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PLOT STRUCTURE ANALYSIS
The plot of Huckleberry Finn is divided into three sections. The first takes place in St. Petersburg, where Huck is living as the adopted son of Widow Douglas. When he is kidnapped by his own father, beaten, and kept prisoner, Huck decides to run away. Section two of the book is set on the Mississippi River, as he and Jim try to escape and find freedom. The third and final section of the book takes place at the Phelps’ farm, where Jim is held in captivity as a runaway slave. The one thing that binds the three sections together is the character of Huck Finn, who is the center of attention in each.
The book is really a series of episodes in which Huck is involved as the protagonist. Since it is a novel of initiation, Huck grows from each episode, learning more about life, society, and himself. At the beginning of the book, he has been adopted by the Widow Douglas who is trying to make him conform to the ways of society. He learns that he is not comfortable with this civilized existence. He is even less comfortable with his existence with Pap, who beats him regularly. Huck decides he has no choice but to run away. He goes to Jackson Island where he joins up with Jim, who is also running away. The two decide to travel by raft together down the Mississippi. On the river, the “initiation” of Huck is completed. He rejects the values of society and accepts Jim as his friend, even though he has been taught that black slaves are only a piece of property. He also learns to think independently and to be compassionate.
Mark Twain holds the episodes of the book together through Huck Finn and through patterns of repetition. Huck Finn is constantly moving forward in the novel. In the beginning, he runs away from Widow Douglas’ house to get away from civilization; at the end of the novel, he is planning to run away from Aunt Sally’s house to get away from civilization. The beginning of the novel is filled with the fantastic adventures orchestrated by Tom Sawyer; the novel ends with the fantastic adventure of freeing Jim, orchestrated by Tom Sawyer. At the beginning of the novel, Jim is escaping from slavery at the hands of Miss Watson; at the end of the novel, Jim is escaping from slavery at the hand of the Phelps, made worse by Tom Sawyer’s imagination. Jim’s life in the cabin and his escape from it is a parallel to Huck’s existence in and escape from the Pap’s cabin.
The plot is further unified by the narration. The entire story is told by Huck Finn in the first person singular voice. All the incidents are seen through the eyes of a young boy, who is uncorrupted with the experiences of life. His telling of the story is simple, factual, and straightforward. Therefore, even thought the novel is episodic, each episode becomes bead on a string, the string itself representing the Mississippi River.