nothing-including his own freedom-is more important than getting medical treatment for Tom's wound. This would be a noble sentiment under any circumstances, but it's even more so when you consider how badly Tom has treated Jim for the past three weeks. Huck sees Jim's position for what it is. "He was white inside," he says. Remember, Huck's definition of blacks as property hasn't changed. He has barely given any thought to that larger social issue. What has changed in the course of the book is his attitude toward an individual black man, who has evolved in Huck's mind from a piece of property into an admirable human being.

Huck gets a doctor, but the man won't share the tiny canoe with him. So Huck ends up back at Aunt Sally's while the doctor goes to the island to treat Tom.

Most of the rest of the chapter consists of comical comments by women of the neighborhood on the odd things that were found in the cabin after Jim escaped. They're convinced that it was the work of a crazy person, and that it must have taken a houseful of slaves four weeks to get it all done.

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