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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
CHAPTER 31: You Can’t Pray a Lie
Huck and Jim travel with the Duke and Dauphin for many days without stopping, for the two scoundrels fear being chased and caught. When they have travelled a good distance, the Duke and the Dauphin start to think of fresh ways to fool people. When they stop at small towns, they try to trick the people, but without much luck. On the raft, the two frauds whisper secrets to each other, which make both Huck and Jim feel uneasy. Huck has had enough of their foolery and decides he must give them the slip. They stop at a small village and the Dauphin goes ashore, giving instructions that if he does not return by midday, they are to assume that everything is safe and they can follow him. When the king does not return, Huck and the Duke go into town and find the Dauphin involved in a fight. The Duke joins in the fray and starts abusing the Dauphin.
Seizing this opportunity, Huck runs away in hopes of finally escaping the Duke and Dauphin with Jim. However, to his dismay, Jim is nowhere to be found. Huck searches everywhere, and when he cannot find him, he breaks down and starts crying. He gains control quickly and learns from a young boy that Jim has been sold by the Dauphin and he is being held at the Phelps farm. Huck goes back to the raft and thinks that if Jim is destined to be a slave all his life, then it is better that he live among the people he knows rather than live among strangers. He decides to write a letter to Miss Watson and tell her where Jim is located. He soon gives up the idea, for he thinks that Miss Watson will probably not bring him home but sell him from long-distance.
Huck is also worried about his own image in society for helping Jim run away. He thinks that as long as a wrong act remains hidden, there is no shame, but once out, one has to face the consequences. It also strikes him that someone more powerful is watching from above and keeping a track of his wickedness. This scares him, and he wants to pray. When he actually tries to pray, he realizes that he cannot since he has sin in his heart and is not really giving it up. Disturbed, he decides that he should write the letter to the widow. To his astonishment, after he completes the letter, he is calmed; he feels clean and free of sin.
Before he tries praying again, Huck recollects the wonderful times he has shared with Jim on the raft. He remembers Jim’s affectionate, caring ways, and wonders if he is doing the right thing. He looks down at the letter he has written and knows that once and for all, he has to decide what to do. Holding his breath, he says, “All right, then, I’ll go to hell,” and tears up the paper.
Huck sits down to think how he is going to free Jim. Unable to come up with any definite plan, he sets out for the Phelps’ farm. On the way, he meets the Duke, who is pasting handbills for a three-night performance of the “Royal Nonesuch.” Taken aback on seeing Huck, the Duke asks what has happened to the raft. Huck conceals the fact that he knows that they have sold Jim and comes up with a new story. The Duke, afraid that Huck will tell the people of the town that they are being fooled, tells him that the Dauphin has sold Jim to a farmer who lives forty miles away. Huck pretends to believe him and goes in the direction that the Duke has given him. After he has gone about a mile, he turns back and makes his way to the Phelps’ farm.
The moral dilemma of Huck reaches its climax here. He has to decide whether he is going to turn Jim in or help him gain his freedom. This is a very hard and painful decision for him to make. He has been taught and always thought that Negroes were sub-humans, a piece of property to be bought and sold. But Huck remembers the happy times and exhilarating adventures that he has shared with Jim. He knows that Jim has deep feelings and cares for him and loves his family. He acknowledges that Jim is a better human being than most of the people he has encountered on shore. He decides that he will stick to what he thinks is the best course of action. He brushes aside all the teachings and social codes of his Missouri upbringing. He decides to stand by his black friend at any cost. He takes the letter and tears it into pieces.
The climax of Huck’s initiation occurs here, for he proves his own morality. His individual conscience is victorious over what he has been taught by a prejudiced society. He realizes that Jim is to be valued as a human being with human emotions, not a piece of property to be sold. Huck feels that he himself is wicked and worthy of punishment; but he is at a loss to understand why Jim, his good, kind, and faithful friend, should be punished.
Huck makes several attempts to pray, but he finds he cannot since his soul is tortured. His social upbringing tells him that he should turn Jim in to the authorities, but he cannot bring himself to do it. Instead, he thinks he will write a letter to Miss Douglas explaining where Jim is. When he completes the letter, he feels better for a moment, for he has placated society. But when he thinks about how kind and good Jim is, he cannot betray his friend. He tears the letter up and decides to do whatever it takes to free Jim, even if he goes to hell for it. The irony is that Huck feels that he is being sinful when he wants to set a human being free. In truth, Huck has a higher sense of moral value than society, and Twain, through, Huck condemns the hypocritical values of society.
It is important to note that Huck’s entire initiation took place on the river, a natural, free-flowing place. The water of the river provided Huck’s baptism into maturity and moral conscience. Now that he has come to grips with doing what is truly right, even though society may judge it as wrong, he leaves the river permanently. The rest of the novel will take place on land; therefore, this chapter concludes the second section of the novel.