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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
CHAPTER 1: I Discover Moses and the Bullrushes
The novel opens with Huck introducing himself and his friend Tom Sawyer. They have discovered the treasure hidden by the robbers in the cave, which earns them a reward of six thousand dollars each. Judge Thatcher invests the money in a trust that earns them one dollar a day.
Huck is living in Widow Douglas’ care, and she treats him as her own son. She tries to “civilize” him by buying him proper clothes, feeding him regular meals, and making him listen to stories from the Bible. Huck is uncomfortable living with her, for everything is “regular.” He feels restless and stifled and longs for his previous freedom. When he cannot stand it anymore, he runs away. He is found by Tom and brought back to the widow. She fusses over him and dresses him in his new clothes again. Huck can do little but bear with her. He longs to smoke, but the widow admonishes him, saying that it isn’t “clean” and that he should not do it anymore. This angers him, for he sees the widow taking snuff herself.
The widow’s sister, Miss Watson, is also living with her. She is a nagging and unpleasant woman who helps in the effort to “civilize” Huck. She tells him about the “bad place” (hell) and warns him he will wind up there if he does not behave. Huck says he wishes that he were there so he could be away from all the routine. This angers Miss Watson, but Huck pacifies her by saying that he just wants to go somewhere for a change, even if it is hell. He sees no great advantage in going to a “good place,” especially if Miss Watson is going to be there to continue picking at his faults.
Huck goes to his room but is restless. He tries to think of something cheerful, but is unsuccessful; he wishes that he were dead. He takes out his pipe and begins to smoke. After a time, he hears Tom’s signal.
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn is connected with The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and the opening statement of the book makes this evident; however, the novel about Huck Finn stands by itself and totally revolves around Huck. Reading the earlier novel gives some Background Information that is beneficial, but necessary.
Since Huck narrates the story in first person, the language and thinking are reflective of a twelve-year-old southern boy that lacks education; the narration has no polish. Moreover, for most of the novel, there are no deep reflections to be found in the narrative. Huck is intelligent and has a fine sense of understanding, but all his energies are used up in observation rather than thinking. Analysis is something that will come later. This also highlights the fact that this book is a growth narrative, a story of a boy’s initiation into manhood.
Widow Douglas’ attempt to reform Huck is meeting with little success; he is just not the type of person who can stand civilized life. He longs to be free, to live life without constraints or society’s rules. It is also the earnest wish of most adolescents to be left to their own devices, untroubled by the adult world of rules and etiquette. Later chapters, with Huck and Jim afloat on the Mississippi, are indicative of the freedom that Huck is prevented from attaining in this chapter.
Huck’s concept of religion is also unconventional. He is taught the difference between good and bad by the Widow Douglas and Miss Watson, but he has trouble accepting what he hears. He is told that smoking is bad by the Widow Douglas, and yet she uses snuff. Huck sees the hypocrisy in this and decides he prefers to be bad. This discussion is significant to later events in the novel when Huck will have to deal with much larger issues of good and bad as they relate to the slave Jim. Ironically, the uneducated Huck is regularly able to see through the hypocrisy of the people who preach Christian ethics, but do not practice them. Through Huck, Twain is certainly critical of conventional religious attitudes.
Superstition also plays a role in the novel. The uneducated and unreligious Huck is very superstitious. In this first chapter, Huck is upset that he accidentally kills a spider, an act that he believes will bring him bad luck. To try and prevent any evil, he reacts in another superstitious manner by making the proper signs to ward it off. Throughout the book, Huck and Jim will reveal that their lives are filled with superstition.
Adolescents often experience loneliness and frustration, which causes them to express a deathwish. Huck is no different from the typical pre-teen. When he cannot have the freedom that he so wants in this first chapter, he says, “I felt so lonesome I most wished I was dead.” For the major part of the book, Huck is in lonely places, and has a sense of isolation; but, ironically, it is in Widow Douglas’ house that he is overcome with this feeling. He feels so lonely and lost because no one in this house understands him. Later in the novel, his sense of isolation will be caused by the vastness of the natural world that he faces while traveling the Mississippi River.
All these issues are raised in this first chapter with effortless ease. Twain wonderfully crafts the narrative in such a way that Huck’s spontaneity is not only believable but touches the reader. From the first pages of the book, Twain succeeds in creating a bond of sympathy for Huck; the success of the entire narrative depends upon the continuation of the reader’s sympathy.